August 18, 2013

Lone Ranger ignores Comanche atrocities

The truth Johnny Depp wants to hide about the real-life Tontos: How Comanche Indians butchered babies, roasted enemies alive and would ride 1,000 miles to wipe out one family

Comanche Indians were responsible for one of the most brutal slaughters in the history of the Wild West

However, Johnny Depp wants to play Tonto in a more sympathetic light

By Jonathan Foreman
S C Gwynne, author of Empire Of The Summer Moon about the rise and fall of the Comanche, says simply: ‘No tribe in the history of the Spanish, French, Mexican, Texan, and American occupations of this land had ever caused so much havoc and death. None was even a close second.’

He refers to the ‘demonic immorality’ of Comanche attacks on white settlers, the way in which torture, killings and gang-rapes were routine. ‘The logic of Comanche raids was straightforward,’ he explains.

‘All the men were killed, and any men who were captured alive were tortured; the captive women were gang raped. Babies were invariably killed.’

Not that you would know this from the new Lone Ranger movie, starring Johnny Depp as the Indian Tonto.

For reasons best know to themselves, the film-makers have changed Tonto’s tribe to Comanche—in the original TV version, he was a member of the comparatively peace-loving Potawatomi tribe.

And yet he and his fellow native Americans are presented in the film as saintly victims of a Old West where it is the white settlers—the men who built America—who represent nothing but exploitation, brutality, environmental destruction and genocide.

Depp has said he wanted to play Tonto in order to portray Native Americans in a more sympathetic light. But the Comanche never showed sympathy themselves.
Foreman's conclusion:By casting the cruelest, most aggressive tribe of Indians as mere saps and victims of oppression, Johnny Depp’s Lone Ranger perpetuates the patronising and ignorant cartoon of the ‘noble savage’.

Not only is it a travesty of the truth, it does no favours to the Indians Depp is so keen to support.
From what I've read, The Lone Ranger does indeed sanitize its Comanches to the point of blandness.

The movie probably is doing Indians a favor by not portraying the Comanches as "the cruelest, most aggressive tribe." We don't need the umpteenth flick featuring Indians as merciless savages.

But Depp and company had a range of options between portraying Indians as saintly victims and merciless savages. The best choice might've been to make Tonto something other than a Comanche.

"Fierce" tribes get attention

This article raises a valid point that I hadn't thought about enough. The Comanches weren't just your average tribe. They had one of the "worst" reputations for ferocity.

It's one reason I've said storytellers should stop relying on the same old tribes: the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Apache. Start showing the range of tribal cultures, not just the most warlike cases. Focusing on these tribes makes all Indians look bad, since everyone thinks all Indians were and are the same.

If you're going to pick the Comanches, make them historically accurate--atrocities and all. If you don't want a tribe guilty of atrocities, don't pick the Comanches. Whatever you do, don't portray the tribe as The Lone Ranger did: as a generic set of Plains Indians.

For more on the savage Indian stereotype, see Aide Calls Indians "Arrow Throwers" and Indians in The Lost Colony.

Below:  "Real-life: White Wolf, a Comanche Chief, pictured in the late 19th century."

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Comanches do not have an edge to brutality and fierceness. They neighbored Kiowa and Apaches on the plains, not exactly diplomatic peoples themselves. Measuring the death toll from racial contact, tribes rarely decimated complete tribes unless it was a great offense. Europeans by far spilled more blood and committed far more brutality whether by killings en masse or individual persecution unjustly. Surely the Comanche are not the first tribe Americans pushed to the brink of savagery, slaying in the name of god from the east coast to the plains of Oklahoma?

Anonymous said...

Comanches do not have an edge to brutality and fierceness. They neighbored Kiowa and Apaches on the plains, not exactly diplomatic peoples themselves. Measuring the death toll from racial contact, tribes rarely decimated complete tribes unless it was a great offense. Europeans by far spilled more blood and committed far more brutality whether by killings en masse or individual persecution unjustly. Surely the Comanche are not the first tribe Americans pushed to the brink of savagery?