Cameron University’s Magic Lantern Film Society will present a special screening of “The Searchers” with a presentation by Dr. Sara Spurgeon, who will speak on “A Fella Could Mistake You for a Half-Breed: Race, Gender, and Genre in ‘The Searchers.’” The presentation will precede the screening of the 1956 film, which was named the “Greatest American Western” by the American Film Institute. The event takes place on Friday, March 25, at 6:30 p.m. in the McCasland Ballroom of the McMahon Centennial Complex and is open to the public at no charge.
Spurgeon will consider the issues of race and gender as depicted in the film adaptation of Alan Lemay's 1954 Western novel, “The Searchers.” She will do so within the context of how the issues of race and gender are treated in the Western genre, in Hollywood during this era, and in the particulars of this historical incident. The novel is loosely based on the life of Cynthia Ann Parker, who was abducted by the Comanches at the age of 9; her uncle James W. Parker spent nine years searching for the family members who had been abducted and is thought to be the inspiration for Ethan Edwards, protagonist of the story.
Like James W. Parker, Edwards, played by John Wayne in the film, is the uncle of an abducted girl. Driven by an obsessive need to recapture his niece and by racist hatred of Native peoples, he is horrified by the prospect of miscegenation. The film is one of the first in the Western genre to call into some question the heroism of the Western protagonist. Spurgeon will discuss the film and the attitudes it depicts toward Native peoples and women during its historical context, attitudes that have some bearing on the attitudes toward Native peoples and women today.
Spurgeon teaches literatures of the American West and Southwest as well as nature/environmental writing, gender studies, and postcolonial theory at Texas Tech University. She is the author of “Exploding the Western: Myths of Empire on the Postmodern Frontier,” co-author of “Writing the Southwest” and editor of the critical anthology “Cormac McCarthy.”
Spurgeon’s presentation is made possible by the Holmes, Morris and Newell Endowed Lectureship for Classic Film.