May 20, 2013

Johnny Depp's fantasy roles

I tweeted this comment on the Lone Ranger movie:Since Johnny Depp played Willy Wonka, the Mad Hatter, a pirate, and a vampire, people are eager to see his latest fantasy role: an Indian.You can add Edward Scissorhands and Ichabod Crane to that list also. Perhaps Sweeney Todd, Don Juan, William Blake, Sir James Barrie, and other roles as well. For the most part, they're either fantasy figures or creators of fantasy figures.

Note how our culture groups Indians with other fantasy figures. Cavemen and Indians? Turok. Pirates and Indians? Peter Pan. Aliens and Indians? Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Vampires and Indians? Twilight.

The message our culture is sending to people is obvious. Indians are fantasy figures akin to werewolves, ghosts, spirits, demons, and other supernatural creatures. They don't exist any more. They're not real.

Debating Depp again

I posted the tweet on Facebook's NativeCelebs page and got the typical range of comments. I've quoted or paraphrased them along with my responses:

"I am actual insulted that Native Celebs Categorized us as a Fantasy Role. Even if it in context with Mr. Depp you may want to rephrase what you have said. Native Americans and First Nations People are Real People."

I was being somewhat sarcastic, Jennie. We don't think Indians are fantasy roles--as we've proved with thousands of postings. But Depp obviously does. Hence his costume, his speech pattern, and the whole "spiritual warrior" thing.

It's just fiction. It's not important. Don't you have anything else to worry about?

For anyone who says "It's just a movie," do you read the other postings on this page? In the last 24 hours I posted a link and quote from the respected Native author Thomas King. To reiterate his point:

Thomas King on The Inconvenient IndianA major theme in the book is how much the entertainment industry has shaped non-Aboriginals' notions about Aboriginal people.It has "frozen us in place and in time," says King.

And a link and quote from Professor Angela Aleiss, who writes about Indians in film and testified on the subject before a Senate committee:

Stolen Identities: The Impact of Racist Stereotypes on Indigenous PeopleNative Americans traditionally have been associated with the Western myth: from the Dime Novel tales and the paintings of Frederic Remington to the Wild West shows of Buffalo Bill Cody and the popular Western movie and TV series, Indians appear to be inextricably linked to a remote frontier era.I repeat that these postings were in the last 24 hours. I've posted opinions like these constantly, day in and day out, for about 20 years.

If you want to debate the influence of movies, go ahead and do so--with facts and evidence. Claiming movies have no influence because you don't like to think about it is simply ridiculous. Almost every film expert disagrees with you, and they've studied the subject extensively.

Depp the Indian wannabe

But Johnny Depp is Native...! [citing his Wikipedia entry as if that proves something]

Depp's statement about his heritage explicitly begins with the words "I guess," which means he's guessing he may be Cherokee or Creek but has no evidence. And that's what I've said before: There's no hard evidence, only his belief in family rumors.

FYI, genealogists have looked at the great-grandmother he claims is part Cherokee and found no evidence of it. That doesn't mean she's not Native, but again, there's no evidence that she is.

As far as I can tell, he's in exactly the same position as Elizabeth Warren: repeating unsubstantiated stories and expecting us to believe them. People called Warren a liar for doing that. If she's a liar, so is Depp.

You should be promoting Native celebrities and projects, not tearing them down.

Finally, for anyone who thinks this page exists solely to promote Native celebs, you're mistaken. We post news items that are neutral, not, both positive and negative...and analyses of the issues facing Native celebs, including stereotyping and racism.

For instance:

Who Was the Real James Young Deer?

The "James Young Deer" posting directly above is an example of this. It's an investigation into the career of an early filmmaker to see if he was Native as he claimed. It serves to educate people about Native history, not to promote a celebrity or cause.

Besides, criticizing Depp does promote Native celebs. It informs the world that we're not going to sit by idly while Hollywood gives Native roles to non-Native performers. We want authentic Native roles played by authentic Native actors, and Depp's performance detracts from that.

All clear? For more on Johnny Depp, see Depp's Tonto: True or False? and Hammer Says Indians Love Depp.


Anonymous said...

I'm just DREADING Halloween!!! I'm not looking forward to every silly little child with a ridiculous dead bird on his/her head. Yuck, yuck, yuck.

Anonymous said...

Didn't one of the Indians in Indian Killer jokingly brag about being a vampire? LOL That's kinda hilarious after Twilight.

Yeah, Hollywood likes the magical Indian. In a discussion on speculative fiction, I mentioned it, and one of my friends (who's Jamaican) said "Yeah, you get the cool power that all the women want, turning into an animal. I just get weed and Bob Marley." (Which is now making every white ex of mine look kinda creepy.)

BTW, the best thing to do when someone cites Wikipedia as if that proves something is to say "[citation other than Wikipedia needed]".