Why Does Tonto Have That Bird On His Head? Racism in the New ‘Lone Ranger’

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Alex Yarde discusses the blatant racism in the new Disney film, “The Lone Ranger”. 

In 1890,  at Wounded Knee, on the Lakota Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, U.S. soldiers opened fire on unarmed Native Americans being held captive. At least 150 Lakota were killed including many women and children. Another 51 were wounded. Some say that close to 300 were actually killed. This area has been in the news recently because a South Dakota man put two forty acre tracts of land near the burial ground of this massacre up for sale. One of the two tracts actually contains the last known burial place of Chief Crazy Horse. The seller originally offered to sell the parcel, along with another piece of land, to the Oglala Lakota Nation for $4.9 million. The offer was open until May 1, but the Tribe refused, saying the price was excessive and the action amounted to extortion. Since the deadline, the seller claims to have been talking to three private buyers but no sale has been entered into.

I don’t claim to be an expert on the Native American experience in America. I also realize there is a danger in speaking on the plight of a people, since a group is never monolithic in thought or opinion. As a fellow human being, however, I can sympathize with the pain of knowing that sacred ground where ancestors lay is in danger of being sold to the highest bidder. As an American, I can be outraged by the squander, in my opinion, of an important American Heritage site that should be preserved and used to teach future generations about what happened there. As a citizen of black Caribbean descent, I can relate to a history where a group is marginalized and how this negatively impacts the group’s standing within our society.

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What is amazing to me is that pop culture, in my opinion, continues to marginalize Native Americans in way that harkens back to another era. The latest Lone Ranger incarnation and the characterization of Tonto is one example. Johnny Depp, whom I generally respect, is the latest actor to take on the role. For some reason, he dons a black bird on his head, does not wear a shirt and speaks in the halting pidgin English that the Tonto character has used since his inception on radio in the 30s. Somehow, I guess I had hoped Disney would have taken this opportunity to break out of that mold—perhaps this was misplaced hope.

Jay Silverheels as Tonto

Jay Silverheels as Tonto

An actor of Irish descent actually played the character of Tonto on the radio version in 1930. This radio program was a huge success and eventually garnered a successful run as a Television Serial on ABC from 1949 to 1957.  The 1950s portrayal of Tonto by Jay Silverheels, a Canadian Mohawk First Nations member, is the one that someone my age and older remembers. He spoke in pidgin English and was loyal to a fault. He bailed out his “Kemosabe” time and time again. As a child watching the exciting reruns, this was not lost on me. Two things bothered me about The Lone Ranger show. The first was the title. I understand he was the sole survivor of a group of Texas Rangers. But, how could the main character be rescued by, be trained in and use Native American tactics and still be in charge? It was clear to me that Tonto should be in charge. It struck me as being a bit like Batman rescuing Robin, training Robin, and then Robin getting top billing. In my humble opinion it should have been called “Tonto & the Lone Ranger.”

The second issue I had was with the name: “Tonto.” The word, in Spanish, means “dumb.” If you respected someone, why would you call them that? Naming the him “Tonto” is practically making him subhuman. So much so that  Spanish language portrayals and dubbing call Depp’s character “Toro.” Toro has a much more positive cultural connotation. Now I’m not naive about where this comes from. I understand the pathology. Historically, white males, being both the main audience these shows were written for and produced by, were not all that concerned how other groups were portrayed. Programs like Amos & Andy and Charlie Chan were just as culturally insensitive. I hope that these would not be tolerated today. Would they?  If not, then why, in 2013, is it still okay to portray Native Americans in this  demeaning way?

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In the 21st Century (the era of the reboot) we have the opportunity to do better and the responsibility to become more representative of a broader audience. We can do better. We need not lose the spirit of what made these stories a part of American Culture, but we can breathe in new life with a more accurate portrayal, can’t we?

At the risk of prejudging Mr. Depp and the filmmaker’s portrayal, I can’t fathom why Disney would chose to go with what appears to be the full “F Troop”. Johnny Depp is an A-List star. His box office is huge regardless of the role. He’d chew the scenery as Butch Cavendish, the Lone Ranger’s nemesis. However, already this summer I’ve seen some quizzical choices for actors. So it’s not entirely shocking, just disappointing. My fear is that the Disney executives, as well as a large part of the American public, feel “PC fatigue” — that as a society we have somehow done enough. This position, however, is easy to take when you posses the biggest bullhorn and have the dominant cultural voice. Which in America today, is still very white and very male.

As a nation, we have conveniently short memories and our popular culture acts as a mirror we hold up to reflect what’s important to us. Is this really the best we can do after all this time? Is this how we want our children to remember the proud descendants of the First Americans on this continent in IMAX & 3D?

It seems to me that the marginalization of Native Americans in popular culture does influence the lack of compassion in the broader American community about the failure of our government to purchase the tracts of land at Wounded Knee and create a protected historic site. Something has to explain this. Something has to explain why we can believe that ground can become consecrated by blood shed there (see battleground of Getttysburg), but the  preservation of Wounded Knee is not a priority. Something has to explain how a nation can commission the carving of a 100 foot likeness of Crazy Horse in the Black Hills but not do anything when his final resting place is sold to a mall developer.

Something has to explain that bird on his head.

 

Image Credit: The_JIFF/Flickr 

 

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About Alex Yarde

Alex Yarde is a husband and father living in New Jersey. In earlier times, you could find Alex in New York City teaching outdoor education to the great kids from Erasmus High School in Brooklyn. Today, you can find him on Twitter at @thatalexyarde.

Comments

  1. My Spanish teacher told us the reason Tonto is named so is a racist joke:
    “Tonto!” (Stupid!)
    “Yes, Kimosabe?” (Yes, how did you know?)

    • As far as “Tonto” goes, many Indian scouts at that historical time were simply called Tonto because they were Tonto Apaches…. Bird on the head a shamanic embellishment, as well as a PARODY… the story is a parody of a an American media meme. And BTW did you know prior to this film, Johnny Depp’s alias in music is “Tonto’s Gigantic Balls”? Look it up on You Tube….
      =^.^= Hollyweird sher has a big sense of humor!

    • Manuel Marrero says:

      Manuel Marrero • a few seconds ago −

      Even if Johnny Depp is part Native American, as somebody has stated on a post, I doubt he’s on an intimate par with the Native American experience, collectively, or individually. Did he grow up on a reservation? Has he done activist work for Native American groups like AIM? or has he contributed to any scholarships funds or organizations that work with Native American youth? Besides all this, for me and anybody else educated and informed there’s the issue of the Texas Rangers themselves. If you really want to know about Texas Rangers read Rudy Acuna’s book Occupied America. Look them up in the index. No they are not pure souls. It’s why I change the channel whenever Walker Texas Ranger with Chuck Norris comes on, and it’s why I did my best to forgive the character of the Texas Ranger in True Grit. Otherwise that was a good movie. It’s just a fact that aside from the Border Patrol the Texas Rangers were and still are the most anti-Mexican group out there, and I don’t care if they do fill their ranks with sellout white wannabes Hispanics like the Border Patrol does. They have a history of lynchings, persecution, thugery, murder, rape, and anything else you could name against both Mexican and the Native Americans of the Texas area, and the Southwest, and they actually invaded Mexico to take the side of a North American company that was practicing dual wages in Mexico in the 1890s I think it was. Read Rudy Acuna Occupied America.

