RED FEVER : A word from Neil Diamond & Catherine Bainbridge

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Catherine Bainbridge


I went to a Northern Ontario girls summer camp as a child and teenager, where every Saturday night, all us girls gathered with our “tribe”, donned blankets and colourful headbands, and solemnly walked down to what seemed like a magical forest glen where benches for each “tribe” encircled a roaring fire. Our moonlit “Tribal Council” was presided over by our camp director, Mrs. Gilcrest, who sat above us on a raised wooden chair, dressed in a buckskin mini dress and black wig with braids. 


Seriously. That really happened. And I know there are literally millions and millions of other North Americans who experienced their own versions of the same thing.


The obsession about Indigenous people is global. In every corner of the earth, people all hold the same images in their head. 


When Neil and I co-directed Reel Injun, we explored those fantasies in Hollywood films – the wise elder, noble savage, sexualized Pocahontas…you know what I’m talking about.


In Red Fever, we now ask – but where does it all come from? These fantasies that persist in novels, films, TV, sports logos, fashion, summer camps, spiritual retreats, wilderness tourism and on and on.


Did Hollywood cook up all these fantasies?


That seemed unlikely.


It turns out, there is a deep and hidden history to the obsession, based on events and knowledge we once mostly knew about – but which have been hidden through time. Stories about the origin of these fantasies that you likely have not heard before. 


North American identity and culture has been profoundly and deeply influenced by Indigenous cultures – forgotten influences and forgotten stories. In Red Fever, we are going to tell you a few of them.


Like the origin story of the Indigenous-themed sports logos and how they came to permeate North American culture, the story of Indigenous design and its profound influence on American fashion, and a story about the origins of democracy itself. 


All these stories were buried when Indigenous Nations lost their power and authority – when the genocidal western expansion began. They had to be. You can’t murder people you admire. 


So, Neil and I welcome you to a new look at our history – and in Neil’s witty, teasing, understated Cree way that he tells these stories – we hope you come to appreciate Indigenous cultures with a new understanding – and can abandon the buckskin mini dress and braided wig in your mind – for images so much more inspiring, rich, and real.

Neil Diamond


I have attended numerous festivals and conferences since Reel Injun came out in 2009, and in the many countries I visited, I encountered many who are completely fascinated with Native people. To this day, I attend screenings of the film worldwide and see that people are still interested in hearing from and learning about Native people from the Americas. Many of them, especially overseas, are astonished that we still exist.


There were many interesting questions from audience members after Reel Injun screenings. Do your people still speak “Indian”? Has Hollywood changed? Why didn’t you include this and that?


Red Fever is an attempt to answer some of those questions – in a way that’s entertaining and amusing.


The image of the noble and savage Indian still remains across the globe. Heading out to explore one morning in Seoul, I stopped in my tracks when I spotted the wooden Indian figure above the entrance of a nightclub. In the mountains of Croatia, the name “Vinetou,” a fictional Apache chief, can be seen etched in stone pointing the way to the locations of the numerous action films that were created in communist Yugoslavia. Winnetou fans from Germany, Czechia, Poland and other former Eastern Bloc countries, flock to these sites every summer to relive the thrilling adventures of their “Indianer” hero and his German comrade, Old Shatterhand – think Tonto and the Lone Ranger, as communist avengers fighting the running dogs of capitalism and you’ll get the plots of these films.


Closer to home, the Indian and his tragic, romantic, defiant past is still played out in Hollywood films like Avatar, Prey, and for those in the know, Star Wars and Dune (whose origin books were both based on us).


The Indian is all over the sports field. Kansas City Chiefs fans paint their faces and mime a tomahawk chop to inspire their team to victory. The Cleveland Indians, until a few years ago, had as their symbol the ridiculous Chief Wahoo; a bucktoothed caricature of an Indian that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the anti-Semitic propaganda of Nazi Germany.


My ancestors were a force in the fashion world. For some 300 years, Cree hunters supplied beaver pelts for English milliners, castoreum for European perfumers, and mink, otter, and other furs for chic European women. I know, fabulous, right?


Design houses like Ralph Lauren, Mizrahi, Dior, Jean Paul Gaultier, among others, were notorious for “borrowing” ideas to dress the fashion-conscious public. Ralph Lauren, who singularly defined “American fashion,” drew heavily on Navajo design. What they failed to understand was that our designs have deep spiritual meanings. Sometimes only a select few were meant to wear them, and only then purely for ceremonial purposes.


During my travels across Eastern Europe, I had very few opportunities to see the latest Hollywood films, but I did hear about what people back home thought through social media. The popular Twilight films, with Jacob and his pack of ripped shirtless Native werewolves, barely registered in the Europe I knew. Wandering the streets in the fortified mountaintop town of Volterra, I noticed posters depicting the white vampires and Native werewolves from the Twilight series on its ancient stone walls. What was the connection to this obscure Italian town? It turns out that the Twilight vampires are descended from a Royal coven in Volterra. Who knew?


Once back in North America, I watched The Lone Ranger, The Mandalorian, Parasite, Outlander, Hostiles, and The English. Even if they weren’t obviously Native American-themed, hidden amidst their layers was the Indian story. Hollywood was slowly changing and so was the “Injun.”


I was sometimes uncomfortable standing in front of audiences in South Korea and Eastern Europe, where the only places people encountered “Indians” was through books, television, and the silver screen. I often felt that people were disappointed when they saw me dressed in modern clothing, not looking like the Hollywood “Indian.”. One young university student said to me at a dinner somewhere in Eastern Europe, “I can’t believe you’re an Indian and you came in wearing a suit!”


I could have replied, well look at the Europeans. They get together and dress the way Indians did hundreds of years ago…


I’m often asked how I feel about Native American cultures being appropriated and what my thoughts are on “Pretendians.” People are surprised that I was amused, even flattered. But I understand how other Native groups are offended, angry, and see it as a form of colonialism. An “Indianer” group in Germany, who face criticism and ridicule in German media for their lifestyle, were not eager to meet me. But in true Indian fashion, welcomed me into their teepee – literally.


Red Fever began as an exploration of cultural appropriation and how our spirituality, traditional wear, objects, identities, and ceremonies were being exploited – often by people who meant well, but were ignorant of their significance.


The idea behind Red Fever evolved into a study of the vast influence Native America has had, and still has, on Western culture from sports, fashion, politics, and the environmental movement today. Still, Red Fever only touches on these influences. Consider the Columbian Exchange. What would Italian cuisine be without the tomato? How would Irish stew taste without the potato? How different would your Thai restaurant evening be without the chili peppers? How tame would Brian DePalma’s Scarface be without cocaine? The list is long, indeed.


Reel Injun helped light a spark among Indigenous artists and activists to create their own stories in books and film and correct the existing representations of their peoples and cultures. Red Fever is a meagre attempt to do the same, and answer many of the questions that Reel Injun generated. But yet again, we found our subject so rich, we could only show the tip of the iceberg. The story of the Americas is only now being told by the people who are qualified to tell that very story. Not only in film, but in novels, essays, articles, lectures, protests, social media, and in any other form of communication that our storytellers can master.


The stories in Red Fever will surprise and shock, and many will no doubt balk at some of the claims in the film. There are sure to be heated discussions, arguments, criticisms, and dismissals of what we know is the true history of Native America. Red Fever will be deemed provocative, but will also generate much needed discussion and debate.