1958 wasn't a year known for cultural sensitivity. While Jim Crow laws were still in effect in much of this country, director Kent MacKenzie filmed a movie called The Exiles. MacKenzie gained the trust of three Native Americans as he documented their struggle over whether they should stay on their reservations or make a move to the outside world. They sadly ended up on Los Angeles' Skid Row.
The movie was lost for nearly 50 years in the back of a UCLA vault until it was restored in 2008 and began appearing in festivals. Friday, The Exiles will make its South Florida debut, screening at Seminole Cinema Night at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Seminole Museum and the Historic Stranahan House Museum.
"At the time, Native Americans were portrayed in movies with the derogatory image of 'Me kill the white face!'" explained Everett Osceola, who helped put the night together. "This movie showed them as people."
Osceola explains who and what viewers will encounter in the film. "One character shown is a pregnant woman. Two of the men are having fun rabblerousing when they move to Los Angeles. There is a really beautiful scene where they go into the Hollywood Hills to have a 49, which is a smaller version of a powwow, with the city of Los Angeles in the background."
Since the movie is set in the 1950s, the night will be themed around that decade. "We want it to have a fun feel that will be both educational and eye-opening," explains Osceola.
The festivities will start at 6 p.m. when they will be serving wine and food. Rockabilly band Slip and the Spinouts will provide the live soundtrack, and classic 1950s cars will be on display. At 7 p.m., Oliver Warehan will play the Native American flute as a signal that the movie will soon begin. After The Exiles screens, Pamela Peters, who helped bring the movie back into the limelight, will participate in a Q&A.
Osceola is hoping this screening could be a baby step toward bigger things. "There is a Native American film festival in San Francisco, and Robert Redford has one at Sundance. It would be nice if we could have one on the East Coast right here in Florida."
Seminole Cinema Night with The Exiles, 6 p.m. Friday, November 21, with Slip and the Spinouts, at Historic Stranahan House Museum, 335 SE 6th Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-524-4736, or visit stranahanhouse.org.