July 17, 2012

Depp speaks "Tonto talk" in trailer

The San Diego Comic-Con was the week before last. I didn't go this year because 1) I was working and 2) I couldn't get guest passes for my friends. But here's the big news from the Native stereotyping viewpoint:

First Footage of Johnny Depp’s Tonto Shown at San Diego Comic-ConYesterday, at the massive San Diego Comic Con (SDCC), Disney gave about 6,000 attendees a surprise early look at one of today’s most anticipated film projects—both within and outside of Indian country—The Lone Ranger, in which Johnny Depp plays the familiar Native sidekick Tonto to Armie Hammer’s Lone Ranger.

For American Indians, the fact that Depp is portraying a Native American in such a major movie has been a topic of fascination and much debate. From the reports out of SDCC, it seems, the footage will likely add fuel to the fire for those who aren’t happy with the situation. Depp reportedly had one line in the clip:

“There come a time, Kemosabe … when good man must wear mask.”

There has been much talk of a more sensitive and complex portrayal of Tonto; apparently, though, Tonto will speak in the same, well, Tonto-speak of all his previous incarnations.

For an on-the-scene reaction, there may be none better than that of Screencrush.com‘s Jordan Hoffman, who tweeted: “I dunno, Johnny Depp’s kinda Uncle Tomahawking it up with LONE RANGER”
Comment:  So far the movie seems about as racist or stereotypical as you'd expect. Tonto speaking broken English in 2012...really? And that respects and honors Indians how?!

On Facebook, someone justified the Tonto-talk this way:OK I'm of two minds on this. I dislike seeing Native Americans depicted in this manner, on the other hand it would be "canon" for him to speak that way as far as the series goes. Tonto was one of my favorite characters because he was underestimated. (I used to own it on CD and cassette, for the old radio show.) I would imagine Depp was in the same issue. If he plays the role with the Native American speaking English, the canon fans will freak, and if he played the character the way it was written, the Native Americans are offended. Add in the movie industry. Sadly, this series was written in the '30s. There really is no good choice in this situation.To which I responded:

"Canon freaks," if there are any, will freak out over the fact that Tonto is the senior partner, he's got weird paint on his face, and a frakkin' bird on his head. His speech is the least of the problems.

The point of doing a remake is to update the things that didn't work. Making Tonto a full partner of the Ranger, good. Having a non-Native play him, bad. Giving him some sort of background, good. Having him speak like an ignorant savage, bad. Etc.

This one line may be an exception--perhaps spoken that way intentionally to mislead fans and stir up controversy. But note what this tells us about Depp's sensibilities. The Tonto talk is an unmistakable insult to Indians...but Depp doesn't care. He's willing to leave us with a first impression--an impression that may last months--of Tonto as an ignorant savage.

Designing a costume based on a white man's fantasy painting and speaking in broken English are all part of the package. For Depp, clearly, The Lone Ranger is about making money for himself, not about honoring Indians.

Movie headed for a flop?

Someone else who saw the trailer calls The Lone Ranger a loser:

The Biggest Winners and Losers of Comic Con 2012!

By Charlie Jane AndersMeanwhile, this is a project that already had terrible buzz before coming to Comic Con—and the fact that they rolled the footage in the middle of a popular panel, without explaining what it was first, was clearly aimed at creating a huge sensation and changing the story. And...it just didn't work. It's not as if this movie's buzz got any worse coming out of Comic Con, but it didn't get any better, either. Johnny Depp looked just as silly as Tonto as you'd expect from the still photos, and the action looked incredibly generic and boring.For more on Johnny Depp as Tonto, see Blogger Attacked for Criticizing Depp and Comanche Filmmaker Criticizes Depp.

1 comment:

dmarks said...

I agree. I find Tonto speak detestible, and find people using this type of thing in racist jokes and jabs at Natives all the time.

Keep the word "Kemosabe", but bag the rest of it.