      • Ok people. It’s a movie. What is the problem? And Depp said he wanted to honor the native Indians. And different languages have different meanings. And some languages have no translation for another’s words. I do agree about the land issue. It’s a disgrace to do this to this Sacred land. If someone buys this land for the wrong reason, they will forever be cursed. No excuse. I can’t imagine our government stepping up to the plate and dedicating this land back to the rightful people. God Bless, I pray your land is returned to you

  2. Annegret Allison says:

    Apart from that the seller of these two parcels of ground is asking for 4.9 million dollar to be paid for the grounds, I don`t see a reason why the Lakota people should pay this price for THEIR land. The Lakota people should not pay for it, the ground should be given to them for FREE ! ! !

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      Absolutely.

      • wellokaythen says:

        Annegret and Joanna:

        Devil’s advocate here. I don’t know if you own a house or own land in the U.S. or not. Let me offer this as a response to anyone, like me for example, who owns a house and the land on it.

        It’s easy to call for other people to give up their property. Is it safe to assume that you will be giving YOUR land to the nearest existing Native American tribe? I mean, are you willing to give away your own property for free in the interest of redress, or are you just recommending that others give up their ill-gotten gains? We all have blood on our hands.

        I’ll be honest. I’m not giving my house and all my property away to the closest native person I can find and going “back where my people came from.” So, I for one have no moral position to criticize someone who won’t give “his” land away.

        You two must be living in one of those mythical “previously uninhabited” parts of the country, exempt from such concerns and free of moral taint. But, considering that “all the land was sacred to them,” then everyone is living on land sacred to the First Peoples.

        However, if this landowner is in violation of treaties between the Lakota Sioux and the U.S. government, as he just may be, then I say throw the book at him. A treaty should be the law of the land.

        • Joanna Schroeder says:

          Honestly, if it was sacred ground, the government should be buying it from the owner and offering it to the First Nations.

          And yes, I would do that. And I have a really nice property that I love.

  3. Bill Moon says:

    Thank you Mr Yarde!This is a very informative article.And yes,racism is still very much alive and doing well here in the 21st century.It seems that the ignorant want to remain that way.

  4. As far as the bird on his head goes some Native people wear their totem animal some-where on their body. And if they don’t they may paint it on their gourd or rattle or drum. If you are from the fox clan you might wear a fox face in your hair complete with tail. If you are a woman and are from the butterfly clan you may wear butterflies in your hair. People do this so nobody else has to ask “What clan are you from????” because if you see the fox, coyote, wolf, bird, butterfly Etc on my head or me wearing the feathers you will know my medicine.

    It could be that he is from the raven clan, or he raised the animal from a chick and taught it a lot and it held good medicine for him in some way so he honors it by keeping it close to him. It could be spiritual to ward off the evil white man eye that was so famous in those days. Don’t assume just because he is wearing a bird that it isn’t normal. Have you ever been to a REAL pow-wow? We wear all sorts of things similar to that! dude, he’s just being normal but people are scared of normal.

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      But the point I believe Alex is making is that without historical context or any other pieces of historically-accurate information, it seems to be a mockery of the traditions of the people of the Indian Nations.

      Also, Johnny Depp is a white man! This, to me, is a direct equivalent of Black Face.

      • Responder says:

        Not entirely. He also has Native American heritage. He’s played native roles before, proudly.

      • wellokaythen says:

        I don’t know if you’re assuming that Johnny Depp is not native because of the way that he looks, but isn’t that sort of racist also? Are you saying he’s not a Native American because he doesn’t look like one?

        It is possible to be both “white” and “native,” according to the U.S. census anyway. It’s certainly possible to be one and be “mistaken” for the other, isn’t it?

    • No, he has the bird on his head because he based his costume on a Kirby Sattler painting – a white man’s fantasy portrayal of a Native man. The original painting has birds in the background. Because of Depp’s racist fantasies that Natives would do something like that, he put it on his head. He only talked to Natives about it when they were well into filming. Even then, he could have changed his portrayal (they re-shot plenty of other things), but he didn’t care enough to do so. Depp has lied about having Native heritage (he has none) and misrepresented the sham, prank “adoption.” Search YouTube for 1491′s and Johnny Depp.

      White people love to make stereotypical generalizations about Native folks without ever talking to any. Pow wow regalia is not every day wear. Pow Wows are social dances, not sacred ceremonies. Natives do not walk around with dead birds on their heads. That’s Portlandia. Different show.

      • Is there actually a system for evaluating whether someone has or has not been adopted into a Native American community? I had no idea anyone ever fact-checks this, or if that was even possible. Lord knows there are lots of New Age-y people out there claiming heritage and no one calls them on it. Slap on some lapis and silver bracelets, grow a braid, and speak slowly, and gullible white progressives would never dare question your authenticity….

      • wellokaythen says:

        So, we’ll just say that Johnny Depp is “cis-white transNative.” Perhaps he has always felt like he was a Native American trapped in the body of a white man. I thought people are supposed to be allowed to self-identify as they wish and that others have to respect those identities. Are we challenging all trans people now?

        I keep hearing about how identity is fluid and personal and about how our identities are like costumes that we wear for our various prescribed social roles, roles which we as individuals also shape and influence, in a constant state of flux. Unless cis-white people are the only ones who are exempt from this personal exploration.

        “White people love to make stereotypical generalizations….”

        Please tell me you meant that to be an ironic statement. If it’s sarcasm or satire, it’s a brilliant sentence. If not, then it’s unintentional irony, which I like even more!

        • Joanna Schroeder says:

          What is your point, wellokaythen?

          Is your point that there wasn’t a massive genocide on North American soil that eradicated a massive portion of the indigenous population, by weapons including germ warfare?

          My feeling is this. With a population that is misunderstood, hugely oppressed, living in some of the most impoverished communities in this country, and was thriving before Europeans settled here, I can go out of my way to be sure to be respectful and honor their culture. I cannot, for the life of me, figure out why anyone would be resistant to that.

          • wellokaythen says:

            I resist showing more respect to some cultures than others. That probably makes me complicit in all sorts of racial power structures, and it steps on a lot of entitled toes. I wish it didn’t, but it does. I don’t believe that some cultures or subcultures or historical communities should be more off-limits to lampooning, humor, fiction, fantasy, or stereotypes than any other. I prefer to respect or offend or analyze all as equally as I possibly can. “Going out of my way” for some and not for others seems unfair and discriminatory.

            Granting full don’t-touch-the-third-rail orthodoxy to any particular group tends to limit that group’s own humanity. It also limits the power of that group to use current stereotypes subversively. It essentially freezes them in place.

