July 7, 2002

Windtalkers seems to be tanking at the box office


KEYWORDS: Windtalkers American Indian movies Indian sterotypes movie reviews movie review Native-themed movie war movie

AUTHOR: Rob Schmidt, Blue Corn Comics

“Windtalkers” is arguably the biggest Native-themed movie
since “Smoke Signals,” which was arguably the biggest
since “Pocahontas.” But critics are saying it’s something of a bomb–
and they don’t mean “da bomb.” Comments from some well known movie critics suggest the movie’s

E! Online Says:

“Crack the code behind ‘Windtalkers, and you’ll find it’s just
another cookie-cutter war flick, complete with stereotypical
characters, overblown battlefield sentimentality and deafening

From Jeff Strickler, Minneapolis Star Tribune:

“No one in Hollywood has time for a history lesson when there’s
stuff to blow up.”

Elvis Mitchell, New
York Times, had this to say:

“Given the knee-jerk patriotism of recent war movies, it’s
discouraging to see “Windtalkers” evade pertinent facts that could
have recast the doubled-edged issues of racism and loyalty and
made them relevant to contemporary times.”

Gary Arnold, Washington Times notes:

“A bogus suspense element–the bodyguards have been instructed to
protect “the code” at all costs, implying sacrifice of the code
talkers in dire situations–never makes a particle of sense.”

Levi J. Long, Native Voice makes the observation:

“Monument Valley once again served as the stereotypical location
for the Navajos.”

Jessica Delos Reyes, Native Voice is disappointed:

“This was supposed to be the story of the Code Talkers, not of the
big-name white actor struggling with a scenario that never really

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times pointedly comments:

“The Indians are seen one-dimensionally as really nice guys.”

Stephen Hunter,
Washington Post points out stereotyping:

“Everyone knows Indians are knife fighters, right? So when the
Japanese close in on Yahzee or his close friend Charlie
Whitehorse, each private pulls an Indian knife.”

A Cherokee veteran offers the final answer:

“Today, we honor the codetalkers with heroic stories. Someday, we
will honor their memories with true stories.” (Steve Russell,

Subliminal Message?

Another point worth mentioning is how the visuals reinforce the
film’s message. Consider the newspaper ads. In one, Nicolas Cage’s
steely gaze dominates. We expect this strong, silent American to
triumph over evil just like John Wayne did.

Behind him is Adam Beach, supposedly the movie’s raison d’etre.
Beach is calling for help while he glances at Cage. It’s clear whom
the real hero is: the great white hope who will save the day.

The message is even more explicit in another ad. Cage carries Beach
from a war zone to safety. Cage has the same stony, implacable look,
while Beach’s eyes are shut and his mouth is gaping. He might be
crying like a baby.

In our history books, saving and civilizing the world is America’s
duty. In this ad, Cage, the stoic adult, totes Beach, the mewling
child, on his back. The Indian is literally the white man’s burden.

Sadly (for MGM), “Windtalkers” seems to be tanking at the box
office. Is that just a coincidence? I don’t think so.


Rob Schmidt is the creator of Blue Corn Comics. For more on the movie, go to his
Windtalker Page.

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