Why Tonto Matters

In Hollywood stereotypes, Johnny Depp, Lone Ranger, stereotypes, Tonto by Adrienne K.51 Comments

It’s been a week or so since the original photos of Johnny Depp as Tonto have surfaced, and the internet has been abuzz with Depp defenders and Depp defectors–and while the Native Appropriations community and my internet circle have been on the “oh dang, this is real bad for us” train, I’ve been surprised at how many people have basically told me and others with similar opinions to STFU and “get over it” (with also some more choice words than that…).
But I still stand by the fact that Tonto and his portrayal matter to Indian Country, and should matter to Indian Country. And here’s why.

Defenders of Depp-as-rodeo-clown-Tonto’s arguments basically boil down to the following: Tonto is a fictional character. The Lone Ranger is a fictional movie. Johnny Depp is a great actor. We should be glad to have him portray Tonto. No one thinks Tonto is representative of a real Indian. There are bigger things to worry about in Indian Country, this is so trivial it shouldn’t even be an issue.

Here’s the thing. Yeah, Tonto is a fictional character, and there are plenty of white actors and actresses who play fictional characters, and we don’t automatically assume that white people are fictional, so it shouldn’t matter, right? We saw Natalie Portman as an evil-crazy-swan-human in the Black Swan, and we don’t assume that Natalie Portman’s character is representative of her, or all white people, in real life. But that, my friend, is white privilege at work. Everyday we see millions of representations of white people in varied and diverse roles. We see white actors as “real” people, as “fantasy” characters, and everything in between. 
But for Native people, the only images that the vast, vast majority of Americans see are stereotypical in nature. You go to the grocery store and see plenty of smiling white children on cereal boxes, contrasted with the only readily recognizable Native image–the Land o’ Lakes butter girl. In advertising we see plenty of non-Native folks participating in everyday life, and then we get ads like this featuring Native people. There are also hardly any (if any) Native people in current, mainstream television shows. And this carries over even more strongly into Hollywood.

The last big blockbuster series to feature Native characters was the Twilight series, and we are portrayed as wolves. Think of every recent major studio film that featured a Native character or Native actor. All of the ones I can think of off the top of my head were set in a historical context, were a fantasy film, or were offensively stereotype laden. There have been so few accurate, modern, nuanced portrayals of Native people it’s not even funny.

So, when we live in a world where there are other, more nuances portrayals of Native people for non-Natives to draw upon–when there are Native people featured in mainstream romantic comedies, dramas, sitcoms, even reality TV,  or news–then, maybe, will I be able to be looking forward to a stereotypical mess of a Tonto on the big screen. But I doubt it.
Comedian Ryan Mcmahon has a fabulous podcast series called “Ryan McMahon Gets Angry”, and he just did an awesome 5 minute rant on Johnny Depp as Tonto, and the responsibility we have as a community to question these representations. I can’t recommend it enough (language slightly NSFW):

Here’s a transcript of the end of his podcast:

So is Johnny Depp putting a bunch of Indians on the back of horses for this Lone Ranger Jerry Bruckheimer car crash gonna be good for us? Hell no. 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 everytime we see ourselves on TV. Because more oftentimes it hurts us more than helps us.  

I think the time to take back our stories, to take back our pride, and to start empowering and helping each other to rise is the time that we’re in now. That’s what I look forward to, that’s what I’m trying to do, that’s what a whole bunch of other people are trying to do. Is Johnny Depp being on the back of a horse with a g*ddamn crow on the his head supposed to help us? Probably not. But it’s definitely not going to. So don’t get happy when you see four or five other brothers sitting on the back of a horse in their loincloth. Don’t be surprised, don’t be happy about it, don’t celebrate it, cause it’s bullsh*t. The time to reclaim, recapture, redefine, our own stories, in our own ways is now, and g*ddammit we gotta do more of it. Demand more from the producers, demand more of the television people, demand more from the people who are writing these stories. Because the stories are there. We are strong, proud people, and we need to be represented, by ourselves, as such.

