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Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this production, based on the nonfiction book by Dee Brown, has two intense Indian-massacre scenes -- one at the Little Big Horn in which Indians do the massacring, the other the Wounded Knee battle in which Indians are largely victims. Women and children are shown perishing in killings and disease epidemics, and a schoolhouse environment (for Indian children) seems bleak and oppressive. The downbeat tale puts across a strong theme of mistrust of the U.S. government.
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What's the story?
1876. The Little Big Horn massacre of General Custer (shown from a distance, in a striking, overhead shot) happens under Indian warriors led by Lakota Sioux Chief Sitting Bull (August Schellenberg). The victory is a last hurrah for the Indians trying to hold onto sacred Black Hills lands, in the wake of a series of peace treaties largely broken/rewritten by the whites greedy for railroad and mining territory. A U.S. Senator, Henry Dawes (Aidan Quinn) favors a peaceful policy of relocating the Indians to "Reservations," government-sustained but barren lands, to be Christianized, farm-trained, and cajoled to legally sell the Black Hills. Even Sitting Bull, weary of battles and casualties, turns in his rifle and becomes a Reservation celebrity, signing autographs and posing for photos. Dawes' biggest "success story," Charles Eastman (Adam Beach), a college-educated Indian doctor who was a boyhood fighter at Little Big Horn, comes to work at the Reservation, but he's appalled by the poverty, indolence, deadly fever epidemics, and restlessness that finally lead to an outburst of bloody violence at a place called Wounded Knee.
Is it any good?
BURY MY HEART AT WOUNDED KNEE is a vividly textured, high-quality cable movie from Law & Order creator Dick Wolf. There is resemblance between this Old West and that moody police-procedural where tense court hearings and suspect Q&As outnumber car chases. Here a dispiriting rundown of betrayal and broken treaties by Washington, D.C., turns into comprehensible drama, and if the results aren't action-packed, the thoughtful approach should still haunt older kids, especially those with the school-reading assignment When the Legends Die.
The most striking aspect, besides historical portraits of such prominent natives as Eastman, Sitting Bull, and Red Cloud, is how most whites aren't simplistic baddies, the usual revisionist-Western take. Instead Dawes and others actually believe they're doing the Indians a great favor by "civilizing" the tribes and behaving righteously in forcing the Lakota off their land and crushing their culture.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about this depiction of Native Americans. How is it different than the old cowboys-vs-Indians shoot-'em-ups? What other impressions of Indians do you get from movies?
Does watching this film make you feel any different about Washington D.C. and government policies today? What would you have done in President Grant's position?
For kids who love history and dramas
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.