The Daughter of Dawn is more of a historical curiosity then it is a successful movie. Populated entirely by Native American actors, The Daughter of Dawn is one of the few dramatic westerns that places them within the heroic and romantic contexts and not as the unseen other descending upon the routinely white heroes. It’s worth watching for this reason, but even at a brisk 83 minutes this thing still manages to plod along.
The problem here is that too much emphasis is placed on the tragic romantic triangle aspect, and even this early in cinema this was a stiff jointed narrative. The Daughter of Dawn is much better and engaging when it relaxes into documentary-style observation. There’s an authenticity to the performances, glimpses of daily life, and smaller moments here that’s absorbing for how specific it is when compared to the broad strokes you’d later on. The indigenous actors get to be active participants and objects instead of mere passive or reactive supporting players and villains.
Yes, it is amateur in many ways, plodding in its narrative, but it’s still worth watching for its historical import. Filmed between 1919, screened in 1920, then languished and long thought lost until rediscovery in 2005, and finally premiering in 2012, The Daughter of Dawn adds another passage to the history of American cinema. It’s just a damn shame that it’s not an all-around better movie.