An interpretation about Paul Greengrass and Tom Hanks‘ News of the World (Universal, 12.25) was discussed this morning. The basic premise has to do with love and family values and tribal identity. It’s about a widowed 60ish Civil War veteran (Hanks) agreeing to to deliver a white, German-descended girl (Helena Zengel), taken and raised by Kiowa natives many years earlier, to her aunt and uncle in the San Antonio area.
The idea of white captive children being raised by 19th Century Native Americans was explored to some extent by John Ford‘s The Searchers (’56), Herschel Daugherty‘s The Light in The Forest (’58) and Arthur Penn‘s Little Big Man (’70).
Historical accounts have reported that a good number of white youths raised by Indians, especially if they were captured at a young age, didn’t want to return to white society. They had bonded, been embraced and felt a special kinship.
This is dramatized briefly in News of the World when Zengel’s character calls out to a Kiowa tribe on the far side of a river, pleading that she wants to return to them, that she speaks their language and doesn’t want to lose them, etc.
Couple this with a longstanding belief that something inherently evil and genocidal resides in European-descended white people — that they’ve always invaded, plundered, murdered, enslaved and otherwise destroyed native cultures. Certainly as far as their settling (i.e., occupation) of the Americas and Western Hemisphere was concerned.
The hole in that viewpoint, at least as far as News of the World is concerned, is that the central white person is played by the fundamentally decent Tom Hanks.
And what of the notion that a young Anglo Saxon girl ought to be naturally raised by her own kind? Just as Native American and African American children have a natural right to be raised by their own people and cultures.
Question: There’s a scene in News of the World in which Zengel uses her fingers to sloppily eat a bowl of meat stew. Dripping and splattering the stew all over her fingers and lower face, dropping globs of gravy on the table. Gross.
If you ask me this was Greengrass’s way of telling the audience, “However happy or content this young girl might have been with the Kiowas, she badly needs to learn some table manners.”
Becket: “Tonight you’ll do me the honor of christening my forks.”
Becket: “Yes. A new invention from Florence. It’s for pronging meat and carrying it to the mouth. It saves you dirtying your fingers.”
Henry: “But then you dirty the fork.”
Becket: “Yes, but it’s washable.”
Henry: “So are your fingers. I don’t see the point.”
Becket: “Well, it has none, practically speaking. But it’s subtle, refined…very un-Norman.”