Niagara Gazette

Night & Day

July 2, 2013

CALLERI: "The Lone Ranger" derails right from the start

Niagara Gazette — In the British magazine, “Total Film,” actor Johnny Depp, who stars as Tonto in “The Lone Ranger,” the maniacally violent new version of the western adventure about a masked man and his Indian companion, is quoted from an interview he gave to promote the movie:

He says: “Since cinema has been around, Native Americans have been treated very poorly by Hollywood. What I wanted to do was play Tonto not as a sidekick — like, ‘Go fetch a soda for me, boy’ — but as a warrior with integrity and dignity. It's my small sliver of a contribution to try to right the wrongs of the past.”

Depp lied.

He and director Gore Verbinski may actually believe that by framing their film around the story of Tonto, a Comanche, they have created something commendable. The truth is that the over-reaching actor and the blood-obsessed director have done a disservice not only to Native Americans, but also to the iconic cultural status of the character of the Lone Ranger, a masked man helping western folks abused by villains such as bank managers and cattle rustlers.

Where is the honor to Native Americans by having Depp prance around like a fool with a dead crow on his head, spouting inanities with a smirk and a leer? This depiction plays to the tiresome stereotype that Indians are always messing with your mind. Where is the honor when hundreds of Native Americans are slaughtered with a Gatling gun by U.S. government troops? Depp claims he has some Cherokee blood in him, as if that gives him license to play yet another buffoonish screen Indian. He degrades the mythology of tribes and their culture, as well as the mythology of the Lone Ranger.

In 1933, an elderly Tonto is a sideshow attraction in a carnival. He tells a young boy about his life and the masked man who rode a white stallion. Through some of the most convoluted memory devices yet concocted by screenwriters (three are credited, but you can be sure Depp and Verbinski contributed), we go back in time to find Eastern-educated lawyer John Reid donning a mask and riding his horse Silver in order to defeat Butch Cavendish, a grotesque villain who murdered his Texas Ranger brother. Before the mask, there are references to the philosophy of John Locke, an explanation as to why Tonto is a prisoner on a train, and a bank robbery.

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