            And, I’m not sure it really is so respectful to continue to define people based on whether their appearance matches pre-existing racial stereotypes, for example seeing Johnny Depp as insufficiently Indian in his appearance.

            • ogwriter says:

              @wokt:
              Damn!? I will try and discuss what I think is the core of your points. Of course racial categorizations are absurd. I think that we can agree on. Nonetheless, we don’t live in a world or a nation that holds that truth to be self evident
              And yes racial categorization should be lampooned, but one must be delicate. For instance, The Family Guy does a great job of lampooning racialism, but they do it recognizing that the jokes live in a specific context. Certainly racial categorization should be eliminated, but there is no clear pathway for doing so. Again, we are mostly of mixed race in America, but one wouldn’t know it reading GMP.
              GMP is segregated. I must claw my way into discussions and educate even while I am trying to have a meaningful debate. This is not how a culture that is mostly mixed race should behave.
              Black people have been In America from day one and are relative unknowns-except for some really fucked up shit. And you know this full well, So, when you cynically blow off the effects of Manifest Destiny on millions of brown and black people, basically saying ,get over it, I just shake my head and occasionally my fist.

            • ogwriter says:

              @wokt:
              On Gmp and in the world ideas compete for space because they lead to recognition which leads to access. Men in general have suffered, and, as a result society has suffered, because in the battle of ideas on the gender battlefield , they lost the war of ideas.
              Others have no place at the table of ideas and are disenfranchised because of it. So, to those people when you talk of removing racial categorization you are removing their voice, their ideas, their access. If the only way white people will include my ideas is when I talk about them I am at a disadvantage.
              Movie producers don’t fund black movies, unless they fit a certain profile, because white people won’t go to seen to a black movie, full of black ideas.

    • Alex Yarde (Author) says:

      @Laydhawk-Thank You for reading my piece and your helpful feedback. As stated, I’m no expert on Native American custom. Please forgive any inartful statements. I’m just a concerned citizen who has friends who have ansestors and close relatives intured in Wounded Knee Cemetary. To answer your query, I have been to Pow Wows and I understand the signifigance of ceremonial attire. Evedently Mr. Depp’s choice was not grounded in reality. It’s “Indian Drag”. he chose to appear like that on a whim. Which in my opinion part of the problem.
      http://filmdrunk.uproxx.com/2012/04/johnny-depp-explains-his-bird-hat

  5. John Schtoll says:

    I found it odd in an article about racism that the author would put this in.

    “In 1890, at Wounded Knee, on the Lakota Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, U.S. soldiers opened fire on unarmed Native Americans being held captive. At least 150 Lakota were killed including many women and children”

    The last 4 words essectially wipe out the men who were killed as insignificant and not important enough to mention.

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      John, the point of saying “women and children” is to say that they were not warriors in a battle.

      • I am not so sure that is true Joanna: because alot of men might not have warriors in a battle either and BTW, this is exactly how modern society writes a story like this, with the men being invisible.

    • wellokaythen says:

      Sorry that I’m ignorant about the film’s content, but is Tonto supposed to be Lakota? Is the movie set in Lakota territory, or is this just a reference to the larger context of Euro-Native history? Not every event in Native American history is relevant to every other event in Native American history.

      • Alex Yarde (Author) says:

        In my opinion, commercial development of Wounded Knee would be a blow to the Lakota people in particular for obvious reasons & a tragic loss to all Americans. What happend there is an important part of American History. It should never be forgotten. American Heritage Site designation would ensure this. Depps portrayal of Tonto and the indifference of the Government regarding Wounded Knee are both symptomatic of the grater issue. The lack of respect of Native American culture and the marginalization of our fellow Americans.

        • ogwriter says:

          @Alex: Maybe I am missing something and perhaps you can help me to better understand. Is there something new and more compelling about this latest example of racism in American culture? It’s a well written, informative piece, but there is nothing new here. Hollywood is just reflecting what America is and has been. Any idea that this is somehow just a media problem is just a convenient delusion There has not been one single solitary day that America has lived up to the values of the Bill of Rights.
          So, what’s the big deal? Are we really going to blame this entirely on Johnny Depp and the “media”, as if it is separate from the rest of society?
          Why is there little protest when Gwyneth Paltrow is named the most beautiful woman in the world every other month? It’s all connected. It just seems like we talk about symptoms like they are the disease.So, what were your hopes for a reaction when you wrote this?

          • Joanna Schroeder says:

            I think you’re right, ogwriter. It is all connected. I don’t think that should stop us from pointing out examples when they arise.

            • ogwriter says:

              @Joanna: I suppose what I am saying is that the piece meal fashion in which racism and sexism and all the rest of it is approached only serves to keep us apart.
              We must understand that while slavery was happening Yellow Fever was sweeping across California, Native Americans were being killed and abused so their lands could be taken from them, Mexicans were being disenfranchised.
              These things happened simultaneously, they spring from the same well. Compartmentalization of these abuses keeps the hierarchy in place. Think about it we are discussing Johnny Depp and his racist portrayal of a Native American instead of discussing what happened to Native Americans.
              Johnny Depp’s role in the historic abuse of Native Americans is nothing. So, if we really wanted to discuss this issue we would have been already doing that a long time ago.

            • ogwriter says:

              @Joanna: This “concern” however well intended, feels false and disingenuous.

  6. I was quite surprised when I saw the preview for this movie.
    While I appreciate Mr. Depp’s attempt attempts at “stretching” his acting muscles by portraying characters that are vastly different from each other and from his personality, I believe this may be a miss-step on his and his agents part. There are many, many excellent first nation actors that could have portrayed the role as well as, if not better than, Mr. Depp.
    I believe that this role may prove a bit of a publicity problem for him.
    Just my opinion.

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      Yeah, and as Alex says, there were other opportunities for Depp to be involved in the film. I saw a very early preview in LA and was like, “HOLY SHIT BLACK FACE” in the first second. I actually tweeted to Matt Salesses (who had just written an article about “yellow face”) from the theater saying that it was so absurd to have Depp portraying a Native American… I mean, there are MANY actual members of the Indian Nation and First Nations living here who are excellent actors. It’s a shame.

  7. welllokaythen says:

    Fair enough, now explain how you would do it differently.

    Take me through a model of what it would look like to portray a nineteenth century Native American in a film without being accused of racism. If there were a white character and a native character working together in an action movie, what would YOU change to make the movie more sensitive and less tinged with racism?

    Racism is easily found and easily exposed. It’s apparently everywhere, so saying a film is racist is hardly different than saying it’s in color. So, what would you do to make it less racist, assuming that’s possible? I bet no matter what you changed I could find plausible evidence that the film was racist.

    • sister_h says:

      How to do this differently….well for one thing, the whole concept, as the author notes, is retro and racist, so why faithfully reboot it? How about re-imagining the story as that of a Native American who works with a white sidekick? How about re-imagining the story as a white character who is alienated from his society enough to relate to the Native American character on more equal grounds? How about re-imagining the story as a hero with a Native American secret identity?

