The Exiles: Film about Native Americans Exiled in Their Own Land Revived
Sherman Alexie, who can be a real hoot, has some poignant things to say about this film revival.
THE Exiles,” a film about American Indians living on the edge of downtown Los Angeles in the 1950s, is both a chronicle and a casualty of neglect: a movie about a forsaken community that itself became a lost object. Directed by Kent Mackenzie, a first-time filmmaker who had just graduated from the University of Southern California, it is a poetic and empathetic hybrid of fiction and documentary. The nonprofessional actors play versions of themselves: young Indians, newly relocated from reservations and adrift in working-class Bunker Hill.
A portrait of a vanished community, “The Exiles” retains a contemporary relevance. “Seventy percent of Natives live in urban areas now,” said Sherman Alexie, the American Indian novelist and filmmaker who is helping Milestone present “The Exiles.” “We might have better jobs or be college educated, but the struggle to maintain your Native identity in a city is the primary struggle today.”
In focusing on the first wave of Indians relocated in the 1950s by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, “The Exiles” documents a displacement that Mr. Alexie says has received scant notice from a younger generation of Indians. “None of us made that movie,” he said. “Nobody writes about the relocated anymore. In a sense that first generation has been abandoned even by other Natives.” He added: “They were the immigrants, and by and large everybody in America loves to pretend they’ve always been here, even the people who’ve always been here. Ignoring the first generation of immigrants makes you feel like you’ve always belonged.”