The Lone Ranger & Appropriation


I know that recently I talked about my impatience with repetitive action films… I’ll use this moment to say that Westerns are exempt from this formula.

Recently, on a whim, I went to see The Lone Ranger with my dad. We knew going into it that it didn’t get incredible reviews and that Johnny Depp had also been called insensitive (even *racist*)  and wrong for the role as Tonto (for obvious reasons that I likely don’t have to infer).

NOW — on the subject of the quality of the movie itself… It was actually quite fun. The story line is a classic and for people like my father who had listened to The Lone Ranger programming on the radio years ago, very nostalgic. The visuals were incredible as the landscape was often the centre of attention. I’m also a sucker for any visuals where a horse is included – thus it wasn’t hard for me to enjoy the scenery.

Now on the subject of appropriation in fiction. What i’m talking about specifically, is when authors or actors, write or portray characters not of their own race/ethnicity. This is obviously present in The Lone Ranger, as most of the flak received for the film was for Depps’ portrayal as a Native American.

Despite the attempt for Depps’ publicists to claim that he has native heritage, it did little to appease many viewers.

What I believe the real cause for upset here is the actual character of Tonto — its a continuous interpretation that gets many people, native and not — upset. The “pigeon” talk that accompanies the character — which positions him as less intelligent and inferior to “the white man.” The constant portrayal of Native communities as solely a “plains” tribe also tends to rob Native identity as it depicts tribes as generalized into one culture.

I agree that all these identity characteristics maintain negative stereotypes.  I also agree that this was definitely a chance for Disney to “make a star” out of a talented Native actor. However, I do not think that Depp should get a huge amount of flak for his portrayal as the character – as despite the would have, should have, could haves — he was chosen and did his best (and I thought a pretty great job — yes ok maybe a little “jack sparrow-ish” BUT you know…)

There was a definite attempt by Depp and the directors to try and make Tonto the superior to John Reid (Aka the Lone Ranger). He had about 100 times more common sense than John, and understood that justice isn’t always served through the standard “law system.” So, despite the lack of Native roots – the portrayal was interesting. The depiction was not necessarily right… but it made viewers think and talk about issues in general.

This is what I think is important. 

There are often times when “Political Correctness,” things such as proper diction or avoiding using offensive words or ideas (anything, which creates a hostile environment) can be used to excess. I agree with author Neil Bisoondith when he suggests that being unable to talk about issues in our society drives bigoted ideas and people underground where they will be most comfortable.

Although we don’t live in a perfect society and there is still a long way to go for social issues — the point is we talk about why things make us uncomfortable – not just deem something: “that’s racist” and then bury it underground. I think divulging in these issues is important.

In this case, I also believe that seeing the movie before making assumptions is very important. There was a definite attempt to make Tonto “the better man” as he was positioned as the moral compass. This attempt was just tangled in old stereotypes.

There is a part of me as well, that wants to encourage creativity and not limit the type of characters that actors can play, or the type of stories writers can write. I do understand the dangerous ground that writers and actors tread when attempting this type of work — but I do think when it comes to art – limits shouldn’t be set. Its hard to say when enough is enough however… I unfortunately don’t have the answer.

Overall, the movie was quite moving. I refused to accept (without research) the widely accepted notion that it was “racist” but tried to divulge in why people felt this way and what needs to change still.

A little different review this week…

See you next week! 🙂

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Posted in Films, Music and Everything Else In-between

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