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White actor Richard Barthelmess portraying a Native American chief in the 1934 pre-Code film Massacre.

Redface is the wearing of makeup to darken or redden skin tone, or feathers, warpaint, etc. by non-Natives to impersonate a Native American or Indigenous Canadian person, or to in some other way perpetuate stereotypes of Indigenous peoples of Canada and the United States. It is analogous to the wearing of Blackface.[1] In the early twentieth century, it was often white performers, who wore blackface or redface when portraying Plains Indians in Hollywood Westerns.[2] In the early days of television sitcoms, "non-Native sitcom characters donned headdresses, carried tomahawks, spoke broken English, played Squanto at Thanksgiving gatherings, received 'Indian' names, danced wildly, and exhibited other examples of representations of redface".[3]

Redface has been used to describe non-Native adoption of Indigenous cultures, no matter how sympathetic, such as the painters in the Taos Society of Artists during the early 20th Century portraying themselves in their own works wearing Indigenous clothing.[4]

Redface in sports, fashion and pop culture[edit]

Often associated with the behavior of sports fans of teams with Native American names or mascots,[5] "redface" has also been used to describe "Indian" Halloween costumes that are seen as offensive by Native people, or imitations of sacred headdresses worn as fashion accessories.[6]

Redface in art[edit]

In 2011, Harmony Korine directed the short art film Snowballs for the fashion brand Proenza Schouler. The film features Rachel Korine and an unnamed actor wearing "elaborate Native American headdresses and layers of skirts, capes, pants, and tops from Proenza's fall collection."[7][8]

Redface in Hollywood movies[edit]

Westerns were a popular film genre from the 1930s to the early 1960s. A common plot involved conflict between Native Americans and the cavalry, settlers, or both. Native Americans were usually portrayed by non-Natives in redface.

Espera Oscar de Corti, an Italian-American, had a decades-long career portraying Native Americans as Iron Eyes Cody.

Beginning in the late 1960s, westerns attempted to depict a more realistic and balanced view of the Old West in movies such as Little Big Man. However, the casting of non-Native Johnny Depp as Tonto in Disney's 2013 revival of The Lone Ranger was labelled as "redface".[9]

Notable films[edit]

The Last of the Mohicans[edit]

The James Fenimore Cooper novel The Last of the Mohicans was filmed many times. Not until 1992 were Native Americans cast in all the major roles in the story of Uncas son of Chingachgook who was the last "Mohican" until he was killed by Magua, a Huron chief. The actual Mohicans continue to live in the Hudson River Valley.

Film date Chingachgook Magua Uncas Notes
1920 Theodore Lorch Wallace Beery Alan Roscoe American
1920 Béla Lugosi Kurt Rottenburg German
1932 Hobart Bosworth Bob Kortman Frank Coghlan Jr. American Serial
1936 Robert Barrat Bruce Cabot Phillip Reed American
1947 Buster Crabbe Rick Vallin American, retitled "Last of the Redskins"
1965 José Marco José Manuel Martín Daniel Martín A Spanish/Italian production done in the style of a Spaghetti Western, the character Magua is renamed "Cunning Fox"
1965 Mike Brendel Ricardo Rodríguez Daniel Martín German: Der letzte Mohikaner
1977 Ned Romero Robert Tessier Don Shanks Romero was of Chitimacha ancestry

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Associated Press (March 17, 2019). "Native Americans say movement to end 'redface' is slow". The Oregonian.
  2. ^ Peter Antelyes (2009). "Haim Afen Range: The Jewish Indian and the Redface Western". MELUS. 34 (3). Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States: 15–42. doi:10.1353/mel.0.0047. JSTOR 40344855. S2CID 126754809.
  3. ^ Dustin Tahmahkera (2008). "Custer's Last Sitcom: Decolonized Viewing of the Sitcom's "Indian"". American Indian Quarterly. 32 (3). University of Nebraska Press: 324–351. doi:10.1353/aiq.0.0012. JSTOR 25487882. S2CID 161435088.
  4. ^ John Ott (2009). "Reform in Redface: The Taos Society of Artists Plays Indian". American Art. 23 (2). The University of Chicago Press on behalf of the Smithsonian American Art Museum: 80–107. doi:10.1086/605710. JSTOR 10.1086/605710. S2CID 191229545.
  5. ^ Erik Brady (July 21, 2014). "Native American activists seek to eliminate 'redface'". USA TODAY Sports.
  6. ^ Adrienne J. Keene, EdD (November 1, 2010). "Native Appropriations: Paris Hilton as a "Sexy Indian"". Retrieved October 16, 2015.
  7. ^ "Proenza Schouler Screens a New Harmony Korine Short". Vogue. 2011-09-28. Retrieved 2024-04-11.
  8. ^ Proenza Schouler Snowballs Fashion Film by Harmony Korine. Retrieved 2024-04-11 – via www.youtube.com.
  9. ^ "Depp provokes Lone Ranger race row over 'redface' Tonto". The Times. Retrieved 2 March 2020.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h "Redface at the Movies 1950-1960". BGSU - University Library. Retrieved June 30, 2020.

External links[edit]