      • ogwriter says:

        @sister: Why not just tell other stories entirely that have never been told. For instance, I didn’t find out until college that the original colonists of Jamestown lives were saved by the local Native Americans. If that settlement had failed America doesn’t happen. There’s a story for you. For far too long, the truth about the relationship between whites and native Americans has been purposely used as a tool of control for the sole purpose of disenfranchising Natives. It is time maybe for the Lone Ranger to ride off into the sunset for good.

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      I agree with sister.

      The very first thing you do when writing or talking about a culture that is not your own is to consult with people of that culture, ask them to oversee the production or the work, talk with a panel of experts and LISTEN to them.

      Certainly no matter what you do, some people will find what you do racist. But that shouldn’t stop a GIANT film production from trying their damnedest not to be racist. It’s not like they can’t afford it, it’s not like they don’t have the resources, and it’s not like there aren’t many, many Native American or Indian Nation people who would be happy to consult on films.

      I also, personally, think that the right choice would be to cast someone who is actually of that ethnic background to portray that character. I even had issues with Ben Affleck portraying the lead in Argo, a man who was – in real life – of Hispanic/Latino origin. I don’t hate the movie or Affleck for it, but it’s a valid critique.

      • wellokaythen says:

        I haven’t seen the movie itself, only the previews, so I welcome anyone who can correct me on my impressions.

        I suspect that in this film Tonto is probably a far more compelling character, and a more entertaining, more complex character than the Lone Ranger himself. I suspect that Disney is to some degree trying to reproduce the magic of Bruce Lee as the Green Hornet’s sidekick – the titular hero is non-descript, boring, and not nearly as good an action hero as his supposed assistant, who bails out the titular hero on a regular basis.

        That doesn’t excuse any racism inherent in the project, but it is possible to read movies like this against the grain. Again, just based on the previews, Tonto does not appear to be a character in need of rescuing. I suspect that there are multiple points in the film where he makes a very perceptive criticism at the strange ways that white people act. For all we know, Depp’s Tonto may now become some sort of ironic icon for Native American youth, the same way that today you can find boys on some reservations wearing Washington Redskins jackets.

        Casting a Native American as Tonto would invite charges of “tokenism.” Disney would then be racist for typecasting a Native actor for the role, and such an actor would then become an “Uncle Tom.” No doubt there would be purists out there who would point out that this Native actor was from a very different heritage, for example Ojibwe instead of one of the Southwestern tribal groups, which would then lead to charges that Disney was treating Native Americans like they’re all the same.

        Assuming there would be no problem with the bureaucratic matter of who on what committee in Hollywood decides who is and who isn’t “Native” enough. Do you have to be “at least half” or is it just a “one drop rule” kind of thing? In some tribal organizations, you just need to have one grandparent who was a member in order to be a member of the tribe – is 25% enough for Hollywood to avoid charges of racism? Because, if it’s not, Hollywood could be in the position of turning down a card-carrying member of a Native tribe because he “wasn’t Indian enough.”

        I also think it’s funny there’s now some sort of Native cultural fundamentalism out there, suggesting that someone of a particular subculture “would never dress like that.” When, in fact, there was in earlier centuries quite a range of individual expression within native societies. Not an infinite range, obviously, but I’m not so confident in saying that no one ever would have dressed the way Depp does in this movie. That’s just fighting essentialism with essentialism.

        • Joanna Schroeder says:

          I have never heard someone say that having a person who is actually of that race or ethnicity playing a role is tokenism. In particular, this character has been played by a Native American man before. So it’s not like their doing a parody of a white man playing a Native American man.

          If you can show me a single example of a part that was written for a Black, Hispanic, Asian, Middle Eastern or any other race/ethnicity being played by a person of that ethnicity being called “tokenism” I’d welcome the information.

          To me, that’s like putting a white person in blackface because hiring a Black actor would have been tokenism.

          If it’s not, explain the difference to me.

          • wellokaythen says:

            [Joanna, I'm combining my responses to two of your messages here.]

            You caught me. I disagreed with some of the analysis here, so obviously I’m in total denial about all the genocidal parts of American history. I’m just an apologist for Manifest Destiny.

            Sarcasm aside, you ask a good question. I can’t think of any accusations of “token casting” off the top of my head. I have to admit I’m speculating on this one. There must be plenty of African American performers who face criticism from other African Americans because their careers seem to perpetuate racist stereotypes. I seem to remember Malcolm X saying something quite derogatory about Amos and Andy, Step N Fetchit, etc. I know Bill Cosby has had a lot to say about popular culture within African American communities. So, I hypothesize that there are comparable arguments within Native American communities. I imagine there would be some discontent if Disney had cast a fine Native Canadian actor as Tonto “instead of” a Native US-ian.

            I think we could agree that if Disney had cast someone “suitably” Native American, we would then see some crticism of how hard it is to get a good role as a Native American actor outside of stereotypical roles. That’s not the same as charges of tokenism, though, you’re right.

            I guess I’m wondering aloud how giving a stereotypical Indian role to a guy with some sort of Native American ancestry currently living in L.A. is really going to strike a blow for social justice in light of the Trail of Tears or Wounded Knee. Especially if it’s some actor who graduated from a predominantly white college with a Drama major. You’re expecting Disney to hire him predominantly because of his apparent racial pedigree?

            If the actor’s father is Navajo and his mother is European American, does that mean it’s only half social justice for native Americans and half blackface?

            You can’t have it both ways. You can’t say that Tonto is not a real Native American and then say that he has to be played by a real Native American. For one thing, there’s no reason to assume that Tonto, a fictional character by the way, is a “full-blooded” Native American. There were plenty of people in the 19th century of mixed ancestry, many of whom could “pass” as more than one race. (For example, the self-serving white/Cherokee plantation owners who signed the sham Treaty of Echota granting the U.S. government the excuse to drive the Cherokee to Oklahoma. They were “white” when it suited them and “Cherokee” when it suited them.)

            Perhaps Tonto is a white man pretending to be a Native American in the first place. It’s somewhat racist in a way to assume that there have never been any Native American people who look like Johnny Depp, considering there were some groups like the Seminoles who adopted just about anyone willing to join them – escaped African slaves, white criminals, etc.

            You can’t say that Tonto has to be played by “an actual native American” without explaining how Depp is not one. Let’s be honest, here. What it ultimately boils down to is that Depp doesn’t “look like an Indian” or doesn’t have the “appropriate” family ancestry, however anyone wants to define that.

            The difference between Depp’s Tonto and blackface is a question of degree, but there are to my mind several key differences.

            One, to be the equivalent of blackface, Depp would have to paint his face a deep red, to reflect the racialized caricature of natives, not put on decorative face paint. It would only work as an analogy if Native Americans never painted or decorated their faces. (Sorry if I’m not using the correct terms for this. It’s been a long time since Intro to Anthropology class.) Perhaps it is entirely unrealistic, given the best tentative understanding of 19th century native culture, for a 19th century Native American to look exactly like Tonto in this film, but that is really a question of technical detail.

