What the Movie Is Based On – TheFantasyTimes

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By Jitin Gambhir

What the Movie Is Based On

Historical fiction stories are not only enjoyable for history buffs, but also for casual readers and viewers. The unique experience of being transported to a different era and connecting with the characters through their emotional journeys is fascinating. These stories also provide an opportunity to learn more about a specific period in history, as well as the history of a city, country, or continent.

However, it is important to note that most movies and television shows in this genre are fictional, even if they are set in real historical events or with real people. While history lovers can distinguish between creative licenses and actual events, casual fans may not be aware of the difference. Therefore, it is crucial for the best stories to strive for authenticity in every aspect, from clothing to dialogue.

One such example is the Academy Award-winning movie, Dances with Wolves. This epic three-hour Western, released in 1990, tells the story of Union Army Officer Lieutenant John Dunbar, played by Kevin Costner. After being injured in battle, Dunbar meets a Lakota Sioux tribe and begins to adapt his way of living to mimic theirs. This leads to a questioning of his entire philosophy and way of life.

The movie is based on author Michael Blake’s novel of the same name, which was adapted into a screenplay by Blake himself. While the story is mostly fiction, it required extensive research to accurately depict the Lakota Sioux tribe and their way of life.

Although some characters in the movie are based on real people, the story itself is not entirely factual. However, the elements that make it stand out are those taken from reality, such as the buffalo dance, a real-life ceremony performed by the Lakota Sioux.

When Dances with Wolves was released over 20 years ago, it was praised for its representation and casting of Native Americans. However, the perspective on this representation has since changed, with some critics pointing out the “white savior” trope present in the story. Nevertheless, there has been progress in how Native Americans are represented on screen, with shows like Reservation Dogs showcasing Native American talent both on and off-screen.

In conclusion, historical fiction stories provide an enjoyable and educational experience for readers and viewers alike. While they may not be entirely factual, the elements taken from reality make them stand out. It is also important to strive for authenticity in every aspect of the story, and to give opportunities to diverse voices to tell these stories.

Stories set in actual historical events are fun for history buffs, as well as casual readers and viewers. There’s something about being transported to a completely different time in history and still being able to connect with the characters, as their journeys are filled with emotions we have all experience, that is interesting to see. Also, it allows one to know more about a specific period and the history of a city, country, or continent. Nevertheless, it is essential to highlight that most movies and television shows are fiction, even if they are set in a moment that really happened or with people that actually existed.



For history lovers, it is easy to see the moments the director or writer took creative licenses to make the best fictional story they could, not a documentary. But that is not so true for the casual genre fan, as some of the best stories try to make everything: from clothes to how they talk, feel authentic and accurate. This is true to the Academy Award-winning movie, Dances with Wolves. The Western is set in a troubled period of American history and was a huge success, even if not all it shows it’s what actually happened.

Here’s what the Kevin Costner movie is based on and if it is historically accurate.

What Is Dances with Wolves About?

Orion Pictures

Dances with Wolves is an epic three-hour Western released in 1990 and won an outstanding quantity of seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture. The international box office reached $424.2 million, becoming the fourth-highest engrossing movie of that year. Dance with Wolves used an impressive amount of animals to shot and feel realistic, including 300 horses and 3,500 buffalos. It was Kevin Costner’s directorial debut, and he also produced and starred in the movie. After the film, Costner was made an honorary member of the Sioux Nation — which is represented as an essential part of the narrative.

Related: Dances with Wolves Cast: Where They Are Today

This story is set in the 1860s and tells the story of a Union Army Officer, Lieutenant John Dunbar, played by Costner. The story starts when Dunbar is hurt in a battle and discovers his leg will be amputated. Attempting suicide, he ends up helping the Union win a battle. Dunbar meets a surgeon after the battle, who saves his leg. The officer decides where he wants to be posted next and finds a deserted western post, Fort Sedgwick. That’s where he meets a Lakota Sioux tribe. The character starts adapting his way of living to mimic theirs, and his entire philosophy and way of living are questioned.

The Movie Is an Adaptation of a Book

A scene from Dances With Wolves
Orion Pictures

The movie is an adaptation of author Michael Blake’s novel, released in 1988 with the same name, and was adapted as a screenplay by Blake himself. Surprisingly, Costner’s acting debut was in another movie written by Blake, Stacy’s Knights. While the adaptation and the book feel like a real story, it is mostly fiction. However, as many fans of historical fiction know, these stories require a lot of research to feel accurate — even if the characters and major plot points aren’t real. This goes even for more fantasy-heavy stories, such as Outlander another novel-to-screen adaptation.

There was a real Christian missionary that was associated with the Pawnees in the early 1800s called John Dunbar, but there are no records of his involvement in the events shown in Dances with Wolves. Some other characters are based on real people, including Stands With a Fist (Mary McDonnell). She was based on Cynthia Ann Parker’s story; she was kidnaped and adopted by the Comanche and lived with them for many years.

Related: Great Movies About Meditative Journeys Through Nature

One of the most heavily researched elements of the story was the Lakota Sioux. The author learned how the Lakota Sioux, a nomadic tribe, lived at that time. Their cultural as well as spiritual beliefs, as they believe in nature and that everything is interconnected, as perceived in the movie and the novel. They were hunters and gatherers who ultimately relied on hunting bison for survival. In the film, the actors perform a ceremony called the buffalo dance, which is taken from real life. Therefore, while the main story was made up, the elements that make it stand out are those taken from reality and that respect this culture and its people, as most stories are part of the genre.

Native American Representation

Reservation Dogs

When Dances with Wolves was released over 20 years ago, the representation was shown, and the casting was praised by many as it diverge from the prejudiced and one-dimensional characters they were written as. However, since the film was made, the perspective of how well the tribe has represented in the movie has had mixed reviews, as the “white savior” cliché having a significant part of this particular story. Nevertheless, a slow change has occurred regarding how Native Americans are represented on screen.

On television, the comedy Reservation Dogs centers around a few teens on the Oklahoma reservation greatly impacted the industry regarding this particular representation. Created by Academy Award winner director, writer, and occasional actor Taika Watiti and writer Sterlin Harjo, the show now has two seasons, and FX announced a third one. One of the most notable elements of the show regarding representation goes further than the ones the audience sees on screen: almost all the directors, producers, and writers are Native Americans. It is important to highlight who gets the opportunity to tell these stories, as someone who can attest to what is being shown on screen sometimes doesn’t get to say to them.

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