Enter Tonto

Social media are all a-twitter over the casting of Johnny Depp as Tonto in the reimagined film, The Lone Ranger, set for release next year.

And my pals aren’t sure how to respond: it’s easy to make fun of blue-eyed Chuck Connors as Geronimo, but our beloved Johnny Depp?

We’re conflicted.

We want Native actors to portray American Indians on-screen but we adore Johnny Depp.

Follow the money.

The Lone Ranger has all the makings of a blockbuster. Director is Gore Verbinski, who ushered Depp through the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy and the animated Rango, and media mogul Jerry Bruckheimer is listed as producer, according to IMDB.

So it’s likely that Depp has been cast to ensure a box office bonanza.

But we heard the same excuses when heartthrob Richard Dix was tapped to play the title (Indian) role in 1925’s The Vanishing American. Ever since, studios have argued that no authentic Indian can draw crowds like Richard Dix. Or Johnny Depp.

So we will excuse The Lone Ranger because we love Johnny.

Which makes filmmakers who cast authentic Indians all the more courageous—like Chris Eyre (Smoke Signals and Skins), Jim Jarmusch (Dead Man), Zacharias Kunuk (Fast Runner) and Courtney Hunt (Frozen River).

They deserve our respect for prioritizing authenticity over box office receipts.


About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
This entry was posted in authenticity, ethics, film, framing, Indian, social media and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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