Disney's The Lone Ranger is ripe with opportunity to point out the perils of putting a white dude— no, sorry, a part-something Native American dude— dressed as a white guy's interpretation of a stoic Native American nature fairy named Tonto. But you guys, Johnny Depp knows the pathetic state of the underrepresentation of Native Americans in film. He knows everyone has been doing it wrong, so he's going to do red face right.
And so, the saga of Johnny Depp Attempts to Fix Racism While Being a Total Racist continues. Disney has been especially careful to cover all their bases with The Lone Ranger, probably knowing full well that parading around Depp with a dead bird on his head would cause a shitstorm at some level. So to quell any allegations that they're making the two-dimensional Tonto from the 1938 radio serial of the same name another pidgin-speaking cartoonish character who spits out catchy lines like, "That's right, Kemo Sabe," Disney is double checking that they're not being racist with Native American tribal chairmen in Utah and Arizona. They had Johnny Depp adopted into the Comanche Nation. They asked Native Americans if they loved Johnny Depp as Tonto and got a few quotes.
But Johnny doesn't just want to make sure he's not only being culturally sensitive, he wants to change the way things are for Natives in film. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Depp said he wants to take his role in The Lone Ranger and make it an inspiration for young Native Americans:
"I wanted to maybe give some hope to kids on the reservations. They're living without running water and seeing problems with drugs and booze. But I wanted to be able to show these kids, "Fuck that! You're still warriors, man."
You're still warriors… man? Are you kidding me? If it wasn't so painfully steeped in an ignorant understanding of the modern Native American struggle, Depp's mission to "help" the Natives could be a hilarious comedy about how white dudes see the non-white world. If only.
This is just another case of white dudes solving the brown world's problems, problems that they think they've got figured out."What are some Native American issues?" thought Depp. "White-dominated media tells me it's alcoholism and drugs. I want to change that by dressing up like a member of Kiss meets Navajo gift shop." And to top it all off, he wants to encourage those reservation kids to find their inner warriors, to hear the wolf cry to the blue corn moon, to paint with all the colors of the wind.
If Depp's version of Tonto was meant to "take some of the ugliness thrown on the Native Americans, not only in The Lone Ranger, but the way Indians were treated throughout history of cinema, and turn it its head," as Depp stated as his hopes for the role, he's turned it at a full 360 degrees and fallen back on the same binary depiction of Native Americans as alcoholic reservation kids on one hand and feather-sporting warrior braves on the other. What's worse is, even if Depp and Disney did the political correctness song and dance, thousands of kids will still be dressing as Tonto for Halloween and in their heads they'll say, "I feel like a warrior, man."
Image via Associated Press