The old “Crying Indian” commercial that used to play in the ’70s — which was meant to be a PSA against pollution — is never going to be aired again … now thanks to its new owner.
Nonprofit Keep America Beautiful is the OG creator of the ad, several variations of which they shot and ran with the help of actor Iron Eyes Cody … who was the face of the campaign and who’d often be depicted in Native American regalia/crying at the sight of litter.
While their intentions might’ve been in the right place at the time, the PSA hasn’t aged well … with many Native American groups having since said it pushes hurtful tropes and stereotypes.
As a result, KAB has given up its claim to the PSA at large and transferred ownership to the National Congress of American Indians, which says it’s retiring all of the promos and will monitor to make sure it’s never played without historical context. In other words, this won’t ever be played unironically as a real anti-littering message … like it once was for years.
A rep for the Congress says, “NCAI is proud to assume the role of monitoring the use of this advertisement and ensure it is only used for historical context; this advertisement was inappropriate then and remains inappropriate today. NCAI looks forward to putting this advertisement to bed for good.” It also seems like this is partially due to Cody’s legacy.
At the time, he was all in on this campaign … but his work in Hollywood — where he starred in upwards of 200 films, often portraying a caricature of a Native American character — has many in the community feeling like he’s not the best representation of actual environmental work that real Native American people are involved in today … especially all these years later. One activist says the “Crying Indian” appears to have no agency in the problem.
Bottom line … it might’ve started out as an earnest thing, but got turned into a gag over time — which became clear with shows like ‘The Simpsons’ and ‘South Park’ running parodies, not to mention elsewhere in pop culture. Now, it’s not a laughing matter anymore.