Obviously, Johnny Depp isn’t an Indian (though suddenly claiming to be, from mysterious past generations). Nor is their anything Comanche about the costume he’s wearing in the new Silver Bullet (Disney) production of “The Lone Ranger,” to be released in May, 2013. But Depp is playing the role of “Tonto,” and has a costume more about his own flare for Gothic make-up than anything Comanche, or even Indian. His is a freak, fantasy Indian.
Johnny Depp as “Tonto” and Armie Hammer as “The Lone Ranger.” The new movie release date is May, 2013.
That’s fine. The white man has every right to play Indian in any way he sees fit. The white race is the conquering race. If he wants Indian mascots, let him have them. If he likes to play Indian, in his own way, or whatever way, let him. If he misrepresents Indians, it is his privilege to do so. What Indian would take him seriously, anyway?
At least Johnny Depp doesn’t claim to be Indian, any too much, or to be Comanche, like Rudy “Youngblood” Gonzales did when he took the lead part in Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto, or like Heart Hays (Katheryan Shay Greer) does as she tries to make herself the Pocahontas of Sunset Strip. Both Rudy and Heart actually claim to be Comanche, and neither are. Neither have produced one shred of evidence, of any kind that they have any Indian blood in them at all, let alone Comanche.
But Johnny Depp is into professional pretense. It’s Hollywood. It isn’t about authenticity. It is about make-believe, like, “a Kentucky great-grandmother’s ancestry” by which Depp says he’s Cherokee and Creek!
Depp says his “inspiration” for his costume comes directly from the painting of Kirby Sattler, a very white white man, who is famous for fantasy Indian art, not historically authentic renditions. American Indians are the subject of many non-Indian artists, and there is no outrage in their imagination. Just let it be understood by all that this is the privilege of the world–to dream about Indians, to imagine being Indian. The fantasy painting of Sattler has nothing to do with authenticity, but white fantasy about Indian things.
Sattler’s “Warrior” and Depp’s adaption. Nothing authentic about
either one, and certainly un-Comanche.
Depp’s selection of this impressive painting also shows he stereotypical, superficial impression of American Indian ambiance. He said to EW.com, “I thought: Tonto’s got a bird on his head. It’s his spirit guide in a way. It’s dead to others, but it’s not dead to him. It’s very much alive.” Not words that represent profound education and knowledge of Indian lore, but a universal stereotype that is easily communicated to all non-Indian people, as well as to all Third World indigenous people.
I know for a fact that no Comanche tribal leader or authoritative elder was consulted in the matter. That is stunningly obvious to anyone who knows anything about the historical Comanches. Comanche never painted their faces, and certainly did not wear an eagle’s carcass on their heads; nor were there animal spirits procured as “spirit” guides. Not the Comanche way. (The abstract, pragmatic Comanches were generally above such obvious superstition.) Nothing about the nature of Tonto’s role in “The Lone Ranger” appears to be Comanche. After all, Tonto is supposed to be Comanche, no? He is hanging out with a ‘lone’ leftover of the Texas Rangers–the group of ruthless killers who were organized and designed to deal with the Comanche “problem” in Texas. Of course, the original Indian who played the part wasn’t Comanche either. Jay Silverheels was Canadian Mohawk. Why Hollywood has such an aversion to using an Indian to play an Indian part is beyond me. But, as I said, it is about fantasy, not reality. And the white man, in fact, anyone who is not American Indian, seems to die for the chance to play an American Indian. This is astounding, really.
Jay Silverheels, as the original “Tonto,”
in the 1950′s TV series, “The Lone Ranger.”
In any case, the film is a bit delayed in production, according to StarSeeker (January7, 2011). It seems the budget has been exhausted on special effects (“spirit” effects?), so that the release is not until May, 2013, a year from now.
If there is an offense in this Depped up version of Tonto, it isn’t because Depp is not Indian so much as the fact that it misrepresents Comanche Indians. But, even that is not so great an affront, as long as everyone understands that the movie is fantasy, not reality. It is not authentic, but imaginative. This is Johnny Depp. The Yahoo MovieTalk piece (by Mariah Doty), “Johnny Depp reveals why Tonto puts a bird on it,” has the best take. It’s all about Johnny Depp’s fascination with heavy make-up.
With that in mind, it’s for all (but Comanches?) to enjoy. I do believe the white man has the right to play Indian, however it suits his fancy. As long as it is understood by the public that these play roles are generally not authentic, what harm is there? Let the white man be his own Indian mascot. It is his right.