Voices: Tim Bottoms, Tantoo Cardinal, Gary Farmer, Graham Greene, Castulo Guerra, Amy Madigan, Edward James Olmos, Tony Plana, Eric K. Schweig, Patrick Stewart, Wes Studi, Gordon Tootoosis, Floyd Red Crow Westerman, Sheldon Wolfchild, George Aguilar, Jeri Arredondo, Dante Basco, Robert Beltran, Jesse Borrrego, Ian Buchanan, Lorenzo Caccialanza, East Carlo, Kenneth Danziger, Howard Hesseman, Michael Horse, Tom Jackson, Geraldine Keams, Alma Martinez, Kimberly Norris, Miro Polo, Robert M. Robinson, Frank Salsedo, Alan Scarfe, Douglas Seale, Larry Sellers, Craig Sheffer, Kirtwood Smith.
Narrator: Gregory Harrison.
Host: Kevin Costner. Eight-hour, $ 8 million mini-series surveying history from the Native American view nails European and home-grown invaders whose greed and cruelty destroyed so many Native Americans. Clearly written, enhanced by visual effects and factual challenges, “500 Nations” bares where the true savagery lay.
Restrained host Kevin Costner intros episodes encompassing 22 stories beginning in pre-Columbian times and involving some 500 nations in Central and North America. Many of the tales would be powerful material for feature or TV dramatists.
Well-laid-out script, boosted considerably by Gregory Harrison’s reading, initially reaches back to 1890 to discuss the slaughter of Sioux Chief Big Foot and his people in South Dakota after they agreed to a truce and put down their arms.
The first hour deals with ancient Mayan, Mississippian and Anasazi civilizations, re-creating by computer graphics handsome halls and dwellings, with smoke curling out of chimneys and minuscule figures occasionally moving; the tricky feat tends to zero in on itself, but it does create dramatic looks at architectural exteriors and interiors.
The Mayans developed a calendar more accurate than the Gregorian. In 500 A.D. , as the Dark Ages moved into Europe, the enormous Aztec city Teotihuacan, more populated than Rome or London at the time, flourished in Mexico. Cortez’s well-known betrayal of Mochtezuma becomes even more treacherous seen through Aztec eyes, though little is said of human sacrifices among the natives themselves.
Columbus’ behavior at Hispaniola in the Caribbean includes shipping Indians back to Spain as slaves. And the agonizing story of the Caribbean’s heroic Enrique, his wife, Dona Lucia, and their owner, the merciless Spaniard Valenzuela, has the makings of a powerful film. De Soto arrived in Florida bringing smallpox, slavery and famine; there’s not much about such items in schoolbooks.
English explorer Martin Frobisher, Capt. John Smith and Pocahontas, Ottawa Chief Pontiac appear with new insights into their lives; the Hodenosaunee, America’s first democracy, included five Indian nations and was much admired by Benjamin Franklin.
Shawnee Chief Tecumseh, most powerful Indian of his time, and his brother Tenskwatawa, the Shawnee Prophet, provide another involving episode. George Washington gets his lumps as the “town destroyer” for ordering troops to wipe out the natives; Andy Jackson’s record as an Indian killer stands secure.
The romance of California missions goes el foldo as docu tells of how Indians were forced to build the churches after the invaders captured them, forced baptism on them and worked them
hard. Topping that off, the California state legislature legalized Indian slavery in the 1850s.
Notes a Kiowa: “The ‘good Indian,’ he who listens to the white man, gets nothing; the independent Indian is the only one that is rewarded.” The handsome production brings on stories of Black Kettle, White Antelope, Sitting Bull, of Crazy Horse, Geronimo, Cochise and Nez Perce Chief Joseph that resound with agonies suffered by all Indians at the hands of the invaders.
The shameful outcome is, of course, the reservations. The outrage against Indians and their traditions continues, and “500 Nations” inexorably brings it to light. Loaded with paintings, testimonies, photos and drawings, and beautifully filmed and shrewdly edited, program’s admirable, but could put off viewers with its parade of horrors.
Slickly produced, directed superbly by Jack Leustig, packed with well-organized material that comes close to overload, the four-part marathon may be a succes d’estime; these innumerable truths as seen through Indian eyes require fortitude and patience.