Hands up if you’d almost totally forgotten that they were remaking The Lone Ranger? Me too. I probably shouldn’t have because it just meant that I got a nasty surprise when I remembered its existence. I was casually strolling through the internet, doing my morning rounds, when I came across the newly released poster.
Admittedly, it’s a pretty sassy new poster. I really enjoy the design. HOWEVER, I have issues. Many issues. Allow me to go into minute detail about them.
For those of you who don’t know, The Lone Ranger was originally a TV show that ran from 1949 to 1957 about a masked Texas ranger, his horse named Silver and his trusty Native American sidekick, Tonto. It spawned the classic line “Hi-ho, Silver! Away!” which was generally followed up by someone asking, “Who was that masked man?” as aforementioned masked man rides off into the sunset. These lines were frequently shouted at random intervals in my household while I was growing up by parents who were brought up on a steady diet of Westerns. In other words, it’s very kitsch and was very much a product of its time and, as much as I like/d it, like most things that rely on particular stereotypes of race or culture to create characters, it does not need a reboot.
When the first promotional images were released back in March, I spent a lot of time going “Oh my gosh, they can’t be serious.” Because I was positive they couldn’t be serious. Because Johnny Depp was playing Tonto. And he was dressed like this:
Does that not scream “terrible fucking idea”, to you? Because it should. This blog isn’t really a political blog. I’m not here to get on my soapbox and preach the ways of the world. Honestly, I think that would be a waste of my time and yours considering that my idea of a productive day is to watch and have thoughts on at least 4 randomly chosen films. But some things are just so blindingly obvious, I don’t even really feel like I should have to say them. This is one of them.
Resurrecting Tonto is problematic for a lot of reasons. For starters, let’s talk about the makeup. It’s inspired by this painting by Kirby Sattler, titled I Am Crow. Now, Sattler isn’t a Native American. His artist statement says that he “purposely does not denote a tribal affiliation to the majority of my subjects, rather, I attempt to give the paintings an authentic appearance, provoke interest, satisfy my audience’s sensibilities of the subject without the constraints of having to adhere to historical accuracy.” If that sounds like a load of wank to you, it’s because it is. Sattler’s “innate interest in the world’s indigenous cultures” amounts to nothing more than cultural appropriation to create an exotic ‘Other’. To put it in simpler terms: Sattler is grabbing the stuff he likes from different cultures and mooshing them up without thinking about how that might affect the people that he’s stealing imagery from, so that he can make an interesting painting about something wild and exotic. Which is just a bit shit, really.
Then, on top of that, Tonto’s character is a identified repeatedly throughout all incarnations of The Lone Ranger, as being a full-blooded member of the Comanche Nation. So, taking inspiration from Sattler’s painting of someone who is supposed to be a vague reference to the Crow Nation (but not one constrained by historical accuracy, thank God), is just a further blending of cultural innaccuracies, so that we eventually end up with a visual that screams “Indian” at the audience, in the most traditional “Cowboys and Indians” sense, without them having to examine anything beyond the surface. And that’s bollocks.
Then, THEN, we have Tonto played by Johnny Depp. JOHNNY DEPP! I love Johnny Depp. I don’t think I can emphasise that enough. I went and saw Pirates of the Carribean at least 10 times at our local cinema. I even watch and enjoy the more questionable (repetitive) Tim Burton/Johnny Depp collaborations regularly. I just really fucking love Johnny Depp, OK? Which is why, when I looked at my computer this morning I just kind of had to go “aaaaarrrrgghh”. Because essentially, you’re casting a white dude to play a person of colour, which is what ALWAYS FUCKING HAPPENS and it’s SHIT. If you’re going to write people of colour, for a start, don’t make them hollow, two-dimensional caricatures, and then, when you’ve written something substantial, don’t cast a rich white dude to play that character. Because it’s stupid and it makes you look stupid.
Essentially, I said all of that when that initial press photo came out in a much shorter and more swear-y way on my Tumblr back in March. And now the trailer has happened. It looks like this:
The thing that I was holding hope for was the fact that they would at least maybe skip over the fact that Tonto spoke in broken pidgin English. It is apparent from that trailer that they’re sticking with the pidgin English. Which is…I don’t even know. I can’t. I just can’t with this film.
So, I should probably end this blog with the following statement. I am a middle class, white girl from Sydney. I am far and away not the most politically correct person you will ever meet. Sometimes, I put my foot in it. I’m working on that. But I am a big fan of the idea that words are as powerful as the person being victimised by them tells you they are. To me, the fact that several prominent Native American people have come out and said that this portrayal upsets them is enough to make me more than a little uncomfortable. Popular culture is one of those things that seeps into your brain when you least expect it. If you’re not paying attention and thinking critically then you can let it drastically alter your perceptions without even realising it.
TL;DR: Disney, this is a terrible idea and you should really consider firing whoever was responsible for greenlighting this shit. I leave you with a really great article from 1998, by Sherman Alexie called I Hated Tonto (Still Do). This blog will return to regular programming next week.