Director: Alexandre O. Philippe
Filmmakers often use real-world locations as a way to ground their stories in a precieved reality or to take advantage of the unique features of a specific location. The Statue of Liberty quickly represents NYC, the Hollywood sign lets the audiance know we are in LA, and The Eifel Tower is one the easiest ways a filmmaker can use a single (text free) image to set a film in Paris. Monument Valley has been the go to symbol for the American West since the earlies days of motion pictures.
Our fascination with western expansion has been consistent but rarely has it led to honest depictions of this complicated piece of American history. We often focus on the pioneering spirit, rugged individualism, and manifest destiny. The idea that settlers were destined to expand westward and spread democracy and civilization was a powerful narrative that captured the imagination of many Americans.
Not only is this incomplete telling of history dishonest, its dangerous. To ignore the trauma of indigenous or native people leads us to minimize this ugly part of ourselves, and we are unable to heal if we refuse to recognixe our wounds. The mistreatment, exploition, and oppresstion enforced by colonizers, missionaries, and anthropologists can not be undersated.
Alexandre O. Philippe examines our version of history in THE TAKING by looking at how we've depicted Monumnt Valley in film. As both a litteral landmark and visual shortcut he shows how inaccurate our view of Monument Valley has been.
Monument Valley is one of the most recognizable landscapes in the world. Its iconographic use in American Westerns has had a lasting influence on photography, advertising, and tourism. The valley has been given mythical significance as an image of a “primitive West” firmly in the hands of white people and meant to be protected from intruders. The fact that Monument Valley is traditional Navajo territory has been obscured in the process.
Some indigenous cultures believe that photography can capture a person's soul or spirit, which is a sacred and personal part of their identity. They may fear that having their photo taken could harm or diminish their spirit in some way. This belief is particularly strong in cultures that have a strong connection to the land and the natural world. So what does it mean to repeatdly photograph this sacred land and use it to tell lies about the people who inhabbit it?
At the very least we are shown this is a viloation of privacy. Filming and depicting a culture without their consent or understanding robs people of their autonomy and voice. O. Philippe takes this further by showing how the West is depicted in film as a land of opportunity, where individuals can start fresh, make their fortunes, and build a better life for themselves all while ignoring the cost of this opportunity. THE TAKING shows how our romanticism with the past is singular. For one group of people, with one skin tone, one religion, and from one walk of life.
In films, the west is shown as a place of adventure and excitement, filled with tales of cowboys, outlaws, and Native American tribes. These stories and legends continue to captivate people's imaginations to this day. But these stories come with a pscholgical toll that is raely examined. THE TAKING bodly examins the stories we tell ourselves about our history by looking at one piece of land and asking, why?
THE TAKING is in theatres today, May 5th.