May 27, 2012

Comanche filmmaker criticizes Depp

Will Depp’s portrayal of Tonto add to struggle Natives face in filmmaking?

By Rod PocowatchitI have liked his choices in movies, his creative collaborations with Tim Burton, and his ability to completely disappear into a role.

But I am not a fan of his casting as Comanche sidekick Tonto in “The Lone Ranger,” coming out in May 2013. And I particularly do not like the publicity photo teaser that was recently released on the Internet. It shows him with pale, ghostly face paint and a headdress that looks like a crow died on his head. It’s certainly not dress that is authentic to Comanches of the Old West era, and seems to imply ridiculousness for the sake of comedy.

I am Comanche (as well as Pawnee and Shawnee). And I think we shouldn’t be embracing this portrayal, but protesting it.

Just earlier this week, though, it was announced that Depp was officially adopted into my tribe by Ladonna Harris, a Comanche member and president of Americans for Indian Opportunity. Comanche Nation chairman Johnny Wauqua was also present for the ceremony that took place at Harris’ home in Albuquerque on May 16.

While I always favor an act of goodwill such as this (and it’s pretty cool to say that Depp is now one of my tribal brothers), I question the intent. Is it simply because Depp is a worldwide superstar? Or is it that we truly embrace the way Tonto will be portrayed in the film?

I think they’re two separate things, even though the act seems to imply that the Comanche nation as whole gives its stamp of approval to the film.
Comment:  Pocowatchit is a filmmaker as well as a Comanche, so his words carry weight for both reasons. He's not buying the intent behind Depp's adoption. He might not buy the adoption itself if he read the info in Johnny Depp Is Honorary Comanche.

Pocowatchit is asking the right questions. People were already dismissing criticism of Depp "because he's Native" before the adoption. As if some thin-blooded "Cherokee" was knowledgeable about all things Comanche--an unrelated tribe hundreds of miles from Depp's home. Now they'll have another reason to dismiss criticism of Depp.

I'm guessing Disney's or Depp's PR people had this in mind when they proposed the adoption. "Let's see if the Comanches will adopt him, make him an honorary member," they thought. "It'll give him and the movie a seal of approval." I'd be amazed if it came about with no PR involvement. If it ever comes out, I look forwarding to reading the inside story of Depp's adoption.

For more on the subject, see Jones:  "Depp Is an Indian" and The Magical Power of Adoption.

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