Ramapough Indians Angered by Portrayal of Native Americans in ‘Out of the Furnace’

A new Hollywood film released yesterday is causing a stir among a local Native American community. North Jersey's Ramapough Indians, some of whom live in the Stag Hill section of Mahwah, are calling "Out of the Furnace" a "hate crime."

The Ramapough chief, Dwaine Perry, held a news conference Wednesday at the Mahwah municipal building, suggesting that the new movie–one that deals with violence and drugs–is based on their community in the Ramapo Mountains.  

Perry was joined at the conference by Mahwah mayor Bill Laforet and superintendent of schools C. Lauren Schoen, according to The Record. The three came together as a show of unity.

"It's a negative reflection of our people, and it angers me," Laforet said at the conference.

"Out of the Furnace" follows Russel Baze (Christian Bale) and his younger brother Rodney Jr. (Casey Affleck), who grew up impoverished but still hold onto the dream of getting out of the Rust Belt and bettering their lives. Yet this endeavor does not come easily for the brothers, who find themselves involved with a ruthless crime ring in a tale of justice, revenge and freedom.

Though the film is primarily set in the rural town of Braddock, Pa., "the characters travel to the Ramapo Mountains in several scenes," writes The Record, and one of the movie's main villains is named DeGroat, "a common surname among the Ramapough Indian community."

Perry thought this character, played by Woody Harrelson, "stepped over the boundaries of decency."

"Harrelson…shoots one man at point-blank range in the film and leads a group of people to kill another character execution style," The Record explains.

Relativity Media is producing the film, and a spokeswoman for the company said "Out of the Furnace" isn't "based on any particular person or group of people," according to the Mahwah Patch.

"As is the case with most films, the filmmakers conducted research and drew upon their own personal life experiences in creating an original screenplay, and the story and the characters are entirely fictional," she said.

The movie's director, former actor Scott Cooper, has quickly become respected behind the camera with his first feature film "Crazy Heart." The star-studded cast has also generated a lot of interest in the film, as many of the actors have won or been nominated for Oscars, including Bale, Affleck, Harrelson, Forest Whitaker, Willem Dafoe and Sam Shepard.

An excellent ensemble cast such as this one is reason enough to see the film, not to mention two of the producers involved with the project are Leonardo DiCaprio and Ridley Scott.

Laforet, who saw the film in limited release on Wednesday in New York City, said it "had the potential to be 'incendiary' by 'igniting old fears' and reinforcing stereotypes of the Ramapoughs as being lawless," The Record reported.

For example, in one scene, a Pennsylvania police chief (Whitaker's character) said, "People up in those hills don't cooperate. It's a whole 'nother world with a whole different justice that doesn't include us."

Town officials suggest that this kind of stereotyping will be extremely harmful not just to the Ramapough community, but to Mahwah as a whole.

"A movie like this goes against everything we believe in our township and our schools," said Schoen. "When a movie deals in negative stereotypes rather than applauds the contributions of any people, we are all diminished."

In its limited release, "Out of the Furnace" has been received positively, but it may be difficult to tell how audiences respond until it is officially released. The thriller has a lot of hype to live up to, but whether or not it can carry the weight is still yet to be determined.