Film Features

Who’s Really Haunting America? Deconstructing the Indian Burial Ground Trope

Ghosts are metaphors for things that unsettle us, and if the racial violence protests of the past few months have shown us anything, it's that America is a land of unsettling things

Ghostland by Colin Dickey

Native Americans have been foundational casualties in cinema since the dawn of American filmography, when Westerns built their brands off dramatic confrontations between heroic gun-slinging cowboys and Native "savages."

Just as the frontier myth was fundamental to the establishment of America's growth and eventual (ever-more-catastrophic) hegemony, the violent exploitation and murder of people simply living in their homelands has long been Hollywood gold.

By painting Native Americans as supernatural, monolithic entities that torment innocent white families, many classic horror movies play into white delusions of ownership, entitlement, and victimization. They also recenter the idea that whiteness as a "standard" that is disrupted or haunted by otherness.

This "other" can and has been queer (shoutout to the Babadook), female (Salem, anyone?), migratory, neurodivergent, Black, poor, mentally ill, or really part of any category that threatens the nuclear white ideal (for lack of a better term). Like the trope of the dark, scary woods, the "other" is a deep forest that—under the colonial imagination—must be paved over—but perhaps it's time we actually look at what's underneath.

Gay Babadook Gay BabadookBBC

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