In February of 2021, a new film hit Netflix. Titled News of the World and starring Tom Hanks, the movie tells the story of Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, widower and three-time war veteran.
At first, it looks like your usual Western film. A story that gets you right from the start. A story that makes you forget you’re actually watching a movie and not living the life of somebody completely different. However, News of the World contains an underlying connection to a particular part of American history that deserves its screentime.
About the film
Set five years after the end of the Civil War, News of the World focuses on travelling storyteller Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd. He speaks of gripping adventures, glorious people and gnarly feuds from around the world.
When travelling through the plains of Texas, he crosses paths with 10-year-old Johanna, played by Helena Zengel. The young girl is being sent to live with her biological aunt and uncle after being raised by the Kiowa people for the majority of her life.
Tom Hanks’ character agrees to accompany her, and the two unlikely companions begin a trek through the unforgiving American wilderness. Along the way, they both face tremendous challenges of both human and natural forces. Together, they search for a place that either can call home.
Paulette Jiles initially bought the story to life in her 2016 novel of the same name. Paul Greengrass, working with Luke Davies, adapted it for the screen. Check out the New York Times’ review of the book here.
The history behind the film
The Kiowa people are a Native American tribe of the Great Plains of the United States. Oral tradition says their origins were in the far north, in the Yellowstone area or possibly even Canada. Gradually, the tribe migrated east and south through the Black Hills and later to Nebraska and Colorado.
The American government pushed the Kiowa people further south as they attempted to connect the east and west coasts by railway. Eventually, the tribe was forced to share lands with the Comanche and Apache in 1868. Once refined to reservation life by the U.S military, boarding schools and other assimilation policies wrought havoc on the Kiowa culture.
After facing oppression, confinement and even imprisonment, the Kiowa people created a tribal government in 1940. This was off the back of the New Indian Deal of 1930. Today, they keep their culture and heritage alive with clubs, fairs and festivals.
Oklahoma in particular plays a significant role with the Kiowa people. Now, 39 American Indian tribal headquarters call Oklahoma home. This is because the state originally housed many native American tribes when the U.S government forcefully relocated them. The Kiowa people made their mark on the state; their strong culture and heritage continuing to be a part of Oklahoma’s identity today.
News of the World is not just a great film worthy of your time. It is also an important film that highlights the significance of representation in mass media.
The assimilation and oppression experienced by the Kiowa people cannot be undone or forgiven. However, their inclusion on worldwide viewing platforms like Netflix encourages viewers to learn about their rich history and culture.
Feature image: © Netflix