Monument Valley is in Arizona and has been used as a setting for countless films over the decades. Because of this, it is one of the most recognizable landscapes in the world. 

A new documentary, The Taking, looks at the history of Monument Valley and cinema to discuss a sad truth that should not be ignored. 

It was first a sovereign Navajo land but was taken from them and became a top spot for the film and commercial industry. Over the decades, countless films were shot there, including Stagecoach (1939), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Easy Rider (1969), National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), Back to the Future Part III (1990), and Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014) to name just a few. 

Source: The Taking Press Kit

The director, Alexandre O. Philippe, wrote in a statement: 

“…the popular motion pictures we cherish as our cultural heritage often carry complicated resonance and aren’t always easy to reconcile with the culture, racial, and social strides we’ve made as a nation. While they ought not be censored, altered, or swept under the rug of history, our American myths hold a mirror to our dreams, aspirations, fears, flaws, and inherence darkness; and understanding their enduring resonance is an essential step on our journey toward self-knowledge.” 

The documentary goes deep into the repercussions of how Monument Valley was taken, used, and built, a myth of the American people and landscape. The indigenous people were forced to work on these sets and for the tourism industry so that they could afford to live on the land that was once theirs. Yet, no one really acknowledged that until recent years.

The discussion of cultural appropriation was also discussed in this documentary. The Wild West, Cowboys vs. Indians, and it’s distorted way of showing who was the good guy and who was the bad guy. Then the tourism industry continued to grow, where it was more of a photo opportunity than a time to reflect and appreciate a historical landscape with a sad history. 

“Monument Valley is a great propaganda vehicle for America.” 

Quote from the documentary 

The documentary is not very long, less than 80 minutes, but it goes through voice-overs on its myth and significance in cinema and American history. While watching, I couldn’t believe just how much it was used and realized how upset I was about not being aware of its history. It has been a staple in cinema, advertising, tourism, and America, but its history was rarely ever spoken about. Now this documentary shares its beauty and important background and builds a hopeful future that future visitors and audiences can appreciate and respect.

“(The Taking) will stand as a reminder that even in the most confusing of times, when our very soul seems to be at stake, turning to the past to understand and confront our foundational myths is a vital step in our ongoing quest toward self-knowledge and enlightenment.” ~ Alexandre O. Philippe

Watch the trailer below. The documentary is out in U.S. Theaters now.