The 1992 celebrations of the arrival of the three ships in 1492, under the command of Christopher Columbus, were meant to observe the opening of a New World and the triumphant Europeanizing of the two continents of the Americas.  But the moment had passed.  A new awareness of the devastation wrought by these landfalls, and the completion of all the independence movements south of the Canadian border had fostered a contentious sensibility.  Two movies about Columbus were released in 1992 and they were both disappointments.  The filmmakers were manifestly  crippled with ambivalence about the benefits of colonization and probing explorations of the imperatives of the times only resulted in deepening irony. Films about the initial landings of the Spaniards will be found in Central America / The Columbus Movies: First Contact.

It often seems to me that American school children, especially in the Snow Shovel States, are more aware of the arrival of the English at Jamestown and Plymouth and know little of the earlier incursions of the Spanish and Portuguese to the south.  Spanish triumphs were more difficult to celebrate because of the stunning levels of cruelty that accompanied them. French and British agendas for annihilation took a little longer to emerge. The only alluring legend that has survived from the times of first contact is the story of Pocahontas, and it requires heavy infusions of invented storytelling.

There is a scene in the movie, The New World that powerfully captures the moment when indigenous people on the upper North American shore first caught sight of the white sails. It turns the viewer around and compels a reversal of perception. What must it have been like for those who were about to be invaded? There are only a few movies that look at the world through Indian eyes, and they are obscure. An increasing number of Hollywood movies, however, make a more or less admirable effort to correct the distortions of history (while often adding their own fresh fictions).  It is instructive to go to YouTube and listen for a few minutes to Kevin Costner’s introduction to the documentary, 500 Nations (1995).

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