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.