MAHWAH, N.J. _ A new Hollywood film is a "hate crime" against Native Americans because of the way it depicts New Jersey's Ramapough Indians, the leader of the community said at a news conference on Wednesday.
The plot of the movie "Out of the Furnace" deals with drugs and violence with a backdrop of people living in trailer homes that some say is based on the Ramapough community. Members of that community, which dates back hundreds of years, live in portions of Mahwah, Ringwood and nearby New York State.
The Ramapough chief, Dwaine Perry, made his remarks at Mahwah's municipal building, where he was joined by the township's mayor, Bill Laforet, and the superintendent of the Mahwah school district, C. Lauren Schoen.
They said they were speaking out together about the film as a show of unity.
The movie, starring Christian Bale and Casey Affleck, opened in a limited engagement Wednesday night and is set to open widely on Friday.
"The Ramapough Lenape Indians are a well-organized, socially accepted and culturally significant group of residents who live and work in our community, raise families and attend our schools," Laforet said during the news conference.
"These residents live in homes no different than our neighbors and are employed by major corporations and businesses. They are a vital component of our heritage and should be looked upon for the contributions they have made."
A spokeswoman for the film's production company, Relativity Media, said the movie is not "based upon any particular person or group of people."
"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.
This is not the first time a film or a television show has riled a community it attempts to portray. Muslims have complained about being depicted as villains in many films. Italian-Americans complained about the "The Sopranos," an HBO show that portrayed a crime family. Gov. Chris Christie has expressed dismay at the portrayal of New Jersey in the reality TV show "The Jersey Shore." The 2006 movie "Borat" was criticized for portraying the people of Kazakhstan as backward.
While "Out of the Furnace" takes place mostly in the rural town of Braddock, Pa., the characters travel to the Ramapough Mountains in several scenes.
One movie reviewer said the film "introduces viewers to a community of tough-as-nails New Jersey hillbillies who live in a self-contained world of drugs, violence and trailer homes."
Local officials said they fear that people will view the stereotypes portrayed in the movie as being real.
"A movie like this goes against everything we believe in our township and our schools, Schoen said. "When a movie deals in negative stereotypes rather than applauds the contributions of any people, we are all diminished."
One character in the movie has the last name DeGroat, a well-known surname among local Ramapoughs. That, Perry said, "stepped over the boundaries of decency."
The film's A-list cast includes Woody Harrelson, Forest Whitaker, Willem Dafoe, Sam Shepard and Zoe Saldana.
This is not the first time the Ramapoughs have been portrayed on film. In 2011, HBO aired a documentary, "Mann v. Ford," which detailed the minority community's fight against environmental regulators and the Ford Motor Co., which dumped millions of gallons of paint sludge and other industrial waste on their land 40 years ago.
(c)2013 The Record (Hackensack, N.J.)
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