She generally gave herself very good advice, (though she very seldom followed it).

- Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

Thursday, February 25, 2010


There are a lot of articles about the fact that Frank Hopkins's story of long distance races can't be true. Most of the argument rests on the fact that no evidence can be found to support his claims (although I've seen precious little evidence to the contrary). Not that that clinches anything either way.

The article I've included below demonstrates the lack of attention to detail I keep finding in each of the articles. I have no idea if Hidalgo is a true story or not, or even (which is more to the point) which parts are true and which are fabricated, but I do like the movie. I like the story. I've seen a lot of articles written by people angered because the film is racist as well as misrepresentative (well, that's a little repetitive, isn't it?) and I don't know how truthful its representation of turn-of-the-century Sioux, Imperial British, or Arabs is - but I would like to find out more about it. The point I got out of it wasn't that Westerners (in particular Americans, in particular Western Americans) triumph over the Other (nations, in particular Arabic nations); call me crazy, but that just didn't seem to be the point. The movie opens with a frank condemnation of the American government's treatment of Native Americans and at no point in the film does Frank Hopkins associate himself with white America; nor do I think anyone would come away from that movie seriously doubting the capabilities of Arabian horses or riders. If anything, the movie was proto-feminist, and inverted traditional notions of the white Western woman being pure and good, and the darker, Eastern woman as seductive or designing. Both were portrayed as passionate, albeit in different ways. I think the British would probably have the most cause to feel offended by their portrayal as snobby, shallow sycophants.

The message of the movie seemed to me to be a love letter to the Mustang. Anyone who has had a meaningful relationship (not to put too fine a point on it) with a horse would enjoy it. The relationships between horses and their riders seemed to be the main focus of the movie, and there were a variety of those relationships. I'm not saying that Disney understands that better than anyone else. But I think the movie might have had a different effect for a particular audience.

Overall, I still like it. Here is the article, my beef with it being that this reader doesn't appear to have paid very close attention to what Viggo Mortensen is quoted as having said. She or he has conflated two separate statements into one meaning, as far as I can tell. Mortensen said that he spoke with Lakota people, some of whom did not speak English, about Frank Hopkins. He also said he spoke, in particular, with a 94-5 year old woman who had met Frank Hopkins. He never says the woman couldn't speak English. He never says those he spoke with who were not English speakers did not have interpreters, nor that they were 94-5 years old. He does state that the stories he'd heard were passed down through "generations" which would support his story without being contradicted by the critiquer's assertion that no one old enough to have known Hopkins would be a non-English speaker; therefore I can find no plausible reason, inclusive of the evidence provided by the critiquer, that would indicate that Mortensen's story is illogical.

The star of “Hidalgo,” Viggo Mortensen, has been telling the press that he has had conversations with several native Lakota who cannot speak English.  He says they  verify Frank Hopkins’ assorted absurd claims, including that he was half Lakota.

Mr. Mortensen seems to overlooked the fact that in 1910 Frank Hopkins told the US census taker that he had been born in Texas and that his parents were "unknown." It would appear that Mr. Mortensen is instead eager to accept Hopkins' baseless later claim that he was born in Wyoming and that his mother had been Lakota.

Mortensen is apparently ignoring the stark facts which plainly state that not a single one of Hopkins’ claims can be verified. Here are a few examples of the Hollywood star's comments:

Star Viggo Mortensen said he spoke with Native Americans whose family personally verified Hopkins' story.

"To have many families on reservations to talk about Frank Hopkins specifically, and his horsemanship and his connection to their tribes with stories that have been handed down through generations, why would that not be true? In my experience and the stories I've heard, these people, some of them don't even speak English and certainly could [care less] about Hollywood movies. But [they] say, 'Yeah, my mother told me that and this guy, this and that, a painted horse...' and it speaks for itself.

Another example:

"I found that people, older people, still talk about him and about Hidalgo. There was one woman who was 94, 95, and she talked about being a little girl and meeting Frank Hopkins," Mortensen says, obviously harboring a respect for the story and those who keep the tradition alive. "There's a tradition of speaking about him and his experiences with horses and his connection to the people, beyond what you can find written."

Mention DeLoria's criticisms to Mortensen and anger flashes through his normally mellow mantle. He's read all of DeLoria's books, he says, admires the man's scholarship, but with all due respect, the man hasn't seen the movie. There's an oral history that supports Hopkins's story, he argues. (The film's writer, John Fusco, took 12 years to research the story. And while filming the movie, Mortensen says, he met a 96-year-old Lakota woman who told him about meeting Hopkins when she was a young girl.) 

This is what Dr. DeLoria has to say in response to Mortensen’s public claims:

It's utter nonsense that Viggo Mortensen talked with Lakotas who couldn't speak English - how old would they have to be? If you had just talked with an 94 year old elder you would have to take into account that he or she was born in 1910, schools on the reservations began around the 1880s and children who did not attend school were denied rations - so the chances are any 94 year old elder was in a government or church school between the ages of 6-18 and they were forbidden to speak their native language in schools. So how did they grow up only speaking Lakota?

I am 71 years old and can recall but a few elders in my early childhood who could not speak English - but that was over 60 years ago and those people were rare and in their 80s and 90s at that time. I would like to have Viggo Mortensen give me the names of those families who only speak Lakota that he can converse with - he has uncovered people overlooked by the several educational programs that teach and analyze the Lakota language?

Not hardly.

My Aunt - Ella Deloria - was the foremost scholar of the three dialects used by the Sioux people - "D", "L" and "N" - and she bemoaned the fact that she could not find anyone on any of the reservations who could speak fluently in any of the dialects because there had already been substantial erosion of the language. She said she missed talking with elders who would create words to express certain ideas. Now, suddenly a Hollywood star is able to go to a Sioux reservation and immediately find families who don't speak English?

I don't think so.

I would like Viggo Mortensen to tell me the name of the 94-year-old woman, where she lives, and how he was lucky enough to locate her.

1 comment:

  1. "a love letter to a Mustang" I love it.

    I think personally I just like the story for what it is saying wether or not it is actually true. That is what good stories do/are [I know that isn't your point.]

    I am sorry people write without really thinking about what they are saying. I think it is a trait of the general population.

    Interesting article though!