Happy Fourth of July, Tonto! by Ali Barthwell

Summer has officially begun and that means the arrival of the summer blockbuster. Several movies have already premiered to big box office returns: Fast & Furious 6, Man of Steel, Star Trek Into Darkness, World War Z.

Fourth of July weekend has always been an important movie release weekend. Classic, enduring, and larger than life stories make box office history being released on this patriotic holiday. Famous Independence Day releases include Men In Black I and II, Spiderman 2, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and Transformers. Movies released during this weekend are often larger than life action movies that deal with such powerful and distinctly American themes of independence, patriotism, exceptionalism, singlehandedly saving the entire world, and cowboys. Ex: The Patriot, Wild Wild West, Independence Day, Kit Kittredge: American Girl.

Blockbusters like Despicable Me 2 and Kevin Hart’s Let Me Explain will burst into theaters this weekend and thrillers like White House Down hope to keep raking in the dough. But there’s one more very special film opening this holiday: The Lone Ranger.

The film revitalizes the Lone Ranger character, popular from TV and radio. Armie Hammer (The Social Network) stars as the masked ex-Texas Ranger and Johnny Depp (Anything by Tim Burton) appears as his Comanche companion, Tonto.


As we prepare our grills and pools for fun in the sun and line up to buy a ticket for The Lone Ranger, I have one thing to say : Are we fucking serious, America?

Seriously, everyone involved with letting this happen? We’re going to let Johnny “Edward Scissorhands” Depp play Tonto? Tonto? An actual Native American character?

We, as a nation of filmgoers and makers, couldn’t find one Native American actor to play one of the most iconic Native American characters in all popular culture? Even Disney found a Native American voice actress to play the role of Pocahontas.

Listen, I’m not saying that Johnny Depp isn’t a capable actor who couldn’t throw himself into any part and create a memorable onscreen performance. I’m just saying C’mon, really? Everyone? Really? We’re cool with this?

We’re cool with a white guy who used to date Wynona Ryder, the whitest actress on earth, a guy who owns an island in the Bahamas, a guy who operates a vineyard in Saint Tropez playing a Native American person? Okay, we are? Good to know.

Johnny Depp has claimed at different times to be either part Navajo and part Cherokee. He’s claimed his grandmother was part Cherokee but Depp himself does not belong to any First Nations. He was named an honorary member of the Comanche nation which is great because Depp was inspired by a painting of a Native American warrior titled “I Am Crow,” an artistic representation of the Crow people. Good job using Crow images to create a Comanche character; Crow people are historically found in the Wyoming and North Dakota and the film takes place in and the Comanche Indians are found in the American Southwest. The original character Tonto is also from the Potawatomi nation. Great job. We did our best there.

Depp has said in interviews he hopes that his portrayal of Tonto will “reinvent the relationship, to attempt 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 on its head.”

That’s great and all but we need a white actor to do that for the portrayal of Native Americans on screen, in literature, and in the popular consciousness? We do? Okay, great. Just great.

We are cool with a white actor playing a Native American character of nebulous origin and inspiration and hoping that portrayal will change the perception of actual Native Americans on the Fourth of July weekend – a holiday celebrating the independence of this country and commemorating a war for freedom in which Native Americans were urged by American leaders not to fight and to literally bury the hatchet and when they chose to fight Americans to protect their lands, families, cultures, and livelihood when they realized the Revolutionary War was also a conflict over precious “American” soil, they were slaughtered. Native Americans were demonized for protecting their lives, painted as traitors to a people who were not willing to protect or even pretend to care about them, murdered systematically, economically devastated, and marginalized for hundreds of years to come by the people who promised them freedom and protection.

We’re cool with that? Great.

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