Prepare for the “Lone Ranger is Racist” Onslaught

March 8, 2012 — 16 Comments

Doing a new film featuring the Lone Ranger would inevitably lead to this. Charges of racism were bound to pour in. Though the character of Tonto was often very heroic, there was always an undercurrent of condescension in the series that made it more than a little uncomfortable for more sensitive viewers. Native Americans were notably annoyed, and rightfully, by Tonto’s stunted English and stereotypical portrayal. The best that could be said what that on television, Tonto was played by an actual Mohawk Indian from Canada, Jay Silverheels.

Cut to modern times and take a look at the upcoming Jerry Bruckheimer-produced, Gore Verbinski-directed Summer blockbuster, The Lone Ranger. The part of the Lone Ranger will be played by Armie Hammer, which is a good bit of casting. On the not-so-good side is the man playing Tonto: Johnny Depp.

I know that Depp has a previous relationship with Verbinski, and I know that he’s one of the few bankable international stars left in Hollywood, but why him? I often like Johnny Depp as an actor when he’s not phoning it in. I even like when Depp gets to play a bit of dress-up. In fact, I’m sure he’ll be fine as Tonto. But seriously, with a property that would automatically face criticism on racial grounds, you go ahead and cast a white actor to play a Native American role. And not just any actor either. Johnny Depp is the sort whole will ham it up and accentuate the stereotypical racial elements. And on top of it all you go and dress him like this?:

Come on, Bruckheimer! You’re just asking for trouble. I’m sure you don’t really give a crap because you’ll be raking in towering piles of Depp-infused Benjamins, but there’s such a thing as good sense and good taste. I look at that picture, with Jonny Depp in full war paint and headdress and apparently wearing a bird for a hat, and all I see it trouble. First of all, it looks stupid. That’s first of all. But worse than it looking stupid is that it looks all manner of insensitive.

I don’t have any particular investment in this film, nor am I particularly offended by the image of Johnny Depp as an Indian, but I look forward to the news stories on CNN about how the film is racist. I look forward to Depp trying to justify his casting by claiming he’s 1/64th Cherokee. I look forward to the onslaught of complaints and protest. I’m just saying, prepare for what’s coming. Judging by that picture, it’s certainly deserved.

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16 responses to Prepare for the “Lone Ranger is Racist” Onslaught

  1. 

    Nobody bitched when Daniel Day-Lewis did it…

    • 

      That’s because Nathaniel Hawkeye, the character Daniel Day Lewis played, was a white man, born to white parents, who’d been adopted by a Mohawk family.

      • 

        Fair point, but that brings me to my next retort: If people are gonna bitch, they shoulda started doing so last January when Depp’s casting was announced.

        • 

          I think there were some complaints about that from internet commenters and such. But you know how this works. People don’t start mounting protest campaigns until closer to the movie’s release (which is usually a stupid thing to do since it just adds to the film’s publicity). The only exceptions are when the film is religious in nature, then you have religious groups protesting the whole way through production.

  2. 

    I don’t think this looks racist. It just looks silly in a fun way.

    Speaking of racism, did anyone catch last night’s episode of Survivor?

    Honey, all of those villains, all of those bigots, and all of those annoying cry babies are nothing compared to what happened last night. One of the most dumbest moves ever made in the game happened along with a tribal council that will be notorious. Leading all of this is a bourgeois, conservative, and immature homosexual.

    After what happened last night, I now tempted to commit some hate crimes.

    • 
      Alex Thompson March 9, 2012 at 5:20 pm

      Oh man, that was some crazy shit. People are silly. So’s the outrage over this image. It’s just a movie. It’s just one picture from a movie. Maybe the whole movie will be about how Tonto isn’t really a Native American but plays it up for some reason. There’s no way of telling at this point in time, so why worry about it?

    • 

      so a white dude playing a native american, speaking pidgin english, with the “traditional dress” obviously just a bunch of feathers and face paint slapped together by the make up crew doesn’t seem racist AT ALL?

      • 

        Not sure you read my piece. I said that it pretty obviously is racist and the movie will get flack for something it could’ve easily avoided by casting an actual Native American and not dress him up in offensively idiotic garb.

  3. 

    Why is the last Airbender a white boy? Why is the last samurai a white man? Why is the prince of Persia a white man? Why is Silver Fox a white woman? Now Tonto is a white man too…

    Is it really that hard for Americans to accept a hero that isn’t white? Blade is the only black hero that comes to mind and he’s a viscous half vampire with a bad attitude that needs an old white man to tell him how to act right…

    • 

      The last Airbender doesn’t pertain to any race really because in anime (even the fake American ones like this) race is rarely specified. Tonto was also played by a Native Canadian in the first place rather than a Native American, and there are African American heroes. Will Smith plays quite a few of them. The Green Lantern in Justice League was African American as well. The majority of America is also white, so the majority of heroes, by default, are white too.

    • 

      It isn’t what the actor’s race is, it’s how it is portrayed. If you are going to dress someone up to be a certain race/character and make them look silly and foolish, what are you saying about that race? I am not one to play the race card but it is really time some of you that like to retort the topic really look at the history and the underlying reasoning behind some the things that are done. This is just modern day black facing, really.

  4. 

    Hello. I am half Choctaw and half Cherokee. Would you like to know how pissed off and offended by it I am? I’ll give you a hint: Very

  5. 

    Corey, thanks for this. Those who say it’s “just a movie” need to learn a little more about movies and the way they influence, reflect and teach us about culture and society.

  6. 

    I’m Native, Newe (Shoshone) and I can’t say that I am insulted but I’m more disappointed. You are right, they knew this would create problems for us and generate talk for them. It’s negative exposure to Indigenous people at our expense because some natives will be insulted, but for natives to speak up means they will incur heavy reactions against them. It exposes the amount of real racism against us and that will be ignored. They could have made this controversial in a more positive way by casting a native actor in the role of the Lone Ranger along with Depp as Tonto. But they didn’t and the movie will make money. There is nothing wrong with that, but we become the whining Indians again, who have no right to our voice about our culture or our people.

  7. 

    I am part Native American and find it offensive.I wonder what people would think if Johnny Depp was portraying an African American character? Somehow I don’t think that would go over too well with African Americans. Goes to show that political correctness only matters if there are a whole lot of people upset.

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