I couldn’t agree more. There are several sub-arguments that I’ve seen in the last few days, citing how many Native actors would miss out on work as extras if this movie weren’t made, or how Johnny Depp’s “star power” was needed to get the film made in the first place. Those arguments are upsetting to me. We need to demand more. We can’t be complacent with just going to that “excited-happy-place” every time we see any representation of an Indian on screen. We can’t be thankful that 50 Native actors are able to ride around bareback in the background of a film, or be psyched that a big name Hollywood actor put a crow on his head to “honor” us–talk about ongoing colonization of the mind. Our community is so much better than that. We are worth so much more than background roles and misrepresentations.
Ryan also said something that resonated with me beyond this issue alone, quoting his grandmother:

Everything you do, grandson, is going to be political because you’re Anishinabe.

The way we represent ourselves is, therefore, inherently political. These “trivial” issues are representative of deeper, darker, larger issues within Indian Country. For those who live in predominantly Native communities, fighting against cultural appropriation and misrepresentation may seem like the cause of a privileged few who can sit in their ivory towers and point fingers all day, ignoring the “real” issues in Indian Country. I’ve said it many times before, and I’ll say it as many times as I can until it sticks:

Yes, unequivocally, we have big things to tackle in Indian Country. We have pressing and dire issues that are taking the lives of our men and women everyday, and I am in absolutely no way minimizing this reality. But we also live in a state of active colonialism. In order to justify the genocide against Native peoples in this country, we must be painted as inferior–that’s the colonial game. These images continue that process. The dominant culture therefore continues to marginalize our peoples, to ignore and erase our existence. We are taught everyday, explicitly in classrooms, and implicitly through messages from the media, that our cultures are something of the past, something that exists in negative contrast to “western” values, and something that can be commodified and enjoyed by anyone with $20 to buy a cheap plastic headdress. These stereotypical images like Johnny Depp’s Tonto feed into this ongoing cycle, and until we demand more, our contemporary existence (and therefore the “real” problems in Indian Country) simply doesn’t exist in the minds of the dominant culture.

How can we expect mainstream support for sovereignty, self-determination, Nation Building, tribally-controlled education, health care, and jobs when the 90% of Americans only view Native people as one-dimensional stereotypes, situated in the historic past, or even worse, situated in their imaginations? I argue that we can’t–and that, to me, is why Tonto matters.

Native Appropriations: Johnny Depp as Cultural Appropriation Jack Sparrow…I mean Tonto. 

Further background reading:

If you want to read Ray Cook call me out and tell me that my writing is “So much hog-wash, so much wasted cyber-space, so much wasted oxygen” (awesome!): Tontomania: Who are we’z anyways?

Guardian: Why I’m Willing to Believe in Johnny Depp’s Tonto

Reel Injun (documentary about stereotyping of Indians in Hollywood): http://www.reelinjunthemovie.com/site/

Academic Article on Hollywood Stereotypes: The White Man’s Indian: Stereotypes in Films and Beyond

Ryan McMahon gets angry episode 4: I Ain’t Gettin On No Horse

PS- There are other things that I think need to be addressed with the controversy, but I didn’t have space here. The issue of Depp being “Indian enough” is a big one, or what “Indian enough” even means, or the historical accuracy of his costume, or the role of Native people in the film overall. I’d recommend a read through the comments on my first post for some great, interesting, and intelligent conversations.

EDIT 3/20–I switched out the cartoon at the top of the post because of my complete ignorance to the homophobic undertones to the original. My deepest apologies to the LGBTQ community for using an insensitive image, it was definitely not my intention to marginalize anyone. I definitely try to be aware of when my hetero/cis privilege comes out–so please continue to call me out on it, and I’ll definitely do better moving forward. Wado!

  • Lindsay

    I guess Johnny Depp just google-imaged “Native American” and came up with his costume: http://www.giantbomb.com/native-american/92-1632/all-images/52-302304/nativeamericanart/51-486025/ (this was the 3rd image to come up)

  • Oh the old Depp (or anyone not 1/1 or 1/2 blood ) being Indian enough to portray an Indian. Let us consider that Depp for all he knows could be more NDN than he ever realizes. Remember when Snoop Dogg found out he was 1/4 NDN by DNA?

    Replace Snoops African DNA with white DNA and he would look like Johnny Depp. Just look at them



    Would people in indian country be ok with someone who looks like Snoop playing Tonto with his scientifically proven and now genealogically backed up blood quanum of 1/4? I think, no, I know from personal experience and the experience of several of my elders at various events and dealings with some NDN’s… they would as soon call him a ni%%er before they would accept that.