            Secondly, from what little I gleaned from the preview, Tonto does make a reference to the idea of wearing a mask to set one apart from other people. Perhaps Tonto’s facepaint and raven is his own weird, unrealistic, fantastic mask, just like the Lone Ranger’s? Could it be that Tonto is actually intelligent enough to realize that no one could really get a good look at his face because the raven on top is a massive distraction? Let’s give the native character some credit for having an intelligent tactical mind. Perhaps Tonto as a character would be the equivalent of an African American character behaving as a caricature in order to go unrecognized in white society.

            Finally, I don’t see why Tonto’s face make-up is really a big issue of realism when there’s a(nother) white guy walking around with a black mask escaping from ridiculously improbable situations. Are we saying we buy the black mask that the white guy’s wearing, but we can’t buy Tonto’s dried mud on his face? We want our totally unrealistic Western action movies, which have not much connection to historical reality in the first place, to be realistic in portraying the body decorations of essentially fictional Native American tribes.

            It seems quite ironic that people are criticizing a Hollywood movie because an actor was wearing too much of the wrong sort of make up and the wrong sort of outfit. It’s okay to be totally unrealistic and unrepresentative when portraying fictional characters, no one ever has any pock marks, acne, blemishes, wrinkles, stretch marks, or baggy clothes, but heaven forbid that pseudo-indigenous face paint be inaccurate.

            • Joanna Schroeder says:

              So would you ask whether the person who played a fictional representation of Sambo whether he was fully Black, or whether he was mixed race in any way?

              No.

              And the point of it being a racist character is an interesting one. Yes, maybe all of the Native American actors turned it down because they didn’t want to play a character named “Stupid” and wear costumes that are not historically accurate. That is definitely a possibility. I’d be interested if they even saw actors for that role. My guess, knowing Hollywood (and working for a production company that has worked on feature films), is that they saw no actors for it because Johnny Depp signed on before the picture was even in production. My guess is that he was the first actor to put his name on the project.

              And if Native Americans didn’t want to play a character that was written in a racist manner, that would be enough of an issue in and of itself, and speak to Alex’s points.

              Why is it so important to you that a white man be allowed to play a Native American man? Why does that matter to you? I just don’t get it. What interest do you have in this?

              I mean, the name “Stupid” alone should be enough to make you pause.

              It would be like having a movie where the Black sidekick was named “Lazy” or the Jewish sidekick were called “Cheap”.

              I honestly can’t figure out how you even got past that part to somehow compare a white actor playing a character of color to a trans person. Which truly blows my mind. And if it were from anyone other than you, I would have just ignored it. But usually you’re like the calm at the center of a storm.

            • wellokaythen says:

              “Why is it so important to you that a white man be allowed to play a Native American man? Why does that matter to you? I just don’t get it. What interest do you have in this?”

              Now I see the misunderstanding. I don’t see myself as standing for the right of a white man to play a Native American man. What I saw in the article and the comments are some valid arguments used to criticize Disney’s casting choice, and some BAD arguments used to criticize Disney’s casting choice. I chose to question what I saw as bad arguments, because I like to poke fun at absurdities.

              I have an interest in history and in the ways that people define identity, not to mention an interest in pop culture. I also have an interest in critical thinking exercises. And, as hard as this may be to believe, I have an interest in reducing racism, and I find that some accusations of racism are actually counterproductive to those ends.

              And, to be honest, sometimes I just enjoy being mischievous. If it didn’t leave me so open to accusations of racism, I might say I’m inspired by the stories of Coyote, the trickster spirit. But, since society wants to put me in the “white” category, I guess I’m supposed to mention Loki or some other Indo-European trickster figure in order to be more politically correct.

              I have an interest because I’m offended by feel-good forms of racism lurking in the guise of antiracism. I’m offended by people trying to help offset racism by using other forms of racism. I’m offended by essentialism. I hate that people are still using these racial categories in uncritical ways. I hate the fact that so many people assume that there are no people who identify as Native Americans who look like Johnny Depp. There are card-carrying members of Native American tribes who have blonde hair and blue eyes. There are in fact Native Americans who look like the actor Johnny Depp.

              Finally, like everyone else in the world, I am of mixed ancestry. I think this analysis is somewhat dubious because I had a great-grandmother who was Cherokee. I make absolutely no claims to any sort of Native American identity beyond that, but there are some tribes in which being “one-eighth” like me is “close enough.” I have the eye color, hair color, and skin tones of George Clooney. (The only thing I have in common with him, sadly. :-( ) In this analysis of Tonto, I would be “too white” or “not an Indian,” but there are plenty of people who look like me who are technically Native American. That’s another personal reason why I find analyses like this one pretty suspect.

              Now, please allow me to ask a similar question in response. Why is it so important that the actor playing Tonto look a certain way? That’s basically what this boils down to, doesn’t it? Depp doesn’t meet some sort of criteria for “real Native American,” and another actor would meet that criteria better. I’m merely asking what that criteria is.

              What about another one of my questions: If the actor playing Tonto was “half-white” and “half-Indian,” how would you count that – is that a full example of blackface, half blackface, or no blackface because the Indian part trumps the white part?

              I apologize for giving the false impression of being the calm at the center of a storm. My rational, sensible, practical side often misrepresents the real me. Maybe I’m awkwardly fighting that public image, like how certain actresses take certain parts to rebel against their “sweet and innocent” typecasting, e.g., some of Anne Hathaway’s rather unfortunate choices after the Princess Diaries.

            • Joanna Schroeder says:

              To me it has almost nothing to do with how he looks, but rather giving someone the opportunity to represent their own culture and ethnic history.

              That should go for the writing of the role and consulting on the production.

              The reason some races/ethnicities, in my mind, deserve more control over their image is because of the fact that we (us white folk) have subjugated their history and lives for hundreds of years. We don’t need to keep doing it in any way. In this case, we don’t need to do it in a film.

            • Alex Yarde (Author) says:

              @wellokaythen There is no need for speculation. The information is available to anyone willing to research it. The reason Malcom X among others Black and White, criticized Amos & Andy wasn’t because of Tokenism because Amos & Andy were white. It was a Minstrel Show. Amos & Andy were ALWAYS two white men in blackface “shucking n jiving”. I assumed that was common knowledge?

            • wellokaythen says:

              You’re right about Amos and Andy being white guys in blackface. That was a total brainfart on my part.

              I can also see that “tokenism” probably wasn’t quite the right word for what I wanted to say.

              Basically, I think that in terms of avoiding charges of racism, the moviemakers only had a series of bad choices to draw from. Some of those choices would appear more racist than others, but casting a “real Indian” instead of a “white guy like Johnny Depp” would hardly make a dent in how racist the film was or wasn’t.

      • “The right choice would be to cast someone who is actually of that ethnic background to portray that character.”

        So, only a Scottish man to play MacBeth, only a Danish man to play Hamlet, and only Italians to play Romeo and Juliet?

