So... I went to see The Lone Ranger this evening... And I have been trying to address how I feel about this film for the better part of the evening, post-show, of course.
I went in expecting to hate the film and to hate the depictions of Native Americans, and there is a lot to find problematic about those depictions and the way the Native Americans were used in the story. There is a whole bunch of articles out on the web right now addressing the whole Tonto "controversy", ranging from the casting of a non-Native, to aspersions on Mr. Depp's ancestry to the wide-ranging inaccuracies around the character's traditions (he's Comanche but he is a Windego hunter which is Algonquin and they are in Texas near the Comanche nation but there is a scene with Pueblos, etc.). Check them out, they are interesting reads.
Considering the reviews, I was expecting an emptier theatre but it was fairly well-attended. Everyone seemed to laugh at the parts that the filmmakers wanted you to laugh at, some people clapped at the end. There were at least four walk-outs that I saw, but again I also heard clapping. I didn't see many other Native people in the theatre but it was dark and, to be fair, I am a Passer, so there were likely others (more on that in a minute). I found some parts boring, some parts funny, it seemed to be a little long. What is with all these overlong movies lately? It is okay if the film is under two hours, especially if you are just filling time with nothing of interest or value to the story. There was really only one thing that I was offended by: why would a war party attack a well-armed cavalry with only bows, arrows and wooden shields? NDNz aren't stupid, a gun is more efficient than a bow, they would have had guns, it was the late 1800s after all.
I wasn't offended by Tonto and this intrigues, annoys and confuses me.
A part of this, I imagine, is the fact that I enjoy Mr. Depp as an actor. His choices fascinate and are unique, though I hear the "quirkiness" is getting on the nerves of some people, but I can't be necessarily counted among those people. Yes, a fifth Pirates of the Caribbean movie is a bit too much, but Sparrow was such a unique performance. His Mad Hatter was the only real saving grace of the Alice in Wonderland movie and he delivers a moment of incredible vulnerability in it that I was moved. I love his performance in Sleepy Hollow. His performance here wasn't just stereotype, though that was present. I got the feeling that Tonto was playing a role himself within the context of the action, but I won't go into that too much because that isn't the real subject of this post.
My own commentary on the issue of ancestry around this film have been somewhat muted, because I try to give the benefit of the doubt to those who claim ancestry and are challenged by other Native people to the point of vile hate, on the web and in real life. I am fair-skinned and have been called a "passer" by family members. I have also been challenged on the authenticity of my ancestry by people who are part of my extended family. I have been challenged at work by students, by other teachers. I'm used to it. It hurts every time, but it is a part of what is my life, so I am used to it. I know that if I was still an actor, I would be attacked if I take a Native role because I am not brown enough for the Native people in North America, despite their desire to have Native actors play Native roles. In that, they have also bought into the Hollywood stereotype of what the Native American looks like, regardless of what the real Native person looks like. I can trace my ancestry on both sides of my family but for many, because I am not brown, I will never be "Indian" enough.
To shift gears a little, I do wonder what it is about Tonto that sets everyone on edge. Tonto is the invention of non-Natives, the creation of an idealized, western vision of the "Noble Savage," I understand that. I was intrigued by all the animosity towards a non-Native playing Tonto and I couldn't figure out why, Tonto is not Native. It hit me while I was watching the film tonight. A ranger stands over Tonto and asks him why he was wanted by the law. Tonto stands tall and answers "I'm Indian." And I got it. The film opens with a wraparound scene at a Wild West show featuring an old Tonto as "The Noble Savage in his Natural Habitat". We, as Native people, have internalized Tonto as one of our iconic images. We say nice things about Crazy Horse and Elijah Harper, but we also seem to have taken Tonto as one of our own. This mythological Indian has been so much a part of the popular culture for so long that we have started to regard him as one of our own. We have taken the stories as truth and made him our own. It may be partly about representation of us on film, but it is also about the misrepresentation of an icon we have internalized as well.
Once again, these are incomplete thoughts, I would like to think on it some more (I should rebrand this blog from Where Are the Sheep to Incomplete Thoughts) but this is my early responses. Okay, back to my hiatus.