On Wednesday morning, Disney debuted the trailer for its upcoming “Lone Ranger” film reboot, with Armie Hammer as John Reid (the titular ranger) and Johnny Depp as his Native American companion, Tonto.
Director Gore Verbinski’s decision to cast Depp as a Native American character is… dubious, at best. Depp says he might have some Native American heritage, though he seems unsure as to the extent. “I guess I have some Native American somewhere down the line,” he tells EW. “My great grandmother was quite a bit of Native American, she grew up Cherokee or maybe Creek Indian. Makes sense in terms of coming from Kentucky, which is rife with Cherokee and Creek.”
While Depp says that by doing this film he hoped 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.” In previous incarnations of “The Lone Ranger,” which began as a radio show and went on to be a television series and comic books, Tonto is portrayed as stupid (the word “tonto” means “stupid” in Spanish), speaking in a sort of stunted pidgin.
When Tonto was created in the 1930s, cultural sensitivity wasn’t exactly at the level it is today. So why do we have a white man portraying the character? (Yes, you can argue that Depp has Native American heritage, but even he says it’s just a “sliver.”) Even more shocking, he’s speaking in the broken English that the character became known for seventy years ago. Is this that different from blackface? Were there no actual American Indian actors available to change “the way Indians were treated throughout history of cinema”?
Weigh in below in our poll. Is Depp’s portrayal of Tonto in the trailer culturally insensitive, or is it cool that they stuck to the way the original character was constructed?