Dances with Wolves: integration into another culture

Anthropology is the science that studies the physical aspects and social and cultural manifestations of human communities. Within its fieldwork and observation, this science can approach the study of a culture from two perspectives: etic and emic. In the latter, the observer behaves as a participant, inserting him/herself into the culture under study. Some examples can be found in cinema. One of them is Dances with Wolves the film that Kevin Costner directed and starred in in 1990. A resounding box-office and critical success, the film allowed us to enter the culture of the Sioux Indians through its protagonist, to make us reflect on the understanding between cultures and the value of nature.

These two perspectives, etic and emic, have allowed the study of human groups, providing information about their behaviour, ways of organising themselves or the different ways of interacting among their members and with other groups. Thus, when analysing other cultures, we can make interpretations from two perspectives. An internal one, designated by the term emic, and an external one, called etic.

The emic perspective involves entering a given culture in order to study the thoughts and feelings, motivations, customs and language of that community. This perspective allows the observer to approach a complete understanding by entering the culture being analysed.

The etic perspective is that of the researcher. In this case the researcher describes observable facts but does not take into account the meaning these facts have for the communities studied. Perhaps this is a more egocentric view of reality, as the researcher who studies another culture will tend to do so from his or her own. Believing that theirs is what is normal and that of others, what is strange. In this case, the previous conditioning of the researcher can be a powerful barrier to understanding other ways of life.

Review, Dances with Wolves

Bailando con lobos

Dances with Wol ves marked a before and after in the western genre. For the first time, it stopped showing the Indians, the real inhabitants of the American lands, as savages and turned them into the real heroes of the story. The film showed the Sioux as a people full of values and customs, able to live in harmony with nature and showing true devotion and respect for the family.

Dances with Wolves tells the story of John J. Dunbar (Kevin Costner), a US cavalry officer who, after fighting in the Civil War and in the midst of settling the West, requests a frontier outpost to live in isolation. Loneliness leads the protagonist to make contact with his neighbours, the Sioux, a people he thought were savage and backward, but whom he gets to know over time. As he gradually becomes acquainted with their culture, the protagonist establishes a relationship of respect and admiration with his neighbours. In the end, the lieutenant will end up wondering who the savage really is.

Dances with Wolves: In Defence of Sioux Culture

A marvellous epic, the film’s cast included actors of Indian origin as well as real Indians from the Sioux reservation in South Dakota. In addition, much of the film is shot in Lakota, the language of the Sioux, an excellent way of involving the viewer in the culture of the Sioux people. A film that vindicates the figure of the Native Americans and that helped to revive the current in defence of their customs and territories.

Intimate and profound, full of values and ecological overtones, the story was shot sequentially, that is to say, as it happens in the film. Throughout the 181 minutes of the film, there is excellent photography and some scenes that will remain forever etched in the retina of the spectators. The excellent buffalo hunt on the American prairies required an enormous deployment of human, animal and technical resources in order to be filmed. The film is an ode to nature, animals and respect for natural resources, the Sioux believed that everything in nature had a spirit. Their whole life depended on nature and they respected it by taking from it only what they needed to survive, nothing more.

Dances with Wolves succeeded in reviving the western, a genre that experienced a clear decline during the 1980s. Based on the novel of the same name by Michael Blake, the film is rounded off with a beautiful soundtrack by John Barry. Inspiring, noble and emotional, the music is an essential element of this film, reflecting the personal transformation that the protagonist undergoes. Dances with Wolves won seven Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director and, of course, Best Score. In short, Dances with Wolves is a delight for the senses. Good cinema, the kind that heals.


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