Frederick Jackson Turner’s “Frontier Thesis”, Avatar (2009), and the Representation of Native Americans in Hollywood Film

By Frank Scheide.

Published by The Arts Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Though lauded for its groundbreaking special effects, the narrative of James Cameron’s popular motion picture Avatar (2009) was criticized for being similar to the 1995 Walt Disney animated feature Pocahontas and Kevin Costner’s Dances with Wolves (1990). Reflecting a convergence of the western and science fiction genres, Avatar used “Hollywood Indian” conventions to explore cultural assimilation and ecological awareness in ways that these previous films did not. This study considers how Frederick Jackson Turner’s 1893 “frontier thesis”, the philosophy of Manifest Destiny, and attitudes towards Native Americans expressed in political mandate and popular culture can be used to investigate Avatar as a “Hollywood Indian film”.

Keywords: Film Criticism and History, Avatar (2009), Frederick Jackson Turner, Frontier Thesis, Science Fiction and Western Genre, American Identity

International Journal of the Arts in Society, Volume 5, Issue 6, pp.197-210. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.134MB).

Prof. Frank Scheide

Professor, Department of Communication, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Arkansas, USA

Frank Scheide is Professor at the Department of Communication of the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville, where he teaches film history and criticism. He received his Ph.D. in Communication Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he wrote his dissertation on Charles Chaplin’s background in English Music Hall. Scheide has lectured extensively on Chaplin and other silent filmmakers, and has been co-chair of the annual Buster Keaton Celebration, in Iola, Kansas, since 1998. Scheide has co-edited two books analyzing the art and life of Charles Chaplin – Chaplin: The Dictator and the Tramp (2004) and Chaplin’s Limelight and the Music Hall Tradition (2006). A third book, The Chaplin Persona: Invention, Evolution, and Imitation, is currently being completed.


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