April 12: Kali Simmons

The Ones Who Did Not Die: Indigenous Killers, Final Girls, and Captivity Narratives

To live under the conditions of settler-colonialism, as an Indigenous person, is to exist within a terrifying structure of dispossession and violence. And yet, American cinema has tended to imagine the opposite, rendering white settlers and the colonial state as the victims of terrifying Indigenous others seeking violent revenge.

This talk examines representations of Indigenous peoples in contemporary American horror cinema, focusing on slasher films and the trope of the Indigenous killer. Although many of these slasher films voice criticisms of colonialism and modernity, they also perpetuate harmful stereotypes about Indigenous peoples premised upon
colonial hierarchies of race and gender. Alongside my analysis of specific films, I link these contemporary representations to early colonial texts, most significantly the captivity narrative, in order to gesture towards a genealogy of the ‘killer Indian’ trope.

Dr. Kali Simmons (Oglala Lakota) is an Assistant Professor of Indigenous Nations Studies at Portland State University where she teaches courses on Indigenous representation in popular media. Her current book project, The Savage Screen: Indigeneity in the Modern American Horror Film, is an examination of Indigenous representation which also argues that many of horror’s generic conventions have troubling colonial origins. Dr. Simmons’ writing has been published in the Journal of Cinema and Media Studies, Science Fiction Film and Television, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and on Vulture.com.