        • P.S. That standard is going to make science fiction movies very difficult to cast. It’s really, really hard to find real-life Vulcans and Ewoks.

          • Alex Yarde (Author) says:

            True, however Vulcans & Ewoks don’t exist. There is no shortage of fine Native American unemployed Actors or Actresses.

            • wellokaythen says:

              Playing devil’s advocate here, but bear with me. This sounds like a stupid question, but it points to some real problems:

              How would one ever prove that Depp is NOT in fact a Native American? Seriously. Take me through the confirmation process.

            • The test is very clear. The actor Johnny Depp is clearly not Native American because…he doesn’t look or act like what people think a Native American is suppsoed to look or act like. That’s basically the argument, right?

            • Joanna Schroeder says:

              There are ways to determine that, if that’s actually your only point. People applying for scholarships based upon being members or descendants of the First Nations often are asked to prove it.

              Beyond that, why is it okay for Johnny Depp to play Tonto but not okay for him to play a fictional enslaved African American? Or Bob Marley for that matter?

              Also, some people may say that a Scotsman should play MacBeth. I could get behind that. I think people did question Mel Gibson’s casting in Braveheart. But what we’re talking about here is a population that has been literally nearly eradicated due to a genocide committed by the race of people who have also written, directed and produced this film. We gave the role to a white man?

              I’m not talking about a war against them. I’m talking about a genocide. And we can’t even give them the chance to portray TONTO?!

            • ogwriter says:

              @Joanna: The problem with discussing individual instances of racism is that the approach actually prevents us from DOING anything about racism.. The discussion becomes isolated and compartmentalized in such a way hat creates distance, not closeness among people.of differing experiences. This situation isn’t going to change until white people stop having polite cocktail conversations about racism and start acting in ways that demonstrate they want change.
              The primary reason this kind of thing persists in American culture is due to apathy among white people. There has had books, movies, college courses, panel discussions dedicated to his subject for decades. How is this discussion any different?
              The truth is many of the white people who will comment will feel belter, but won’t demand that Hollywood change and won’t spend money to see films with people of color. Like you said it’s all connected and until we talk about that nothing will change

            • wellokaythen says:

              For me, one sticking point is the use of “we” and “them” and the question of continuity. Is a young male actor with some Native heritage who looks like the public’s stereotype of a Native American, living in L.A. in 2013, really one of the “them” nearly eradicated by “us” beginning in 1492?

              Are the people in charge of casting decisions really “we”? I presume the “we” here refers to all white people across the past few centuries.

              And, of course, it’s possible that Depp could have ancestors who were both “we” and “them.”

            • lee lynch says:

              Lucas named the Ewoks after the Miwok tribe, from the Redwoods of California. It’s known Star Wars triva. How honorable!

      • ogwriter says:

        I gota disagree with the idea that the only people who can accurately someone of a different culture muswt consult with that culture first.

        • wellokaythen says:

          Re: “…the idea that the only people who can accurately someone of a different culture must consult with that culture first.”

          If that really was the rule, then every one of us posting comments who is not a Native American would need to check with a Native American first before saying how disrespectful this movie is to Native Americans. No one would be allowed to speak about the experience of other people in other cultures. Arcaheology and History would be impossible subjects.

          • Joanna Schroeder says:

            Well, I believe Alex did. There’s another quote in the comments here.

            You’re extrapolating to ad absurdum at this point.

  8. Alex Yarde (Author) says:

    Thanks for all the folks who read, shared and responded. A good friend of mine who is a Lakota Educator & Activist made this observation which I wholeheartedly agree with..

    “The heavily romanticized, savior mentality of the white Hollywood actor in saving / liberating (and ultimately being adopted into) an indigenous community has been prevalent for far too long. Be it Kevin Costner at being more Lakota than us Lakota, or Tom Cruise being a better samurai than the samurai themselves, Hollywood has always sought to find ways of expressing a moral superiority using their self congratulatory industry – despite any societal maturity that often dates their craft and exposes biases or prejudices.
    Seeing Depp as Tonto in the way he is made up shows me that while sensitivities to actors using blackface has gone the way of the VCR, the new generation of blackface when portraying American Indians is to use “war paint”. Why? Because no one knows any better so therefore it can be made up as you go along.”

  9. This article is “right-on” at every level. Thank you for your understand of what we’re going thru and I will continue to be sensitive to your plight as well. Together we can make a different.

    I’m sure Mr. Depp has some Hippy-Dippy explanation for the bird. :)

  10. This article has me rethinking my childhood jones to see the film.

    I’m about the same age as the author. I thrilled to the same reruns and made similar observations he did as a child, wondering why Tonto both sounded stupid, yet ways the brains of the operation.

    Those final two paragraphs make up my favorite conclusion of an article in a long time.

    • Alex Yarde (Author) says:

      Thank you David, I apriciate your kind words. As a fan of the show as a boy I hoped for at mimimum a rendition in the vein of the not so well recieved 81′ Ledgend of The Lone Ranger film featuring the excellent Michael Horse in a dignified portrayal. He is Yaqui-Mescalero & Apache-Zuni. I’d hoped my misgivings about Mr. Depp’s rendition proved to be unfounded. Then I saw the Trailer.

  11. PursuitAce says:

    So Hollywood is the new christian right, the new KKK, and Johnny Depp is a racist? That’s one heck of a story. And one great irony since it was Hollywood that took every opportunity to improve the perception of minorities and women in society from almost it’s beginnings.

    • Alex Yarde (Author) says:

      Thank you for reading my piece. Hollywood and America has struggled with racism since inception. The reason I wrote the piece was In my opinion, the marginalization of Native People in Pop Culture (Mr.Depp in “redface” the latest example) impacts thier lives in a negative way (the sale of Wounded Knee burial sites) If you would like more information “Racisim in Early Hollywood” Wikipedia is a good starting point. Since the Release of “Birth of a Nation” in 1914 Hollywood has never been immune to or innocent of perpetuating negative stereotypes.

    • I’ve been told that it’s racist to talk about or even hint at the idea that progress has been made in Hollywood’s portrayal of people of color. And, that everyone is racist and racism is everywhere. So, presumably, there is no real difference between Disney movies and KKK rallies. (Of course, if you’ve ever seen Disney’s “Song of the South,” the difference really does look pretty slim!)

    • ogwriter says:

      @Pursuit Ace: Wow! What are you smoking …and, oh yeah, how much does it cost.

  12. Joe Carver says:

    Most blatant racism since Tom Cruise played The Last Samurai.
    Come on white guys, we can do better than this.

    • wellokaythen says:

      I found _The Last Samurai_ to be far more classist than it was racist. It’s great for samurai to be all skilled and noble and virtuous and everything, but they sure as hell weren’t growing their own food and building their own houses. They only had their privileged minority position on the backs of peasants whom they squeezed for every last resource they could get. The last samurai holdouts were really angry that they couldn’t push around commoners like they used to back in the good old days. They thought a groveling peasant was just as beautiful as a perfect tree blossom. Gimme a break.

