Can Hollywood present history accurately? -- How ''Last of the Mohicans'' and ''Thunderheart'' dealt with Native American authenticity

After Oliver Stone’s JFK revisionism, the question remains: Is Hollywood able to present history accurately? Yes, insist the makers of two new films about Native Americans — The Last of the Mohicans, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, and Thunderheart, with Val Kilmer-who say they aren’t taking liberties at reality’s expense.

The producers of Thunderheart, a film about the ’70s turmoil on South Dakota’s reservations, used Lakota medicine man Clement ”Sonny” Richards as a consultant for the traditional tribal ceremonies, including a ”ghost dancing” vision and a powwow shot on reconstructed ritual grounds. The movie also stars several Native American actors, including Graham Greene (Dances With Wolves).

British-born Day-Lewis aside, Mohicans (the fourth adaptation of James Fenimore Cooper’s 1826 classic) used a number of Indian extras. To ensure authentic garb, designer Elsa Zamparelli searched the archives of New York’s Museum of the American Indian for artifacts. ”We had to design everything from the knife sheaths to the breechcloths,” says director Michael Mann (Miami Vice), who also gave roles to activists Russell Means (who led the ’73 siege at South Dakota’s Wounded Knee) and Dennis Banks (cofounder of the American Indian Movement, with Means).

For dialogue, the director hired expert Glen Jacobs, one of the few people who speak Muncie Delaware. ”It’s as close to what Mohicans spoke as you can get,” Mann says. We’ll have to wait till April and July, the release dates of Mohicans and Thunderheart, to find out which is more H.C.: Historically Correct.

The Last of the Mohicans
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