In his essay “Fantasies of the Master Race,” Ward Churchill reveals the various way in which Native Americans have been portrayed across all US film and TV, from the appropriation of a non-distinct Native American cultural aesthetic to the cryogenesis of the antiquated Native American and the common stereotypes that have emerged from these ideals. Though this post will focus mainly on the Native American “noble savage” and “brute savage” stereotypes in Twin Peaks. However, it must be noted that outside of its two Native American characters, David Lynch appropriates a significant amount of Native American aesthetic/culture in order to create the world of magical realism that has given the show much of its quirky appeal.
Nonetheless, Lynch, spends just as much time appropriating Native American culture as he does stereotype the Native Americans on his show. The first being Deputy Hawk, right-hand man to Twin Peaks’ Sheriff Harry Truman. Just as Churchill describes, Deputy Hawk can be characterized with the same qualities as that of the noble savage trope. Deputy Hawk, played by Michael Horse, is portrayed as indubitably loyal, stoic, supportive and with just enough an air of wise elder mysticism to reaffirm his ethnic otherness.
Here, is a clip in which we seek Deputy Hawk provide Agent Cooper with valuable knowledge about the mysterious Black Lodge (that of course only he would know on part of his heritage):
As if that weren’t enough, David Lynch seems to hit us over the head with the noble savage stereotype countless times throughout the show with incredible dialogue such as this:
Talk about putting a bandaid over some personal white guilt, Lynch. And still, even in Twin Peaks’ 25 year revival, it seems times really haven’t changed for Lynch and we begin once again with Deputy Hawk at the center of the show’s mystery that has “something to do with his heritage.”
Now, the second stereotype we see is a bit more subtle on behalf of the fact that the character’s identity is not central on his ethnicity, although Lynch’s casting of a Native American as the antagonist, Killer Bob, helps reaffirms the negative “brute savage” stereotype.
Although in interviews Lynch reveals that casting Frank Silva as Killer Bob was purely coincidental, an accident even, that Silva had been working crew on set and had given Lynch such a fright after having glanced at his reflection in a mirror. Seems innocent enough (But, please, where’s the coincidence in a white man being scared of a brown person)? But regardless, unconscious or not, politics of bodies particularly black and brown bodies prove time and time again how color-blind casting isn’t a relevant excuse anymore. The connotations that come with having a brown man, more specifically a Native American playing a highly violent criminal, who murders young women can very easily give audiences an affirmation of these problematic stereotypes; not only for Native Americans, but for ethnic minorities as a whole.
- Why do you think television can’t seem to portray Native Americans in a contemporary light, completely separate of any mystic connection?
- What are some other ways directors/screen writers can include Native Americans without subjecting them to stereotypes or keeping them as token minorities?
- Do you think Lynch can be excused for unconsciously casting a minority as the shows grotesque villain, can racial bias be kept completely out of our ideal aesthetics for casting choices?