Within a few days of each other, I saw Schindler’s List and Geronimo, and it occurred to me that both films are about Holocausts, about entire populations murdered because of their race. But Americans are not quick to describe our treatment of the Indians as genocide, and even a somewhat revisionist film like Geronimo is careful to describe the conflicts between the U.S. government and Indian « hostiles » as a war. It was a war carried out with most of the power on our side, and our justification — that the land belonged to us and we therefore had the divine right to cleanse it of an alien race — is, of course, Hitler’s argument. One of the unanswerable questions in this film comes when Geronimo asks why there is not enough land for everyone. Indians are these days called Native Americans, although they are immigrants to this continent like everyone else, and should more properly be called First Americans. They lived on the land for 1,000 years or more before the U.S. Army came to dispossess and contain them, a process that Geronimo and his small bands of Apache warriors were able to frustrate through many years of brilliant guerrilla warfare. Geronimo was never defeated, although he surrendered twice and finally died a natural death at 80, a prosperous Oklahoma farmer.
Walter Hill’s Geronimo, a film of great beauty and considerable intelligence, covers the same ground as many other movies about Indians, but in a new way (…). Geronimo himself is seen as a man of considerable insight, able to live off the land and launch deadly raids, yet contemplative about his role. He was responsible for the deaths of many white settlers, including women and children, but he points out to Crook with perfect logic that the « white eyes » had also killed many Indians, including women and children, and that these deaths must not be described as murder, but as war. American history has come slowly to share his perspective. Looking in two editions of the Columbia Encyclopedia, one published in 1950, one this year, I find that the 1950 reference to his « brutal raids » has been dropped, and that a charge that he « broke his word » has now been replaced by the information that the federal government broke its word to him (…) I wish in a way the film had told more of the story of Geronimo’s exile — of his removal to Florida, where he was told his band would be joined by their women and children, a lie. And his later removal to Oklahoma, where he was kept as an Army prisoner but later became a Christian, bought land, farmed it, and wrote his autobiography. He was quite a celebrity in his later years, and even rode in Theodore Roosevelt’s inaugural parade. I wonder what he was thinking. — Roger Ebert, 1993.