November 11, 2008

Comments on (Mis)casting Depp as Tonto

Some comments on Indian Comics Irregular #176 received by e-mail:Dear Rob,

A remake of the 'Lone Ranger'--gag! When I first heard of this, never mind the casting, I was so grossed out! What a waste of time, talent and creativity! That type of colonialist garbage should stay unremade as an artifact of the dead and buried past. As for contemporary stories, it is just CRIMINAL not to hire any of the many very talented Native American actors out there.

Just as disgusted as you are, At least 'Frozen River' was a sleeper arthouse hit here in NYC and played in one theater for months.

Appreciatively Yours,


You sound bitter and condemning. Can people change the blood in their veins? You have a heart matter that must be dealt with. We must focus on how to make a better life for our children. They must see us love even our enemies.



Hi Rob,

Thank you for your editorials on Native Americans in film and television. I've read your insights on current issues on "native" performers and projects and look forward to them.

I've been "in the business" for over 20 years and find that as a "native" woman in this business it's been inequitable, frustrating, and exhausting.

Years ago if you said anything to anyone about being authentic and accurate you were "brownlisted" and didn't get work. I have also found that we as "native" peoples have such a low number in terms of quotas that we are insignificant and therefore not important. We have had advocacy groups throughout the years to educate and bring attention to producers about this cause but it's windowdressing in the end. Nothing comes of it. I have found this has been the cycle. I feel lucky when I do get a call and get to audition. If I do get the job I feel even luckier. No use going on the "warpath" over it. I've been there and in the end it really is about the work. Those of us who are writing and developing on our own to tell our own stories have it right. That is the only way to combat the impossible. You can't preach to the artificial and the superficial because they just don't get it. However, somewhere there's a glimmer of hope there will be other "Frozen Rivers" and "Smoke Signals." There is a great cadre of performers, writers, directors out there now and that makes me proud and happy. Twenty years ago you could count the number of performers on one hand! I do keep hoping for better days ahead. Keep up the good works!

Best, Geraldine Keams


Dear Rob,
There is an independent film that was just shot in Oregon which features a Native woman in the role of a main character.  The film is, "Some Days are Better than Others" and will be premier spring of 2009.  I know about the film because I was cast in the role of Camille.  I am happy to say that the role does not promote stereotypes, it shows a Native woman living and surviving in modern society as she is confronted with a difficult decision.  After reading your zine this month, I felt compelled to write to you to tell you about an upcoming movie that actually has a Native role and a Native woman portraying that character.
I enjoy reading your webzine and want to thank you for all that you do.
Renee Roman Nose
Enrolled member of the Cheyenne & Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma


Sorry Rob, He does look Indian, just not the stereotype.

Only in the U.S. did they make a law that you have to be their Idea of Indian.

Just like not all Caucasians are Blue eye and Blond hair, either do we.

It's ok, I still love ya!

Comment:  Usually I get only one or two e-mail responses to my ICI newsletters. This time I got five and they were all interesting, so I decided to share them.

Fortunately, three of the five respondents got the message, since they agreed with me. Unfortunately, two of the five didn't.

Yes, Donelle, I'm "bitter" that Hollywood is wasting its time, talent, and creativity making "colonialist garbage" when it could be telling contemporary Native stories instead. Is that what you meant?

In other words, let me introduce you to Amy, Geraldine, and Renee. Why don't you tell these three women that you know best? After you convince them that you're right and they're wrong, get back to us with your final answer.

For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies.

Below:  You can never have too many versions of a white man fighting crime with his faithful Indian servant sidekick partner. Let's see how many times we can reinforce the message that Euro-Americans are superior.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Re: Johnny Depp as Tonto

Let's face it, sports fans - the bottom line in Hollyweird is and always has been money. If Depp is cast as Tonto or has already been cast as Tonto or whatever his involvement in this film is (I, personally, do not know nor do I even care at all as I have never been into Johnny Depp), it's all about getting adoring bodies into those (mostly empty these days) theater seats.

If an actual full-blooded Indian were cast in this role, there goes the starry-eyed white female demographic out the door once they see him on screen (or really, never even entering the doors of the movie house once they hear about this unknown). So too, will the gay male audience, according to a gay former co-worker of mine that I posed this issue to (he, incidentally, has a tattoo of Depp on his right bicep).

And Hollyweird (remaining a largely racist institution, no matter how many token minority actors they employ) HAS TO cast "Indian" actors with Caucasian facial features to reel in the big bucks, you all know that! Just like the crappy artwork on all of those Indian warrior-white woman romance novels that are all the rage with the fantasy-challenged, mainly stay-at-home moms.

Depp, to me, is the Robbie Benson of this era in American movie-making - do you recall that Benson was cast as an Indian ("Running Brave") and as a Chicano gang member in "Walk Proud."

No matter what happens, any remake of The Lone Ranger and Tonto will probably tank at the box office as the American Western has pretty much died and gone to that great and lonely cinematic Boot Hill where the ghostly form of a skeletal, mange-ridden coyote wails sadly into that ultra-dark, forever-moonless night.