Perhaps the scene that is most memorable in Dances with Wolves is when John Dunbar, or by then Dances with Wolves, is captured upon his return to Fort Sedgwick. He is questioned by the soldiers, they first want to know if he speaks English, they then want his help to find the hostile Indian camps. He then refuses to speak English; beginning to speak only in Sioux. He repudiates his surname and fully becomes “Dances with Wolves”. In Sioux, he tells the soldiers that are not worth speaking to; that they are nothing.
It is here that the movie successfully moves forward in the ethnic representation in Hollywood cinema. That is, it does not reinforce the history in a positive, revisionist light. Rather, while John Dunbar is clearly the movie’s protagonist, this movie serves as a successful representation of authentic history, except for the full acceptance of a white man into a Sioux tribe. However, that character tool is necessary to relay the film’s otherwise authentic history. Native Americans were not the savage, unthinking, simple-minded beasts portrayed in the majority of Hollywood cinema, they were – and are – a mankind like any other.
Whereas Django and Gran Torino reassert white supremacy through the heroic efforts of the white male lead, Dances with Wolves asserts the supremacy of the Native American as their actions redeem John Dunbar and show him that his preconceptions of the Indian are mistaken. That, just as the white man, this people are, “so devoted to family, so dedicated to each other”. Rather than a heroic metamorphosis, John Dunbar does not portray himself as a leader to the Native American; he portrays himself as an ordinary soldier trying to learn and live alongside another neighbor.
Rather the “clash of civilizations” within Django and Gran Torino, Dances with Wolves, represents “a genuinely radical effort to start again” (Said 334). That is, the “push or tension comes from the surrounding environment.” (Said 334) The “imperialist power” (Said 334) of the nation is resisted by John Dunbar in this movie and, most particularly in the scene above described.
With his repudiation of self, John Dunbar essentially repudiates his whiteness. As opposed to Dyer’s essay on the color of whiteness, by rejecting himself as a soldier and embracing the Sioux, he is saying that white is not beautiful; it is not the color of virtue (Dyer 72). However, it is interesting that this film also addresses the “clash of civilizations” within an ethnic group. That is, the tribe is accepting of the relationship between Dunbar and Stands with Fists because they are both white. However, that fits with authentic history as well, a relationship between a native Sioux woman and a white man would not have been accepted by the tribe nor would it be accepted by white society. It is interesting to note that, when alone, Dunbar and Stands with Fist speak English. As in Minorities, they may do this because they are afraid that, if not, they may lose – or John may lose – his “traditional points of reference” (Minorities 71).
Points of reference aside, overall, Dances with Wolves clearly moves beyond the reiteration of white supremacy within Hollywood cinema. As in real life, when men must admit and overcome their preconceptions, John Dunbar does this successfully. Futher, John Dunbar does not become the savior of the Sioux tribe; he simply fights side-by-side with them; his “heroism” occurs as he repudiates himself as a soldier and accepts himself as a Sioux.