With acclaimed series such as Mad Men, Breaking Bad and Walking Dead, the AMC cable network has established itself as a showcase for cutting-edge drama. The latest show is Hell on Wheels, described as “a contemporary western” at the AMCTV.com website, and the internet is abuzz with reviews and commentary, much of it debating whether the show is of the same caliber as the other AMC series.
Among the clips online is this scene depicting Cheyenne Indians attacking white settlers. As we all know, portrayals of Indians in the western genre have been among the worst cinematic cliches. Clearly the show is striving to be edgy, and this brutal scene uses violent Indian characters to achieve that goal. Perhaps it’s not fair to judge a show based on a single scene out of context—and the show’s producers do deserve some credit for the casting of Native actors like Eddie Spears and Julian Black Antelope. The AMC website states that Hell on Wheels “underscores the network’s commitment to the Western”—we’ll be watching with great interest to see what sort of western AMC has created, whether it’s one that allows Indians with dramatic depth or simply uses them as cartoonish plot devices.