    • wellokaythen says:

      Absolutely, which is why I’ve decided to transition from my white identity and I now self-identify as a a ciswhite pre-op transracial person of color. All you white people are cray-cray.

  13. wellokaythen says:

    Let me back up and find some common ground here.

    I am totally on board with the argument that popular depictions of Native Americans are almost always over-romanticized. We as a society have a lot further to go in terms of portraying historical Native Americans and Native Americans of today in a realistic, sophisticated light, avoiding as many stereotypes as we can. I grok it. I’m on board with that. I’m just not so sure that the people fighting anti-Native racism are willing to give up on ALL of the stereotypes.

    I’d really love to see American culture let go of all of its romanticized POSITIVE stereotypes about Native Americans as well. They are just as racist, just as oversimplified, and ultimately just as destructive as the ones that appear to be negative. The positive ones are really just negative ones in disguise.

    Can we please let go of the feel-good garbage about how “Indians lived in perfect harmony with nature” and “used every part of the animal” and “everything was sacred to them”?

    Can we please let go of the well-meaning white racist trope about how Native American cultures have always been inherently environmentalist and conservationist and consciously all about sustainability?

    Please, everyone stop quoting Chief Seattle for words he never said, no matter how those words inspire you when you collect signatures for Greenpeace. (I call this “greenface.”)

    Can we please drop the assumption that people of color are all inherently more spiritual, more in tune with the real rhythms of the universe, and more mystical, than white people?

    Please drop the noble savage baloney about how before Columbus the Americas were a garden of Eden, without war, hunger, slavery, genocide, or empire. Or about how they all lived in communal, egalitarian splendor without politics or economics.

    • ogwriter says:

      @wellokthen:’They are just as racist, just as oversimplified, and ultimately just as destructive as the ones that appear to be negative.”
      Maybe you don’t think that calling Native Americans savages is in fact negative. However, you certainly DO think that calling some white people savages,who according to the historical record behaved as savages, is negative. Why the difference?
      Your comment about Seminoles allowing ANYBODY, even escaped slaves and white criminals into their communities, by inference alone, is dripping with cynicism and ignornace. The inference suggests that Seminoles had less than optimum standards of judgement. And of course America showed great character and judgement when they protected countless war criminals from any number of wars;including the Civil War.
      Your consistent use of language to parse and play with notions of racism, sticking your toe in the water as it were, speaks volumes about what you probably really think. Why not just come out and say what you actually feel? Why do you hide behind this wall of intellectualism?
      Where is your evidence that romanticizing about noble savages is just as destructive and has similar consequences as calling them savages for the express purpose of disenfranchising them?

      • wellokaythen says:

        [Sorry this is so long. Asking me what I really think is a risky venture.]

        I can see how my language could have been misinterpreted, so please allow me to rephrase. I did not mean to imply that the Seminoles lacked judgment, though I can see how my language was faulty in getting that across.

        I meant to explain that by the time the U.S. Army in the early 19th century attempted to wipe out the last Seminoles not on reservations, the Seminoles had many African Americans and European Americans whom they had adopted into their tribe. This was not a lapse in their judgment but in fact a very successful recruitment strategy. They encouraged African American slaves in Georgia to escape and welcomed them into their territory, because the Seminoles understood, as Lincoln would much later, that former slaves make highly committed soldiers if they’re fighting to maintain their own freedom. There were Seminole people who today would, based on their appearance, be labeled as “black” or “white.” (I don’t know for sure, but I suspect there are members of the Seminole nation today who also would fit those descriptors.)

        I see how my reference to the “noble savage” could be confusing. “Savage” is a negative word when applied to anyone. I don’t recall ever saying that white people should never be called savages. See what I’ve written elsewhere on the site when I talk about strategic bombing, and you’ll see I think white people can be incredibly savage.

        Let me give some historical examples of the way that one stereotype can have negative consequences even if on the surface it appears positive. When Columbus described the natives he first met, he described them as innocent, peaceful, and living in harmony with each other. They were healthy, happy, had no warfare, and had no vices whatsoever. Positive, glowing description, right? Not too much different from the way some people think of pre-Columbian natives today, right?

        Meanwhile, Columbus thought that because of these “positive” qualities, they were essentially children, they had no religion and no culture, and they would make excellent slaves. He rationalized enslaving them by telling himself that they needed to be taught about good and evil and every child needs parental guidance. Voila, “positive” stereotypes used to rationalize brutality on a massive scale.

        The modern-day mythology about how earlier natives lived in perfect harmony with nature is just a slightly revised version of a mythology that was used to rationalize genocide in the first place. The common white view of Native Americans in the 1800’s was that “the Indians weren’t really using the land anyway, so it’s just going to waste.” Andrew Jackson, who made himself famous as an “Indian killer,” called them “children of the forest,” and a lot of other white Americans looked at Indian territory and called it “wilderness,” totally ignoring or in denial about how much the natives had actually shaped the landscape. “They lived close to nature” is not really different from “they weren’t really civilized like you and me.”

        This idea that Indians lived in perfect harmony with nature is just the latest racist hogwash that sees historical Native Americans strictly as hunters and nomads. (As if hunters and nomads don’t leave their own footprints.) They weren’t just “already living here.” They had actually SETTLED North America. It wasn’t “settlers” versus “Indians” on the East coast. It was “native settlers” versus “white settlers.” They had towns, cities, farms, trash pits, irrigation, fortresses, even aqueducts and zoos if you include Central America.

        Too many white people today STILL associate Indians with “wilderness,” partly because many white environmentalists see “wilderness” as a good thing. But, this is actually pretty derogatory if you think about it. For one thing, seeing natives like this tends to ignore how much Europeans benefited from Native American technology, economics, politics, culture, etc. Seeing them this way tends to minimize the fact that they lived in civilizations not always so different from the rest of the world. Seeing them like this also renders invisible the large populations of native Americans living in American cities.

        I consider that to be one of the most insidious things that racism does – it often overstates the differences between two societies. That’s what the same stereotypes continue to do, even when they’re dressed up in more comfortable clothing.

        Good job in calling people out on their possible racism. I’m glad you did so. In this case, there’s nothing hidden to call out. I’ve written what I think, no hiding necessary. I can’t come out from behind intellectualism, because this really is the way that I think and talk.

        If you’re looking for me to admit being racist, okay, I admit to being racist. As I understand it, everyone is racist to some degree, and I am a member of “everyone,” so logically I am racist. If someone calls me racist, that person is just saying I’m an American. Okay, guilty as charged. How’s that?

        I can see how one might call my approach “parsing” and “playing.” That criticism seems to leave me with no room to critique race constructs at all. If I am too loose or flexible, then I’m “playing,” but if I take things too seriously then I’m “hiding behind intellectualism.” I would never say a transsexual person is playing with sexuality, and I would never say a transgender person is playing with gender, so as a transracial person I don’t see myself as playing with race.

