Johnny Depp As Tonto Doesn’t Feel Quite Right

One of my old favorite TV shows gets an update.

One of my old favorite TV shows gets an update.

Frankly I am a bit torn on this one:

The Hollywood image of Tonto once had the Lone Ranger’s sidekick wearing a thin headband and lots of dangling fringes. The latest Disney version has a shirtless Johnny Depp adorned with feathers, a face painted white with black stripes, and a stuffed crow on his head.

The character in the upcoming “The Lone Ranger” still speaks broken English and chants prayers. But Depp has said he’s less subservient, honors the proud American Indian warrior and displays a dry sense of humor seen throughout Indian Country. The production even hired a Comanche adviser, making it decidedly a Comanche story, and received the blessing of other tribes through ceremonies during filming.

Yet Disney has caught flak for what some say is the perpetuation of stereotypes through a character that lacks any real cultural traits. Moviegoers will have to wait until July 3 to see how all this plays out on screen. For now, they’re getting a glimpse through movie trailers that have left them both optimistic and angry, and wondering to what extent the new Tonto portrays actual American Indians.

I know Depp has some distant Native American blood in him, but of course, I can’t help but wish there was a full Native American they could have cast in the role of Tonto. And I did see a trailer for the movie the other day and it does make me cringe a bit hearing Depp speak in that broken English, presumably in the way they think a Native American would speak. But I also get how Hollywood works and without Depp the movie likely would not have been made.

But couldn’t he have played the Lone Ranger instead? Still trying to decide if I want to see this one. Here is a link to the full article which includes a trailer.

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10 thoughts on “Johnny Depp As Tonto Doesn’t Feel Quite Right

  1. “presumably in the way they think a Native American would speak.”

    I’m less positive about this. I think really it’s the way anyone who is both a non-native and non-proficient speaker of a language might sound in that language. That’s probably what my Spanish would sound like if I was forced to communicate with it. It’s one of those “It’s a stereotype for a reason” tropes that became true because people were communicating across a language barrier. The Native American/American Indian (pick your preferred) tribes actually made the greater effort to understand English than most Europeans made to understand any of their languages, in general, so that’s how the stereotype arose in the first place. Oddly, if anyone thinks about it, it speaks to the greater willingness to learn on the part of the tribes than on the part of the ‘white man’.

    But I agree, you’d think over time (over the life of a TV series, lets say) someone forced to speak a language continuously is naturally going to improve, but then TV characters never really change…

    This is certainly a TV show best left to the dusty shelves of history, and after seeing the trailer I have even *less* desire to see it, and I didn’t even want to see it originally.

    I will give them props for putting forth an effort to get some input/feedback from Native peoples, but at the same time it’s sort of like looking for Jewish feedback on a Protocols of Zion movie. Maybe you tried to go about it the right way, but the movie still shouldn’t have been made, y’know?

    “I can’t help but wish there was a full Native American they could have cast in the role of Tonto”

    I want to agree with this one, but at the same time, I can’t think of a single Native actor I’d want subjected to the role… there *are* Native actors they could have cast, but maybe none of them wanted it? (shocking)

    • Earnest Harris says:

      Great comments. And your point that maybe there is not enough redeemable about the character even for a Native American actor, is a point to consider. It is definitely a movie that causes a little head scratching.

  2. ericjbaker says:

    I think it’s pretty embarrassing. At least as embarrassing as Charleton Heston playing a Mexican in Touch of Evil, and that was in 1958. Depp’s intent may be to bring dignity to the role (not that I could see any of that in the trailer), but if he wants to dignify the role, he should have stepped aside and let a Native American actor take the part. If Depp’s presence was necessary to get the movie made, then why make it at all? Have people been clamoring for this?

    Some Native Amercian actors may not want to take the part, but, realistically, what unknown actor would turn down a lead role in a major studio film? Especially knowing that otherwise it would go to a white actor.

    • Earnest Harris says:

      Good points. I guess for me the only thing that remotely makes me consider the portrayal ok is the dual fact that Depp does apparently have some Native American heritage (albeit a small bit) and the fact that they did work with Native People to try to be culturally sensitive. But yeah for the most part I am definitely not feeling very comfortable with it.

      • ericjbaker says:

        I’m not the PC police, and, as far as insensitivity goes, this isn’t a tragedy. Nevertheless, it seems out of touch. I’m still going to see their Star Wars movie in 2015.

      • Earnest Harris says:

        You’re right about that. It does seem out of step.

  3. Megan Tesmer says:

    There are high quality Native American Actors that could fill this role. I do not think they would because of how Tonto was portrayed in the TV series. also, Tonto means ignorant in spanish. Being of Native American descent myself I would avoid trying for the part. Tonto is the white mans version of how Native Americans are which is highly inaccurate.

    • Earnest Harris says:

      Very I interesting comment. Really appreciate your personal insight. The hard part is that somehow they got the Native American advisor to sign on but we all know sometimes people will do anything for the right price. I don’t know if that is the case here but who knows. I think more and more, thanks also to these comments that I cannot get past the feeling that this movie is not worth supporting.

  4. Disney spends a ton of money on their productions but they don’t spend much thought on sensitivity. Hollywood in general doesn’t go out of their way be sensitive – or inclusive.

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