In this module, we looked at the influence of “Manifest Destiny” as the United States fervently expanded westward across the continent. This imperialist project was not as it is often depicted in Hollywood films as a natural movement of settlers in covered wagons, lone explorers in raccoon-skin caps, and scuffles between frontiersmen and “Indians.” Instead, the reshaping of United States territory was the result of consecutive invasions and occupations of Indigenous lands and Mexico.
An example of classic Hollywood cinema that distorts historic facts and romanticizes westward expansion is the 1962 film starring actor John Wayne, How the West Was Won. Here’s the original trailer for that film:
For this assignment, you will write a synopsis for a dramatic Hollywood movie about U.S. westward expansion. A synopsis is an overall summary of a film’s plot and main characters. A synopsis provides a snapshot of a film’s movie script, also known as a screenplay.
Your film synopsis will need to focus on providing historical accuracy inspired by the module content while writing a dramatic, fictional narrative. Additionally, the primary vantage point of the film should be told from the viewpoint of Indigenous or Mexican peoples who were forcibly removed from their land by the U.S. government and white settlers. This will not be long, so focus on making it interesting and historically accurate.
Step 1: Choose an event from the course content that impacted the westward expansion of the United States (the annexation of Oregon, Texas, The U.S.-Mexican War, The Gold Rush, etc.)
Step 2: Write a 250-500 word synopsis for a dramatic Hollywood movie that is centered around the timeline of the event you chose.
The primary viewpoint and protagonist characters in the film should be from an Indigenous or Mexican perspective. This will require you to think imaginatively and use empathy to connect with the heroes of your movie. The plot of your movie should include the following:
- An event from the module that includes accuracy in dates, historical figures, and historic detail.
- At least two characters (fictional or non-fictional) that drive the action in the plot.
- A conflict between characters that revolves around your selected historical event.
- A plot that includes rising action, climax, and a conclusion.
Below is an example of a synopsis for the film How the West Was Won. This film covers several events and chapters from U.S. History. Your synopsis will only need to focus on ONE specific historical event from the module while meeting the requirements. Additionally, the protagonists of this film (i.e. “the good guys”) are a fictitious white settler family. In your synopsis, the main characters need to represent those who were displaced by white settlers—Indigenous and/or Mexican people.
How The West Was Won Synopsis
This story chronicles how the Western U.S. was settled over several generations through the lens of the Prescott family. Zebulon Prescott along with his wife Rebecca and daughters Eve and Lilith set out for the western frontier traveling along the newly built Erie Canal. Along the way, the Prescott family meets hunter and trapper Linus Rawlings, a rugged lone adventurer who catches the romantic interest of Eve. While Linus is not quite ready to settle down for marriage, he helps Eve and her family escape the sinister clutches of a band of river pirates. The Prescotts continue down the river, but their raft is swept away and Zebulon and Rebecca drown. Eve and Linus are reunited, and Linus realizes he loves Eve, so they marry and settle together near where her parents died.
Lilith later makes her way to St. Louis as a dance performer in a touring musical troupe. She catches the eye of professional gambler Cleve Van Valen and they head west to California to make their fortune.
Linus and his son Zeb both enlist to fight in for the Union Army in the Civil War. Unbeknownst to Zeb, Linus is killed in the Battle of Shiloh. Eve loses her will to live without her husband, and Zeb learns of her passing when he returns home as a lieutenant, disillusioned from the hardships of war. Zeb is assigned to protect the transcontinental construction of the U.S. railroad, but, after retaliation from Native Americans, he resigns and heads to Arizona. Zeb’s widowed aunt Lillith makes him an offer to take over her ranch. While Zeb and his wife and children set out to meet Lilith, they are confronted by Zeb’s old enemy, outlaw Charlie Gant. A final showdown ensues culminating in a shootout between Gant and Zeb, leaving Gant and his gang dead and Zeb the victor. The saga concludes with Lilith and the Rawlings family traveling to their new home on the ranch.
“How the West Was Won (Film).” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 23 May 2021, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/How_the_West_Was_Won_(film).
“How the West Was Won.” IMDb, IMDb.com, 23 May 2021, www.imdb.com/title/tt0056085/.
Assignment Grading Rubric:
|Historical Accuracy||Historical context of the movie plot is inaccurate or poorly researched. Synopsis writing does not focus on a historical event in the westward expansion module.||Historical context of the movie plot is somewhat accurate. Some information is missing or unclear.||Historical context of the movie plot is complete, accurate, and relevant to the westward expansion module.||__/5|
|Synopsis||The criteria for the synopsis writing was not met. The synopsis writing is unclear, does not meet the minimum word count, and lacks creativity. The plot structure is unclear and lacks character development.||The criteria for the synopsis was only somewhat met. The minimum word count was met but not exceeded. The writing lacks clarity and the plot structure is somewhat unclear.||The criteria for the synopsis is met and exceeded. The word count exceeds the minimum of 250 words. The plot of the film has clear structure with rising action, climax, and conclusion.||__/10|
|Vantage Point||The synopsis was not written from the perspective of Mexican/Indigenous characters. The writing was not proofread for grammar/mechanics.||The vantage point of the film lacks clarity. It is somewhat difficult to ascertain whether Mexican/Indigenous perspectives are centered in the film’s plot.||The primary vantage point in the film is creatively constructed through the perspective of either Mexican or Indigenous character(s).||__/5|