The Stories Hollywood Won’t Tell
As far as film genres go it’s hard to find another that exceeds the racism, chauvinism and brutality displayed in westerns. The very material upon which westerns are based is an historical era characterized by one of the world’s most massive genocides, the colonization of a half continent, and the theft of even more lands from a “mongrelized” nation, Mexico. Virtually every western flick produced before the 1970s is seething with anti-Mexican and anti-Indian racism, reflecting the reality of the day, and by the day I mean both the 19th Century frontier, and 20th Century US mediascape. Plots are built around the irrational “depravities” of the sub-races as they rampage across the “wilderness” attacking peaceful and industrious settlers. Virtually every early western is about the white man’s attempts to defend his women and community against the “savage” red-skinned humanoids who heed no laws or honor.
Later westerns turned the mirror on the white man to some extent, showing that evil also lurked in the master race of colonizers. He was the black-hat villain, and as if to certify his criminal insanity he often consorted with dark Indians and especially mixed-race Mexicans. The heroes remained the same, the tall white-hat gunslinger. Sure there’s a lot of variations and even quite a few exceptions to the rule. More than a few westerns were built around the anti-hero persona of men like Clint Eastwood. But the genre’s overall narrative from its earliest days, with films like The Big Trail, has been about white civilization’s survival in a savage wilderness, and the justness of manifest destiny in American history.