        If the whole structure of racial categories can’t stand up to a little parsing and some pointed questions, then perhaps that’s evidence that it’s a pretty dubious cultural construct. If the main defense of the racial categories is to brand critics as racist, then that suggests the critics may be onto something. The question of “who counts as what” is no trivial question, especially not to those who have mixed ancestry, which is essentially everyone.

        When I see irony, I can’t help but write in a way that looks ironic. Here’s the irony I see here: Disney is being criticized for not showing enough respect for the category of “Indian,” when the category itself has been used to oppress people. Disney is supposed to respect the stereotypes of Indians looking a certain way, but also challenge the stereotypes of Indians looking a certain way. Huh?

        If I see a mental construct as absurd, which is how I see a lot of “race” categories, it’s hard not to point out an absurdity without looking like I’m playing with it. Maybe you could give me some advice or a model for how to do this. If I think racial categories are absurd, if I think the enforcement of racial categories through employment choices is absurd, then how can I point out the absurdity without be accused of being a racist?

        I’ve never been called “consistent” before. That’s a new label for me. Not sure how I feel about it.
        : – )

        • ogwriter says:

          @Wokt
          I think your theory supporting your claim that patronizing racism contributed to the genocide of Native Americans has highly speculative and has little basis in fact. You fail to mention greed and religion as motivation.The people who decided that Natives were expendable was long and varied, collusion seems unlikely since these conquerors were competitors for gold and land. They were an arrogant, brutish, savage lot for whom slavery and religious persecution were commonly used instruments of control. They just needed a convenient excuse to take, rape, murder, lie, cheat, enslave,torture and pillage their way to achieve their goals. They knew the Natives were not savages and had complex cultures. That was propaganda garbage. Fitting.

  14. Alex Yarde (Author) says:

    A buddy of mine sent me this link… I guess I should have expected merchandizing behind the film. (Sigh) http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/06/05/disney-store-offers-tonto-halloween-costume-149727

    • wellokaythen says:

      I get it how many people could see Depp’s costume as disrespectful to native traditions, just as these costumes can be. However, one can’t then also criticize it for being “inauthentic.” It’s the costume of a fictional character from a fictional or stereotypical tribe. It also seems a little odd to expect some sort of “authenticity” from the Lone Ranger. At what point did people begin to evaluate Disney westerns primarily based on historical authenticity? Anyone check to see what kind of masks the Old Western crimefighters wore when they fought crime with Indian sidekicks and shot the guns out of people’s hands on a regular basis?

      Doesn’t it seem odd to anyone else to demand that a horrible racial stereotypical character has to wear “authentic” clothing? That’s like demanding the white actors in blackface in _Birth of a Nation_ wear precisely the right kind of clothing worn by slaves and former slaves. Seems to miss the mark a little bit.

  15. In my opinion the racism begins and ends with people like the author. To those like myself, who actually like and appreciate traditional cultures, wearing the remains of an animal does not make you a “savage,” or something bad.

    For your information if you want to look 500 years into the past (or for white people, 1500 years) your ancestors also wore paint and perhaps animal remains. But you get to sit in your manufactured shirt and trousers and claim that the racism is on someone else’s part, not yours.

    As a matter of fact, people who dress and groom themselves radically different than us live in many places today. You do nothing for them by comparing this Tonto depiction to whatever you imagine a native American is supposed to look like.

    No, I don’t you’re calling out racism so much as perpetuating it casually.

    • ogwriter says:

      @mike
      I am curious,what do you mean by,”people like the author”? You seem to be saying that the only real problem with racism is that “some ” people bring it up all the time. If we just didn’t say anything it wouldn’t matter and we would see that it really doesn’t exist. And in the next thread you will be talking about how white guys are getting the shaft and you will expect someone to listen and they will.
      Are there some problems with the authors premise, yes. However, the context of his argument, considering this is America,is understandable. And considering that Mr. Depp has always and quite successfully, marketed himself as a white matinee idol, his claims to Native American ancestry, though perhaps true, lack authenticity. People who spend their time criticizing how people who racism is directed actin their respond to it are a bit misguided.

  16. ogwriter:

    By saying “people like the author” I just mean to lay blame on the attitude he expresses without making it about him, as though it’s really his fault. No, I’m glad people bring up racism! If I blamed him just for over-eagerly calling out racism, what would that say about my response?

    I get your point that in America this is an understandable dispute to have, because who would be surprised if Disney disrespected Native Americans? However it’s going to drive me nuts if the people standing up against “racism” actually are condescending and prejudiced towards the actual people they claim to defend, as though the only way to count as a person is to dress like a modern Westerner and not like a “silly native.”

  17. Racism hides behind every tree and under every rock. Everything and everyone are racists.

  18. John Weeast says:

    Depp is part Powhatan, but I know some will nitpick percentages.

    As to the other misconceptions about the film, since I saw it I’ll try to clear up some misconceptions without giving too much away in spoilers.

    First, Native Americans actually play more of a background role in the story. The Comanche and settlers have a treaty that is broken in order to speed up the railroad by the antagonists. Typical thing that we actually did in history. Yes, they’re referred too as savages, which I don’t have a problem with because that’s how we treated them. To ignore it is an even worse offense.

    Second, Tonto’s portrayal made sense. Something happened in his backstory that made him act the way he does. The bird is a part of that and it’s explained that the bird is his spirit animal and when it’s killed, he uses its blood as his warpaint and he keeps the corpse to wait for the spirit to return. That ties into the legend of the Lone Ranger since the spirit horse actually comes for the ranger instead of him.

    He will wear the paint until the spirit returns when peace is returned to the desert. It makes perfect sense once you see it, but I can understand people prejudging things they don’t understand.

    As far as Tonto meaning “dumb” in Spanish. Kee mo sabe (actually que no sabe) means clueless one, so trying to place meaning by using languages that weren’t intended is a red herring. Tonto in the film says Kee mosabe means “Wrong brother” but we know from the original author it means “Faithful Scout”. In the radio series, Tonto was from the Potowan tribe (hint Depp) with his name meaning “wild one.”

    When you actually do some research, it’s not as racist as you make it out to be. But most won’t do the research and getting upset is the easier thing to do. Are there some things they could have done better in the film? Absolutely. Much like racism, our history of treatment of Native Americans is a difficult topic to approach. We’d rather choose to ignore or sidestep them, which does no good at all.

    • ogwriter says:

      John Weesat Johnny Depp purposely lives his life exclusivly as a uber white male matinee idol,period.The notion that he did this film to honor his Native American heritage rings false.I believe he did this film because he was paid $20,000,000 dollars AND it allowed him to expand his reputation as counter-culture to all of his fawning mostly white female fans.For them,his being “native American” probably gives him more sex appeal. I am sure the focus groups finding would support this idea.If he really wanted to honor his heritage why do it in the form of a fluffy summer-box office movie.These movies are designed for one purpose— to make oodles of cash— not meaningful social commentary.

  19. LakotanDakotan says:

    The nation did not commission the carving of the likeness of Crazy Horse in the Black Hills. The memorial was commissioned by Lakota elder, Henry Standing Bear.

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