Monday, April 29, 2013

Johnny Depp as Tonto, The Role of Original Americans In Film

With the upcoming release of The Lone Ranger, Disney has been at work heading off much of the expected controversy that is sure to follow Johnny Depp as he plays the iconic figure of Tonto. Depp who has stated that he believes he is Native American (many actually prefer the westernized term of Indian and many Native peoples such as me now prefer Original American) has not been able to give proof to that claim other than recently joining the Comanche tribe after a blessing from one of its elders. Even among Original American peoples, the concept of purity in ones blood line is debated. I must give a full disclaimer that my own heritage includes a strong back ground including Cherokee peoples, while my bloodline, from the Eastern Band of Cherokees is not pure, it is enough that many in my family still carry on Original American traits and looks. After years of research and study, I am also aware of how the Original Americans have been portrayed in Cinema. 

Many may not understand the issues many Original Americans have with a non Original American’s playing the part of an Indian in cinema. Many hold it cat amount to a white actor playing the part of an African American actor in black-face  There is also the recognition that there are many qualified Original American actors that could have played the part of Tonto. It is not to detract from Depp’s ability, but as noted, it has been clear there are issues by Depp’s own efforts to seek recognition and speak out on the subject as well as Disney’s attempt to address the issue, albeit quietly over the last months.

One of the reasons many Original Americans and others have taken issue is centered around, not only the roles often being played by non Original American’s, but also the way they have been portrayed as savages and non educated peoples. The negative portrayals of Original American Peoples over the years continue to show a need of understanding. While there are still many unfortunate portrayals of the people, there have also thankfully been over recent years somewhat of an understanding and respect given Original American’s in film. 

Some of the recent portrayals and positive images show the strong family nature of many Original American people, also portrayed though is the strong emphasis on their faith and spirituality. The importance of faith, among many tribes and people and the early acceptance of Christianity has played and presented in a significant way. 

Various races and partial blooded Original American People have taken up the cause to help the plight among Original Americans and those efforts still continues.  Depp has garnished the blessings of many for his portrayal of Tonto, which Disney has also rewritten. Tonto will not be presented in the same way, speaking broken English in the way he did in the original television series; instead Depp is reported to bring the character meaning. This has garnished the praise of many within Original American circles, but also Chris Eyre, the most noted Original American Director in Hollywood. Whether Depp’s own persistence to receive the blessings of Original Americans and to portray a character the people will be proud of is yet to be seen. While Depp has at times been involved in some questionable behavior, he seems to have tried to remain faithful to the things he supports outside of Hollywood including the blessings of Original Americans in his own portrayal of Tonto.

As a person whom has enough Original American Blood to claim full Indian Rights, I anxiously await the release of The Lone Ranger. I am also hopeful the film shows the deep spiritual leanings of the Original American’s. While I am certain the Christian influence that existed rather strongly isn’t portrayed as accurately or as much as it should be, hopefully people of all faiths can at a minimum, consider the racism that has and still exists towards Original American Peoples. I hope that especially Christians, because of their own racist practices of the past take the time need to reconsider the damage done not only to the cause of Christianity but also for the ways we treated and tried to convert to a Westernized mindset the Original Americans reached out to among various missionary groups.  As Christians, we don’t have a good track record in how we treated Original Americans. It would be hypocritical for us to ignore the plight which still continue, but also the plight which many of our forefathers within the realms of Christendom perpetuated on Original American Peoples, from reintegration programs, to schools that taught Original Americans to forget their past and history and to adapt to being “White.”  The hope is that not only Hollywood will show a fair and accurate presentation of history but also the Christian community can research and understand its history in the damage that was done among Original American Peoples. There is a reason many missionaries in America are having difficulty reaching the Reservations that still exist, we only have to look into the mirror of our history to understand. Hopefully, Depp’s presentation of Tonto in The Lone Ranger will help us in that understanding and in the process, help tear down the walls of separation, which in many places still exists among the peoples. 

To see the trailer of The Lone Ranger, Click the following video, if the video doesn't appear, click the link:

To see how many Native, Original Americans Have Been Portrayed in the Movies, Click on the Following Video, if the Video Doesn't Appear, Click on the Link

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