I’ve come to understand American history as perceived through narratives, and as Ronald Reagan showed me, those who control the story of the past also shape perceptions, actions and the future. His fake story of the “welfare queen” in a pink Cadillac moved Congress to pass oppressive welfare “reform” and helped to further “disappear” the poor and the marginalized from American history.
In particular, “the West” is a powerful American narrative that tells “our” story and determines who is seen and who is invisible. Who is included in the “our” is very much dependent on who controls the Western narrative. Until recently, the “our” was seen solely as white and European. History was hardly told from the truths of Tonto or Charlie Chan.
This is changing. I’ve watched some current movies — “First Cow,” “Minari,” “Concrete Cowboy” and “Nomadland” — that challenge the traditional narrative and metaphors about who is real in the actions and processes of American history.
“First Cow” reveals formative flaws in American free enterprise and the “American dream,” while “Minari” gives diversity to the American pioneer spirit. “Concrete Cowboy” reminds us of the unfortunately forgotten history and presence of the Black cowboy (and cowgirl). And “Nomadland” presents the reality of a “new pioneer” and reestablishes the West as a haven for the misplaced of American opportunity.
I recommend these films. They see American history as not one story but as many. My understanding is broader as a result of watching them.
Ken W. White