Non-Native War Paint

Welcome to the site!

My name is John Ess, and this is my webpage created in partial fulfillment of the Master of Arts degree in History at California State University, San Marcos. The history faculty at CSUSM believes in the power of digital history, and hopefully I have managed to fulfill some of that potential.

In the following pages, I explore the digital portion of my master’s thesis on the portrayal of American Indians in United States film and television, and the video game Assassin’s Creed III. All of the works I consider are set during the American Revolution. The title of this page, “Non-Native War Paint,” is inspired by the work of Beverly R. Singer. Her book, Wiping the War Paint off the Lens, is a powerful look at some of the issues of Native American representations in film and how American Indians have worked to counter the use of negative stereotypes about their diverse peoples.1 My site’s title references the fact that any war paint on the lens never belonged to the American Indians; it has always been a paint manufactured and applied by Euro-Americans onto the lens whenever it was aimed at a Native American. I hope to help dispel some of the stereotypes used against American Indians by taking a closer look at how they have been represented over time.

Any of the pages can be visited in any order, with perhaps the exceptions of the introduction and the conclusion; those will make the most sense if visited first and last, respectively. They are separated by theme rather than by time period or by the ordering of a linear argument.

As a historian who is a white male, I am aware of the issues inherent in writing about those who are not white nor male. I am consciously not attempting to speak for Native American people of any gender, to replace their voices, or claim authority over their affairs. This work of research and analysis advocates for authentic, respectful portrayals of American Indians in popular media, and attempts to amplify Native American voices where possible.

I hope this project shows you things that you have never seen beforeā€”I know I have! I also hope that, having seen these things, you will see the United States, visual media, and American Indians in a different way than you did before.

John Ess
October, 2019

1. Beverly R. Singer, Wiping the War Paint off the Lens: Native American Film and Video (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001).