By Michelle Shining Elk
Thanks Johnny Depp for perpetuating a grossly erroneous stereotype of how Indians speak–then and now. You brought NOTHING to the table in so far as your usually amazing acting skills.
Like teachers influence their students throughout their scholastic programs, so do people in all forms of media and entertainment who misrepresent us as American Indian people and continue to perpetuate the stereotypes as they influence their fans, readers, listeners, followers and viewers. Thus…the perpetual cycle of stereotypes and misinformation continue seemingly without end.
Popular culture, which is predominantly members of the majority constantly propagate misinformation, skewed perspectives and inappropriate depictions of who we are as First Nation American Indian people. This misinformation always ends up being internalized by those who don’t know any better or how to decipher the difference between fact and fiction.
I get this movie is a “period piece”; however, never was there a time when our ancestors or our elders spoke the way Depp portrays Tonto in the upcoming Disney release “The Lone Ranger.” Thanks Johnny Depp for not exercising your gifts of being an amazing actor who is typically able to bring amazing life to your characters using that talent. Sadly and so disappointing is seeing that all you have done here is simply mimic the pathetic speech patterns created and always depicted in the ridiculous stereotype plagued lot of Hollywood Spaghetti Westerns films.
Of course, those who don’t get it, will argue or tell me to lighten up because this is a remake of “The Lone Ranger” which was shot in the 1930s-40s or that I “should just get over it.”
But here is the deal…while this may be a remake of a 30s-40s television show, the technology and special effects used to make this movie will surely remind audiences throughout the 90 minute process that it is anything but a true “period piece” and that it’s a modern day flick. As such, I don’t think it’s cockamamie that I would have expected Depp to deliver his lines in a more modern and realistic manner and not like a caricature from a John Wayne movie, or 1920s cartoon.
Michelle elaborated in a comment she posted on Facebook:
Or, had he not announced to the world that he would deliver a more well-rounded version of Tonto unlike the original one dimensional character of the 1930s television series. Leaving us to believe he was going to deliver something fresh, new and devoid of the damaging "Injun" speak stereotype created by Hollywood.
Or, had he and the filmmakers not made promises that in this role as "spirit warrior" Tonto, he would uphold the integrity of American Indian people. Which, reluctantly, many believed...even though he fashioned the look of his character after a painting by non-Native artist Kirby Sattler stating he saw the photo and thought to himself "Tonto's got a bird on his head. It's his spirit guide." Really? SMH
The list goes on, and I'm sure you get the point.
For so many years we've managed to go farther and farther away from the "How!" Indian. So much so that our young people 16 and under have likely not experienced anything like this, until now. Imagine the confusion and embarrassment this is going to instill upon these young people as they wonder "why is he talking like that?" It can't be argued that this won't be confusing or damaging.
It is bad enough that our American Indian youth watching prime time television never sees frequent or true reflections of themselves because we as American Indian people seem to be non-existent but now "Jack Sparrow" is delivering them this...a Comanche Indian Tonto.
Sadly, whether we like it or not the perception is the reality and films shape perceptions that our young people have of the world they live in, and of themselves. Research on identity development has shown lack of representation AND damaging images and stereotypes make young people painfully aware of why we are viewed--or not viewed--as human beings. Much the same way that Holloween costumes dehumanize who we are as Indian people--turning us into non-existence caricatures.
I had accepted Johnny Depp as Tonto, but I didn't expect him to take us so far back in time we'll need to explain, or undue this stereotype.
How soon they forget the promises they make...