The Savage Screen: Horror, Indigeneity, and Settler Cartographies of Being
- Simmons, Kali Christen
- Advisor(s): Raheja, Michelle
The Savage Screen: Horror, Indigeneity, and Settler Cartographies of Being, critically analyzes the representation of Indigenous peoples in post-1970s North American mainstream horror media, arguing that despite their surface-level sympathy towards Native peoples, these narratives frequently instrumentalize the image of “the Indian” in ways which reify colonial, white supremacist gender and racial hierarchies. Each of the films I examine uses overlapping aesthetic and rhetorical strategies which position settler subjects as innocent victims of vengeful Native violence, a narrative strategy I have termed the “resistance as revenge” narrative. By producing geographic and temporal distance or by figuring Indigeneity as a total absence, these works position white settler subjects as technologically, ethically, epistemologically, and ontologically superior to Indigenous peoples, thus reaffirming the very colonial hierarchies which these narratives purport to critique.
While The Savage Screen places emphasis on contemporary representations of Indigenous peoples in horror, I connect the narrative strategies of these recent genre works to early colonial texts and captivity narratives. My argument is that the recurring representational strategies that are used in contemporary mainstream horror reveal that the settler-colonial imaginary of North America is still deeply haunted by the restrictive notions of the human upon which the project of the nation-state has been premised.
Turning towards Indigenous authored texts, I show that Indigenous horror encodes and performs a different set of relations with people, land, and other-than-human kin than those offered by colonial humanisms. Works by Indigenous writers and filmmakers speak back to the settler-colonial worldviews which seek to justify and normalize violence against Indigenous people, offer a different set of ontological and social relations, and invite audiences to remember that Indigenous storytelling practices are key tools in helping to dismantle the constrained colonial ontologies that all beings have been figured into. Works discussed include Prophecy, A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson, The Ghost Dance, The Hills Have Eyes (both the 1977 and 2006 versions), Rhymes for Young Ghouls, and The Only Good Indians.