Funneling back some of the $184 million made at the box office by his 1990 white-man-among-the-Indians saga, Dances With Wolves, Kevin Costner is trying to do for Native Americans what Roots did for African-Americans. Investing $8 million of his own money and serving as on-camera host, Costner is making 500 Nations, an eight-hour documentary tracing the history of Indians in North America (including the Aztecs and Mayans) from their origins to the year 1900. Although documentaries usually draw low ratings — but hey, this is Costner — CBS is planning to air 500 Nations as a multipart prime-time special in 1994.
Director Jack Leustig (The Making of Dances With Wolves) will use interviews, historical records, location footage, and computer-generated images to create what series producer Roberta Grossman says will be ”as entertaining as some of the best programming in fictional television.”
Of course, with backers like Costner and approval from the tribes whose stories are being told, 500 Nations is also bound to take on a certain politically correct tone. ”There’s no way to avoid the political implications of a project like this,” admits Grossman. ”But we’re telling a history. We’re not grinding a political ax.” Still, for a gamble this grand, critics on all sides of the issue will no doubt be sharpening their knives.