The film remake of the popular television series "Lone Ranger" is set to debut in theaters on May 13, and this time the Ranger is definitely not alone. Johnny Depp will play loyal Native American sidekick Tonto, but where did he get that make up? And is that a dead bird on his head?
Many questioned Johnny Depp's adaption of the Lone Ranger's infamous companion, Tonto. Although Tonto does not make his debut until the episode no. 12 in the original "Lone Ranger" the Native American character quickly became identified as the crime fighter's companion.
Tonto's representation of Native Americans has long been questioned and criticized for being degrading and a poor representation of the culture. With Johnny Depp bringing the character back to life that fire now seems to have been refueled.
Depp's new portrayal includes a painted white face with thick black lines running down, and a dead bird sitting atop his head.
"I'm not looking forward to it, I don't think we should be happy about it, and I don't think we should immediately go to that excited-happy-place every time we see ourselves on TV," Comedian Ryan McMahon, who identifies himself as an Aboriginal Native American, said in a podcast called "Ryan McMahon Gets Angry."
In an article titled "Why Tonto Matters" a columnist also argues that the misrepresentation of Native Americans exacerbates the idea that such a culture is no longer present in modern day western society.
- (Photo: REUTERS/Paul Hackett)
"These stereotypical images like Johnny Depp's Tonto feed into this ongoing cycle, and until we demand more, our contemporary existence simply doesn't exist in the minds of the dominant culture," the columnist writes.
However, Depp himself suggested that he had intentionally attempted to address the stereotype of Native Americans in society with his role.
"The whole reason I wanted to play Tonto is to try to [mess] around with the stereotype of the American Indian that has been laid out through history, or the history of cinema at the very least - especially Tonto as the sidekick, The Lone Ranger's assistant," Depp told Entertainment Weekly. "As you'll see, it's most definitely not that."
To inspire his character, Depp revealed that he drew the personality from a painter.
"I'd actually seen a painting by an artist named Kirby Sattler, and looked at the face of this warrior and thought: That's it," Depp said. "The stripes down the face and across the eyes … it seemed to me like you could almost see the separate sections of the individual, if you know what I mean."
Depp also explained the seemingly dead bird that lies on top of his head throughout the film.
"It just so happened Sattler had painted a bird flying directly behind the warrior's head. It looked to me like it was sitting on top," Depp revealed. "I thought: Tonto's got a bird on his head. It's his spirit guide in a way. It's dead to others, but it's not dead to him. It's very much alive."