Will Disney's new Tonto be any better?
This undated publicity photo from Disney/Bruckheimer Films, shows actors, Johnny Depp, left, as Tonto, a spirit warrior on a personal quest, who joins forces in a fight for justice with Armie Hammer, as John Reid, a lawman who has become a masked avenger in "The Lone Ranger." (AP Photo/Disney/Bruckheimer Films)
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — The Hollywood image of Tonto once had the Lone Ranger's sidekick wearing a thin headband and lots of dangling fringes. The latest Disney version has a shirtless Johnny Depp adorned with feathers, a face painted white with black stripes, and a stuffed crow on his head.
The character in the upcoming "The Lone Ranger" still speaks broken English and chants prayers. But Depp has said he's less subservient, honors the proud American Indian warrior and displays a dry sense of humor seen throughout Indian Country. The production even hired a Comanche adviser, making it decidedly a Comanche story, and received the blessing of other tribes through ceremonies during filming.
Yet Disney has caught flak for what some say is the perpetuation of stereotypes through a character that lacks any real cultural traits. Moviegoers will have to wait until July 3 to see how all this plays out on screen. For now, they're getting a glimpse through movie trailers that have left them both optimistic and angry, and wondering to what extent the new Tonto portrays actual American Indians.
What has most people scratching their heads is the black crow that appears to hover over Depp's head, and the black stripes that run vertically down his painted face. The inspiration came from a painting by artist Kirby Sattler, who said his work isn't specific to one tribe but is modeled after nomadic Plains tribes of the 19th century.
This undated publicity photo from Disney/Bruckheimer Films, shows actors, Johnny Depp, left, as Tonto, a spirit warrior on a personal quest, who joins forces in a fight for justice with Armie Hammer, as John Reid, a lawman who has become a masked avenger in "The Lone Ranger." (AP Photo/Disney/Bruckheimer Films, Peter Mountain)
Depp took the image to the film's Comanche adviser, William "Two-Raven" Voelker, to ask if it was far-fetched. His answer: It's not.
"There are a lot of people out there screaming who are not Comanche, as in this story Tonto is supposed to be," Voelker said. "They know nothing of bird culture. When we wear or use those feathers, we're calling on the energy of the entire bird."
Depp's elaborate costumes — as seen in "Pirates of the Caribbean," ''Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and "Edward Scissorhands" — are nothing new. Voelker said he never would have agreed to be a consultant on the movie had he not been assured the production team would be sensitive to American Indian culture and committed to at least some historical accuracy.
The teepees used in the movies, for example, have four poles to reflect the way the Comanche built them, not three more commonly seen in movies and that trace back to Cheyenne and Sioux tribes. The production also visited Oklahoma to hear the Comanche language being spoken and worked with Voelker and others to give Depp Comanche lines in the movie.