There are hundreds of Westerns, but virtually none which center Native American stories or perspectives. Some movies, like John Ford’s The Searchers (1956) or the Kevin Costner vehicle Dances With Wolves (1990), acknowledge the history of violence against Indigenous people, and include native characters or storylines. But these films still feature white stars, and view native people primarily through white eyes. This is so consistent, and so ubiquitous, that the Western as a genre could even be defined as narratives about the American West presented from the point of view of colonizers.
Space westerns have a more abstract relationship to the actual American West, but the tropes are much the same. The Mandalorian and Star Trek ask viewers to identify with explorers and pioneers, not with the explored and pioneered. Movies like Outland are as white as their Western predecessors, set in a landscape pre-emptied of Indigenous people. There are only white people in space—just as, in Westerns, there are often, counter-historically, only white people in America.
The 2016-2017 Australian independent television series Cleverman isn’t an exception to the colonial perspective of space Westerns, primarily because it isn’t a Western. Instead, it can be seen as a kind of anti-Western. By focusing on the stories of Indigenous people, it turns Western genre pleasures inside-out—and shows why those pleasures are only possible when you strap on the colonizer’s gunbelt.