May 09, 2011

Depp unsure of his Native ancestry

Entertainment Weekly discovers what we've been talking about for about two years now: that Johnny Depp's Tonto will be different.

Johnny Depp wants 'The Lone Ranger' to back off Tonto:  'Why is the f–––ing Lone Ranger telling Tonto what to do?'

By Anthony Breznican“I remember watching it as a kid, with Jay Silverheels and Clayton Moore, and going: ‘Why is the f—ing Lone Ranger telling Tonto what to do?’” Depp tells EW, recalling the 1949-1957 TV show, which was seen decades longer in reruns. “I liked Tonto, even at that tender age, and knew Tonto was getting the unpleasant end of the stick here. That’s stuck with me. And when the idea came up [for the movie], I started thinking about Tonto and what could be done in my own small way try to—‘eliminate’ isn’t possible—but reinvent the relationship, to attempt to take some of the ugliness thrown on the Native Americans, not only in The Lone Ranger, but the way Indians were treated throughout history of cinema, and turn it on its head.”

Tonto’s treatment especially bugged him because Depp had always been told his family was part Indian. “I guess I have some Native American somewhere down the line,” he says. “My great grandmother was quite a bit of Native American, she grew up Cherokee or maybe Creek Indian. Makes sense in terms of coming from Kentucky, which is rife with Cherokee and Creek.”
Comment:  "Makes sense"? I thought Depp had stated that his great-grandmother was a full-blooded Cherokee. Now he's not even sure which tribe she's from.

How many apologists have said he should get the role because he's definitely an Indian? Now his 1/8 Cherokee blood sounds like an overstatement. He may be only 1/16 or less Indian.

Depp's deep thinking

So Depp wants to transform "some of the ugliness thrown on the Native Americans" in movies. You know, by white actors playing phony Indians in redface. And how will he accomplish this? As a white actor, he'll play a phony Indian in redface.

I love how Depp talks as if he discovered something new about Tonto. As if no one else has had this thought before. As if only he could transform Tonto into a critique of our stereotypical thinking.

Actually, Natives probably have been criticizing and reimagining Tonto since the 1960s and '70s, if not before. And non-Natives too, since it's patently obvious. I doubt anyone has envisioned Tonto as a pure sidekick since Jay Silverheels played the role.

Depp's arrogance is annoying--to me, at least. If he really cared about Native portrayals in Hollywood, he'd step aside and give the role to a Native actor. If he felt he had a unique vision for Tonto, he could write the role for a Native actor. What we don't need is another white man playing an Indian in a wig and makeup.

For more on the subject, see Depp's "Dilemma" Over Playing Mexican and Johnny Depp's Track Record.


Anonymous said...

Get a f@#kin life. Who really cares..The story is goddamn fairytale bullshit early comic book TV series anyway. Was not based on fact so who really gives a fly'n rats/ass...

Anonymous said...

It is pretty easy to trace your Indian Great grandmother. I can and my kids can my grandkids can especially when the government enrolled our ancestors and kept records and census back then on Native Depp just needs to do some checking to clear all this up don't you think...if he is Native... cool if not why did he open the can in the first place. it is Funny... My sons who is an actor well... he could never play a white guy role... hollywood won't budge on that...but he could play an indian or hispanic role and has... but never the White mans role why not have Depp play the Lone Ranger instead and get a "real" Native to play Tonto? One who has not lost touch with his Native family....

Anonymous said...

Well Rob, you can have 2 or 3 million people see Tonto re-imagined with some dignity and a Native actor as you suggest, or you can have 30 or 40 million see Tonto re-imagined with some dignity by Johnny Depp.

No, that doesn't mean there's no Native actor that can act circles around Johnny Depp. That means that there's no Native actor that's anywhere near as bankable as Depp.

You choose whether your principal being as pure as possible is more important than it reaching as many people as possible.

Of course, all that is moot if Hollywood fucks it up anyway.

dmarks said...

Anon said: "The story is goddamn fairytale bullshit early comic book TV series anyway."

Bzzt! Bzzt! The Lone Ranger is most famously known as a radio program. You might get some points for the TV program, which did well. Sure, there was a comic-book tie-in, but it is obscure and forgotten.

Anonymous said...

Bothers me that Depp doesn't care enough about his heritage to figure out his genealogy yet on the other hand he claims Native ancestry in order to explain his gig as Tonto.

I put in some time doing public records research on, looked over his great-grandmothers and their parents, if I connected the dots right his ancestors are all listed as white on census, no tribal rolls.

Anonymous said...

Hey other anonymous, you may be running into something my family has run into. We can't identify the tribe of our Native ancestor either. (Rob's right, every white person has one) We know she existed from photographs, but the racism was so rampant that her husband apparently forced her to cut all ties. Older members of our family remember asking about her as children and being told that "we don't talk about that." It's entirely possible that the same thing happened in Depp's ancestry. His racist ancestors may have simply lied on census forms. They may not have even thought of it as lying in a "well she's white now" kind of way.

Anonymous said...

This is where blood quantum gets ridiculous. Americans with native blood running through their veins are not necessarily native, no matter what color of the rainbow they are.

There are natives with alot of Indian blood, identifiable as Indian that are completely clueless about their culture and their heritage and have no intentions to learn their own culture. A high population of gangs and thug culture on reservations is proof that no matter if you are raised in and around tribal culture, your values and thought processes are not part of the ancient people you proudly claim when you live by, project and boasts of your own accepted colonization.

Johnny Depp is white by culture, white by acceptance and projection of that culture and is only giving lip service to the Indian community and sadly, natives are buying it.

If Johnny Depp is Indian, then so is Cher and President Obama, but to me, Iron Eyes Cody had not a drop of Indian blood in him, but consumes all three of these clowns in his acceptance and identity of being Indian.

Rob said...

Most fictional stories aren't based on fact, Anonymous #1. Yet they and their mistakes and stereotypes still influence people. Read postings such as the following and educate yourself on the subject:

"Such-and-such is fiction"
Okay to stereotype in "satires"?
"What Americans know...comes from movies"
The influence of movies
Educating Russ about criticism

Rob said...

Yeah, Anonymous #3...Depp really turned The Tourist, Public Enemies, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, and Sweeney Todd into blockbusters. Oh, wait...he didn't. Never mind.

You've confused Depp's popularity in the Pirates movies with Depp's popularity, period. The concept would've sold those movies even if someone else had played Captain Jack Sparrow. The concept will sell the Lone Ranger movie, too.

I explained all this in Fallacy of the Big-Name Actor. Most blockbuster movies don't have big stars. They make money precisely because they don't have big stars with their bloated salaries and egos. The concepts and stories sell these movies, not the actors.

How many dozens of examples do you want? Let's start with Avatar, Twilight, The Dark Knight, Harry Potter, Shrek, Spider-Man, and Star Wars. Get the point yet, or should I go on?

Ariel said...

Thank you for this write-up. With all due respect to Depp as an actor, he can be really arrogant to say the least and I found that entire EW interview disgusting for several reasons (mostly off topic for this post so I won't go into detail).

Because people like him so much he tends to get a free pass on things that any other actor would get called out on, and he will get a free pass from most people in this case too. So I'm glad that you're calling him out on it. This is a potential tentpole, popular-franchise-based family movie that people will take their kids to see no matter who is starring in it. It does not need Depp's name to sell it. And if they want to do 'justice' in any way they could cast an unknown Native actor. Depp's statements in that article just reek of bullshit and manipulative publicity. And his 1/8 or 1/16 or whatever ancestry is a feeble attempt to excuse white-washing.