Introduction

Welcome to Katherine Stinson’s blog on the 1990 movie, Dances with Wolves!

Dances with Wolves is a Western movie set in the Dakota territories in 1863, during the American Civil War. The movie stars Kevin Costner, who plays Lieutenant John J. Dunbar, known to the Native Americans as Dances with Wolves. In the movie, Dunbar fights in the Civil War, and severely injures his foot. To avoid amputation of his foot, he escapes from the hospital, and rallies his fellow Union troops against the Confederates. Dunbar and his troops win the skirmish, and Dunbar is rewarded for his heroism with choice of a posting anywhere in the US. Dunbar ultimately chooses to be sent out West, so he can “…see the frontier…before it’s gone.”[1] When he arrives at Fort Sedgewick, his Western posting, he discovers he is all alone on the frontier, except for a wolf, which he names Two Socks. Throughout the movie, he meets, and befriends the local Lakota Sioux tribe, and goes on to marry a white woman, Stands with a Fist, who was taken in by the Lakota as a young girl. When the US Army discovers Dunbar is not doing his job at the fort, but is rather living with the Native Americans, he is arrested for treason. In the end, the Lakota save Dunbar, but Dunbar, and Stands with a Fist must leave the Lakota tribe because the US Army is after him, and he does not want the innocent Lakota to get involved.

Dances with Wolves was a groundbreaking movie for movies about Native Americans and for Native Americans in general. This movie actually “…treated American Indians as fully realized human beings”[2], and did not portray the Native Americans in a demeaning or stereotypical way. The movie also has actual Native Americans playing the roles of Native Americans, such as the actor Graham Greene, an Oneida Indian, who played the role of Kicking Bird, instead of having white actors portray Native Americans. There was also a lot of research and effort put into this movie to make it as authentic as possible. Despite the fact that this movie was predicted to bomb completely, it was well received in the Native American community, and it even went on to win seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, as well as several other significant awards.


[1] Kevin Costner, Michael Blake, and Jim Wilson, Dances with Wolves: The Illustrated Story of the Epic Film (New York: Newmarket Press, 1990), 13.

[2] Jacquelyn Kilpatrick, Celluloid Indians: Native Americans and Film (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1999), 124.

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