July 03, 2013

Adrienne Keene reviews Lone Ranger

Spoiler alert! Don't read this if you don't want to know what The Lone Ranger is about.

Here's Adrienne Keene's take on the movie. She's as reliable as me on the subject of Native stereotyping, so you can take her criticisms to the bank.

I saw The Lone Ranger so you don’t have toThe very first scene we are presented with an image of a Native person, in a museum–which presumably we’re supposed to critique, but there’s no questioning of Tonto’s position there. To me it reinforces the idea that all the Indians are dead, relics of the past, which is actually a theme throughout. This Indian is so silly and backward he trades a dead mouse for a bag of peanuts, doesn’t even know how to eat peanuts, and is feeding a bird, but it’s dead. Even the child knows that’s wrong. So this is the “new” Tonto? Definitely an improvement, amiright? (That was sarcasm. In case you missed it.)

Here’s the part you wanted to hear about, and I’m trying to think of the best way to frame it. Despite the Comanche involvement in the film, there’s still a lot of problems with conflating all Indians together. First off, we’re in “Texas,” except Texas is set in the iconic Monument Valley–Navajoland. Tonto from the start talks about being a “Wendigo hunter” and that the bad guys are “Wendigos” and that “nature is out of balance.” Wendigos are a Eastern Woodlands (Algonquian/Cree/Ojibwe) thing. Though they did get the stories kinda right, despite it being the completely wrong region/tribe. I’m not trying to argue that the movie should have been 100% “authentic”–whatever that means–but to tout your Native involvement and have a central plot point be totally wrong just felt weird to me.

Also general Tonto comments: Depp’s “accent” is hilariously inconsistent, and whenever he has more than a few words to say, it would veer into an almost stereotypical Italian-sounding thing, and for not speaking English, his vocab is great. He’s also very much the mystical-magical-Indian, an early scene shows him in jail making his bird come alive by singing and flapping his arms, he talks to the horse (and the horse talks back), he talks about LR being a “spirit walker,” etc.

After a false start where we see Rebecca (Lone Ranger’s love interest and his brother’s widow) protecting her homestead from raiding Comanches complete with war whoops and flaming arrows–but wait, they weren’t really Indians, it was Cavenish’s (the bad guy) men just playing Indian, we finally get to meet the Comanche camp after they capture the LR and Tonto. Here’s where we get to see the Native actors involved in the film, and the first glimpse of any Indians besides Tonto. Guess what they’re doing? Preparing for war, dancing around a fire, of course. Lots of yelping, lots of drumming, lots of masked, painted, and darkened Native faces.

Skipping forward, we watch the Comanche attack come over a hillside in the shadows, you know what it looks like, and there’s a moment as a viewer of “ohhh damn, watch out you silly railroad and calvary dudes, you’re about to get owned by some Comanches!” because they look so intimidating and like there are far more of them then the white guys. But no, the Cavalry mows them down with an early machine gun, and we watch as all of the Comanches are slaughtered, including a close up of Saginaw getting stabbed.

It’s very much a Guns, Germs, and Steel type moment–even though the Indians outnumber the whites, they’re not technologically advanced enough to win, and they are too dumb (or full of backward “honor”) to realize they’re headed for a death trap.

Finally we come to the end of the story. Tonto finishes telling it all to the little boy in the museum, and we see that he has put on a suit, holds a suitcase, and places a bowler hat over his crow (which he has continued to “feed” throughout the film). The boy gets momentarily distracted, turns back, and OMG again, Tonto’s gone! In return, a (live) crow flies out of the exhibit and at the screen. Then we cut to credits. Then, a few minutes later, we see Tonto wandering off into the vastness of Monument Valley, hobbling along, carrying his suitcase. He continues to walk, back to the camera, for the next 10 minutes as the credits go on, and on, and on. I guess we’re to assume his time as a “Noble Savage” has passed, and he’s returning to his unbridled wilderness, alone–but dressed as a white guy this time? This, like most of the movie, didn’t make any sense.

My theater had a bunch of kids in it. I kept thinking about what images they were leaving the theater with–and that left me upset and worried. Now an entire new generation is going to play the Lone Ranger and Tonto at recess, thinking Indians talk in incomplete and inconsistent pidgin English, think all Indians are dead, and that it’s ok to dress as an “Indian” for Halloween. While this might be a flash-in-the-pan film, it solidifies the continuing views of Native peoples as lesser, as relics of the past, as disappearing, as roadblocks to “progress.” Tonto might have been less of a sidekick and running the show, but in the end, the LR gets the girl and the glory, and Tonto ends up in a museum. How's that for a re-imagining?
Comment:  Here's the beautiful Comanche territory in Texas per The Lone Ranger. Because all Indians are the same and live in the desert wilderness. In fact, I think I can see the Lakota, Cheyenne, and Apache from here.

For more on Johnny Depp, see Critics Agree: Lone Ranger Is Bad and New Tonto as Racist as Old Tonto

1 comment:

dmarks said...

"In fact, I think I can see the Lakota, Cheyenne, and Apache from here."

I think I see a Navajo, a little to the right. There.... the guy in the canoe. Next to the totem pole. See him?