An Open Letter to Johnny Depp's Tonto
By Natanya Ann Pulley
We are going to have a lot to talk about next year when your Disney movie about the Lone Ranger and Tonto hits. An in-production photo of you has emerged and it makes me nervous. You have a blackbird on your head. Johnny Depp Tonto Blackbird-head. Tsk. That bird might pluck your eyes out, man. The moment it hit my Facebook newsfeed the updates from my friends went nutso. What is this look? Is it genuine? Is Johnny Depp Native American or Native enough? Does he, like so too many others, have a distant Indian princess in his lineage? He’s said his great grandmother is Creek or Cherokee. Creek or Cherokee. He’s not sure which—this Creek-or-Cherokeeness of him amounts to one line on his Wikipedia page. Can casually embracing being part of this-or-that tribe somehow carry us forward?
I’ve also heard (a little birdie said) it’s possible that the movie’s Johnny Depp Tonto character might actually be a white man renegade pretending to be Native to hide from the law. Wouldn’t that be something?
If Tonto turns out to be a white man playing an Indian--just like Depp himself--I think people will crucify Depp. I know I will. It would be one of the greatest cases of whitewashing a character in movie history.
For more on Johnny Depp as Tonto, see Why Tonto Matters and Johnny Depp in a Crow Headdress.