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The Criterion Shelf: Black Westerns

Cover picture for the articleAfter decades of being the most popular genre in the movies, westerns appeared to become more thoughtful in the 1950s, the cavalry of consciousness led by John Ford, whose 1939 classic Stagecoach is considered the first oater to receive serious critical attention and legitimize westerns as more than just disposable, escapist entertainment. Ford’s The Searchers is a frequently cited example of a film that suggests that there might be virulent racism at the heart of not only American westerns but America itself. In the film, John Wayne looks for the niece who was abducted by Comanches as a baby; his companions begin to understand that he means not to restore her to her family but to save her from a “fate worse than death”.