Friday night, the Stranahan House Museum was transformed into a 1950s dance fest. At 6 p.m., Rockabilly band Slip and the Spinouts were playing music made for greasers and pre-auxiliary cord cars were displayed out front in all their shiny glory.
The reason for these festivities was not an interactive screening of Grease but rather of the lost movie The Exiles. Created in the late '50s by director Kent MacKenzie, it tells the story of three Native Americans who moved from their reservation to Los Angeles. The movie was created around the time of the Indian Relocation Act, a United States law created to encourage indigenous people to leave their reservations and move to certain cities in the U.S. where they were promised a solid job and good life.
It also came about at a time where Hollywood was showing Native Americans living in teepees with elaborate costumes and feathers, speaking broken English. This film, however, depicts Natives as normal people, not stereotypes.
The three main characters are into romance, partying, and hanging out with friends. Shot in black and white, it almost resembles a home video. It was raw, poignant, and relatable. And, (spoiler alert!), two of the main characters do end up dancing on the hill in traditional garb to music.
The Exiles was lost for almost 50 years until it was restored in 2008 and appeared in small festivals. So why, in 2014, did it make its South Florida debut at this historic spot in November, Native American Heritage Month.
Everett Osceola, who works for the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Seminole Museum in the Everglades and who used to volunteer at Stranahan House, was intrigued when he saw the film years ago and asked executive director April Kirk if they could screen it there.
We asked Osceola how he felt seeing the way Hollywood incorrectly portrayed his culture, Osceola said, "I feel frustrated more than anything."
Yet, there is optimism. About the film being publicly shown for the first time in 50 years on the East Coast, he continued, "I'm just going at it like an empty cup," he said. "I'll fill the cup with critique, opinions. I felt the film should be shown. It was created around the time the Indians were portrayed incorrectly in Hollywood, but they are living how we are now, not with feathers and living in a teepee."
Pamela Peters, who helped bring the movie back to light with her short film The Legacy of Exiled NDNZ, agreed. "We're finally getting our voices out to the mainstream from our history and our perspectives," she said.
Peters was inspired by The Exiles and after help from some crowdfunding, she turned what was originally a photography project into a 12 minute film. Her film was also in black and white and shown after The Exiles along with a Q&A.
"Most importantly, I want people in L.A. to know that we are a part of L.A.'s history," Peters said. With Osceola's hopes of bringing Native American fairs to South Florida, it's likely that the message will soon spread.