November 03, 2010

Depp goes native for Tonto

Johnny Depp to Live with a Tribe

By Pau De ArcoHollywood hunk Johnny Depp will assimilate himself to have a realistic portrayal!

Johnny Depp, who is known for his versatile movie portrayals such as Edward Scissorhands, Willie Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Jack Sparrow in The Pirates of Caribbean-to name a few, is eager to start preparation for his role as Tonto in a Lone Ranger movie by shacking up with some real American Indians.

“Johnny has identified a tribe and wants to live with them as part of his preparation for the movie,” reveals a source close to the star.

“He wants to depict Tonto as a true Indian and not a cliché from an old Western. He’s ready to work and live authentically too. There will be no luxuries. He’s just waiting for the movie to get the go ahead.”
Comment:  This sounds like a Onion satire. I hope it isn't one.

Superficially, Depp's move sounds good. But here's why it isn't:

For starters, which tribe? There are 565 of them and they're all as different as European, Asian, or African countries. Tonto belonged to one tribe--supposedly the Apache--not all tribes. Unless Depp stays with some Apaches, he won't necessarily learn what he should.

Next, how long? A week? A month? I'd say a month is the minimum you'd need to start breaking down your preconceptions. True understanding probably would take years. I'm guessing Depp won't stay long enough to learn anything substantial.

The meta-message of Depp's announcement is this: He isn't a real Indian and he doesn't know anything about being a real Indian. He's tacitly admitting this by going to live with real Indians. Why not just hire a real Indian rather than go through this rigamarole?

Depp is taking a major role from a Native actor. He's putting on redface and planning an "authentic" minstrel show. He gets the wealth and fame while Native actors continue to languish.

For more on the subject, see Spooky Stuff in Depp's Lone Ranger and Depp to Brainstorm Tonto.

10 comments:

Alan Razee said...

“He wants to depict Tonto as a true Indian and not a cliché from an old Western. ... There will be no luxuries.”

So, "authentic" Indians live without luxuries? That will be news to all the Indians who wear clothes, drive cars, live in apartments, use the internet, shop at grocery stores, etc. etc. etc.

Sounds to me like he's already depicting cliche Indians before he even depicts an Indian.

Kathryn Price NicDhàna said...

"Johnny has identified a tribe"?

... So, he's an anthropologist now? So Indian tribes are hard to find? And hard to identify once you find them? Did he hike for days through the desert on LSD until he had a vision of what tribe Tonto is from? Did he excavate old film stock and hold it up to the light in the desert, praying for more enlightened ways to do a paintdown?

Burt said...

It appears that most of the pre-production fanfair on this film is more interesting than the actual film itself. In that I an curious, what tribe does Depp plan to "study" or live with to portray Tonto?

Kind of insulting when Tonto can be equated to a cartoon character. Will he go stay with one of the more impoverished but traditional tribes or will he be signing autographs at a casino somewhere?

What wrong with Adam Beach or Tatonka Means?

And as for Mr Alan Razee's comment on authenticity, is he describing luxuries for Indians that are naked, hitch-hiking, homeless, non-computer friendly and eating out of dumpsters and souplines?

The last time I checked, nudist colonies were not federally recognized reservations, they were for frustrated middle aged Anglos that enjoyed being voyeurs?

Emminence said...

San Carlos Apache Tribe in Arizona!!!

Anonymous said...

How INSULTING!!!! WHEN will Hollywood catch on? Do they expect us NOT to be insulted? "Oh, he did SUCH a good job playing Injun!" Who is making the movie? We need to send complaints to them!!!!!

Rob said...

Tonto is a traditional 19th-century Indian, you know. I think Depp meant he found a tribe with a traditional lifestyle that would let him get into a traditional mindset.

I'd be willing to bet he's talking about the Navajo. The traditional ones living in hogans, that is, not the modern ones living in cities.

But your points are still valid. Depp's comments--that he had to search high and low for this tribe, that it's some magic gateway to authenticity--reek of ignorance and condescension. "I'm as clueless as they come," he seems to be saying. "But I'll make like an anthropologist, drop in for a couple weeks, and learn whatever there is to know. Then I'll be qualified to play Tonto."

I'll say it again: If you have to live with Indians to understand Indians, you're not qualified to be (or play) an Indian. Give the role to a Native actor instead.

P.S. If you want to register a protest, Disney is the studio making the Lone Ranger movie.

John said...

taylor lautner in twilight all over again.

Anonymous said...

It's called research!

When he portrayed Hunter S Thompson he stayed in his basement for a few months.

Picking up mannerisms, routines, and tone inflections.

It's a craft, an artform.

Why are we faulting him for immersing himself in the Navajo society to get a better understanding of the culture he is portraying.

Do you think it was OK for a Mohawk to portray a Navajo?

Not an issue as long as he was brown.

Not an issue that his role was subservient and demeaning. We were all happy as long as it was a brown ass in the role.

As for the history of Disney didn't we all clap when there was an "Injun in the cupboard" or "Squanto"

Plenty of real Indians involved there.

Maybe if they did more research they wouldn't be so "Wooden"

Rob said...

"Why are we faulting him for immersing himself in the Navajo society to get a better understanding of the culture he is portraying?" I thought I addressed that when I wrote:

For starters, which tribe? There are 565 of them and they're all as different as European, Asian, or African countries. Tonto belonged to one tribe--supposedly the Apache--not all tribes. Unless Depp stays with some Apaches, he won't necessarily learn what he should.

Peta_de_Aztlan said...

RT @Laura_Molina: Johnny Depp goes native for Tonto: http://bit.ly/eOhtPC ~Hope he knows Indians are from India!