June 20, 2013

Depp to Indians: "You're still warriors"

Depp to Native Youth: 'You're Still Warriors, Man'And so the magazine-cover onslaught is underway. Expect to see Johnny Depp's Tonto-fied face (and bird-ified crown) all over your local newsstand—today, it's Rolling Stone. In the extensive cover story, Depp ruminates on his Hollywood success and his future, and addresses the role at hand: Tonto in The Lone Ranger.

ON THE COSTUME: "I wanted him to be no joke. ... First of all, I wouldn't f*** with someone with a dead bird on their head. Second of all, he's got the f***ing paint on his face, which scares me."

ON MOTIVATION: "I wanted to maybe give some hope to kids on the reservations. ... They're living without running water and seeing problems with drugs and booze. But I wanted to be able to show these kids, 'F*** that! You're still warriors, man.' "
Depp's warrior hope for Ranger roleStepping out on the red carpet at the film's world premiere at Disney's California Adventure theme park in Anaheim, the 50-year-old said he has always felt a connection with the role.

"It's something that has felt dear to my heart since childhood. I remember my parents talking about how we had some degree of Indian blood in us and it was a great point of pride even as a little kid.

"If this version of the Lone Ranger can help kids on the reservation, kids off the reservation to say I am a warrior, I can get through this, I want to keep my language alive then great."
Depp is sending a consistent message, but it's not the one he thinks. He obviously sees Tonto as a scary savage warrior. The personification of Tonto's Giant Nuts, his rock band.

This is no different from the last 10,000 examples of savage Indians. You can see the same traits in Sleepless Entertainment's racist "tribal cosplay," the stereotypical Whistling Warrior statue, the half-naked drummer dressed as an "Indian," and on and on.

These traits center around a lack of depth--a lack of culture, history, and religion. All these stereotypical savages are one-dimensional caricatures of real Indians.

Depp confirms his stereotypical thinking in another article:

Johnny Depp: I have been adopted by Native Americans ... my name is Mah-Woo-Meh“Being adopted, what it means and what it’s meant since that day, has given me so much in my life.

“I’m not a particularly spiritual person myself the only church I have ever seen that makes sense to me is the sweatbox. I do smoke a peace pipe as often as possible, because I like peace... ”
Others agree

Others have noted the same thing:

Johnny Depp Wants to Fix Racism With TontoJohnny doesn't just want to make sure he's not only being culturally sensitive, he wants to change the way things are for Natives in film. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Depp said he wants to take his role in The Lone Ranger and make it an inspiration for young Native Americans:

I wanted to maybe give some hope to kids on the reservations. They're living without running water and seeing problems with drugs and booze. But I wanted to be able to show these kids, "Fuck that! You're still warriors, man."

You're still warriors… man? Are you kidding me? If it wasn't so painfully steeped in an ignorant understanding of the modern Native American struggle, Depp's mission to "help" the Natives could be a hilarious comedy about how white dudes see the non-white world. If only.

This is just another case of white dudes solving the brown world's problems, problems that they think they've got figured out. "What are some Native American issues?" thought Depp. "White-dominated media tells me it's alcoholism and drugs. I want to change that by dressing up like a member of Kiss meets Navajo gift shop." And to top it all off, he wants to encourage those reservation kids to find their inner warriors, to hear the wolf cry to the blue corn moon, to paint with all the colors of the wind.

If Depp's version of Tonto was meant 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 its head," as Depp stated as his hopes for the role, he's turned it at a full 360 degrees and fallen back on the same binary depiction of Native Americans as alcoholic reservation kids on one hand and feather-sporting warrior braves on the other. What's worse is, even if Depp and Disney did the political correctness song and dance, thousands of kids will still be dressing as Tonto for Halloween and in their heads they'll say, "I feel like a warrior, man."
Annotating the racism of Johnny Depp's Tonto

The mystical bird-headed man

By Liana Maeby
We've all always suspected that Johnny Depp's portrayal of the pidgin English-speaking wildman Tonto in 'The Lone Ranger' might be more than a little racist, but now that we have an abundance of official images to go on, we can say conclusively that yep, this character is offensive as hell. Even better, Johnny-as-Tonto graces the cover of the new issue of Rolling Stone in full-on American Indian caricature mode. How how, paleface!

Exactly how cartoonish can this character get? Here are just some of the offenses of Johnny's Tonto.

It seems Depp sees most Indians as victims, but he wants them to be warriors. So his view is binary: Indians are either winners or losers. They can either get drunk, fall down, and die or put on a scary costume, pick up a tomahawk, and fight back.

This binary thinking suggests how shallow his knowledge of Indians is. It suggests he has no understanding of the complexities of Native history and culture. No awareness that Tonto's contemporaries were going to schools, becoming educated in the white man's ways, and challenging the status quo with words and ideas, not bows and arrows.

It's also condescending. "I'm a role model for you," Depp seems to be saying. "Why can't you be a tough guy like my super-scary Tonto? Don't you understand that your people were warriors and can be warriors again?"

For more on Johnny Depp, see Depp Keeps His Ancestry Ambiguous and Skyhawk: Depp Is a Charlatan.

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