With the impending release of the new Lone Ranger movie starring Johnny Depp as Tonto and some guy in another role, the buzz is already, well, buzzing about whether or not the movie is insulting to Native Americans. I’ll go ahead and spoil it for you all, it has to be. We know this because overly sensitive liberals everywhere are climbing over themselves in order to be the first to take offense. While it’s true that Depp is a white guy, with an undetermined distant native heritage (maybe), and the basis for his costume is the painting I Am Crow by unrepentant white artist Kirby Sattler, we’re still stuck with the fact that no one has seen the movie. As of press time, the film has not yet been released. So Depp’s whiteness and his costume are all we have to go on. For so many writers on the internet, that’s enough.
There is something to be said for Disney’s decision to cast Depp instead of a native actor. Their decision to cast him in Pirates of the Caribbean led to one of the most iconic characters in history. They must have known that Depp as Tonto would create one hell of a controversy once word got out to left leaning e-zines. But anyone who thinks that said controversy is an artificially engineered farce designed to get people talking about a (more than likely) shit movie, couldn’t be more wrong. This is about a white man putting on red face to portray an offensive caricature of a native. It’s about stereotyping, it’s about cultural appropriation, it’s about
marketing racism. After all, white men in red face is never okay, just ask Espera Oscar De Corti, aka, Iron Eyes Cody.
Iron Eyes Cody was an actor who frequently portrayed Native Americans in film, most famously the single tear shedding Indian in the 1970’s anti-pollution ad. Cody has been honored more than once by Native leaders for his accurate portrayal of their culture, despite being full blooded Italian. But Cody’s “red face” offense isn’t a slight on Natives because he had already been honored, and there would have been a whole lot more red faces had they backtracked on all that praise.
Accurately portraying an entire culture in a two hour film with a single character is a most unenviable task. The best one can do is try to create a sympathetic, complex character. It’s too bad that most attempts to honor a culture in film fall flat. The entertainment industry tends to avoid using native characters for anything other than stoic warrior poets fighting to save their people. The game designers of Assassin’s Creed 3 went so far to honor natives that they didn’t have time to give their protagonist any personality. In fact, it’s almost a running theme in an overly sensitive media so terrified of offending the wrong people they can’t create an interesting Indian on the big screen, apart from Mel Brooks in Blazing Saddles, and the Utes in Cannibal the Musical.
The valiant paragons of cultural sensitivity have painted themselves into a corner at this point. To go see The Lone Ranger is to give money to a potentially racist film, to not see it after such frenzied indignation neglects their duty to accuracy in print. Getting in for free on opening night to a sold out show on is the only way to go. They would then avoid contributing to box office sales while taking up a seat that could have gone to a paying customer. In fact, a free ticket is the only way I’ll go see it. However, a year from now, when the movie gets aired on Cinemax after the latest Emmanuel soft porn, I might decide to watch it. If that happens, and the film is as offensive as it’s supposed to be, you can all expect a follow-up article simply stating, “That was fucked up.”