Kevin Gover: Johnny Depp’s Tonto Isn’t Offensive, Just Weird

tags: Smithsonian, American Indians, Johnny Depp, Lone Ranger, Kevin Gover



Kevin Gover (Pawnee) is the director of the National Museum of the American Indian.

I admit that I went to see “The Lone Ranger” expecting to be disappointed and quite likely offended by the portrayal of Indians in the movie. Both Disney and Johnny Depp, the star of the movie, had promised to remake Tonto, the iconic Indian from the television series of the 1950s. Mr. Depp’s Tonto, they said, would not be simply the “faithful Indian companion” to the title character. No, indeed. Mr. Depp’s Tonto, they said, would be the star of the movie, a character who would make Indians proud.

That is a lot to promise. Hollywood, after all, has been a leader in stereotyping and demeaning Indians. The Indians we have seen in the movies have largely been dim, hostile and violent. Along with the degrading practice of making Indians mascots for sports teams, Hollywood’s portrayals of Indians have created in the minds of much of the American public a thorough misunderstanding of how Indians were in the 18th and 19th centuries and how they are now. Much of our work at the National Museum of the American Indian is to challenge the misinformation and stereotyping about Indians to which the entire world has been subjected.

To show its bona fides, Disney actively sought tribal support for the project. It sponsored a thousand-dollar-a-ticket gala premiere, with the proceeds going to the American Indian College Fund. Mr. Depp himself was embraced by certain Indian tribes and organizations, was even “adopted” into the Comanche Nation, and appeared at a special premiere for Comanche citizens in Lawton, Oklahoma....



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