    Let’s make it plain. There is a definite whiff of racism to saying that an actors blood quantum not their talent should decide who can portray and NDN.

    There are all kinds of mixtures out there. They look all kinds of ways. Perhaps NDN country should take a tip from the African American community on this one…. One drop + culture and tradtion. Let’s also stop the non sense of disenrolling people who have been part of tribes all their lives (as has gone on on California) while we are at it.

    • C. D. Leavitt

      If the African American community accepts someone as Black, that person does not then have a vote in a nation they would have otherwise had no vote in. In fact, there is no universal “African American community.” One person may accept a mixed race individual as Black, while the next person would not. That acceptance has no impact beyond personal interactions.

      The “one drop rule” is the result of racism and oppression inflicted by Whites onto Blacks, not an inclusive Black community. Because of the way in which Blacks have been oppressed and are still viewed by Americans of other ethnicities in general, there’s not usually much of a problem of people trying to claim Black ancestry when they don’t have it.

      The difference between many different Black communities across the country that have no leadership or clearly defined boundaries and actual Nations, the “exoticism” of claiming Native blood as opposed to the “shame” in claiming some lost Black ancestry, the differing ways both groups have been subjected to oppression, all combine to make it so that how someone is identified as Black versus how someone is identified as Native simply cannot fairly be compared.

      I’m not saying that exclusiveness and focusing on blood quantum above all else is right, but there are reasons things are very different for Blacks versus Natives.

      • The problem with what you write is weather or not someone is black does at times give them a “vote” they otherwise would not have. i.e. In the NAACP or to get help from the United Negro College Fund, or in the case of affirmative actions targeted towards black people, etc. I can go on.

        My point is that in NDN country that same way of thinking rears it’s head again and again. People who don’t “look Indian” catch heck whenever they try to claim it at all. If they look to white, and too often even a little black at all.

        This is true if it appears in hollywood or even on an eastern Rez. This tendency to get all bothered when someone with remote ancestry claims it is not a good look and undermines what we all want. Faithful representations of our cultures.

        • C. D. Leavitt

          The NAACP and the United Negro College Fund are not nations.

          • You were talking about race/ethnicity giving someone a vote. I replied that sometimes being black does give someone a vote.

            You said that there is no “black community” and it has “no leaders”. Who was Martin Luther King? Who is Barrack Obama?

            Your response demonstrated the attitude that I and others of African and American Indian descent have seen from Indian country.

            I don’t know what word to use for it’s not a good one.

            • C. D. Leavitt

              I’m sorry, but this isn’t what I’ve been trying to say. Let me try to rephrase this:

              I’m queer. I would quite vocally argue against anyone saying that there is such a thing as “the LGBT community” in general. There isn’t, because we’re not a monolithic entity. There are people who are queer who have positions of leadership and who are looked up to. I would not normally call them “gay leaders” or “leaders of the lesbian community’ or what have you. There are queer oriented organizations a person can join and vote within, but those organizations are not themselves nations. I don’t deny the existence of the organizations or their importance, but I see a difference between GLAAD and, say, the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians. GLAAD has no problems with having straight allies join. The LCO Tribe is a political entity that has to protect itself in certain ways. Similarly, there are organizations like the NAACP that aren’t that worried about ensuring only people of a certain background join. The NAACP is in no way less legitimate than the LCO Tribe, but they have a different purpose, a different history and are controlling assets in a different way. They can’t be directly compared because of this.

              I absolutely agree that many Nations put too much of an emphasis on blood quantum. I absolutely agree that there are people in Native communities who are biased or even racist against those who don’t look like they have a high blood quantum.

              However, because this is often related to membership within Nations and having political control within it–and a Nation is a different thing from an organization–changing things is complicated. Should things be changed? Yes. But it’s not a simple “they should just act like this other minority population” matter. It’s complicated. That doesn’t mean it’s right.

              • Ok I see what you are saying. The internet is a bad medium for communication. Text is so hard and unforgiving …. I think we both got off on the wrong foot.

                What I was trying to point out by using snoop dogg was just how Indians can be as bad on race as anyone else.

                I brought some of my own issues in to this.

                Sometimes it’s just a double or tripple punch for folks like me. We get the black and NDN stereotypes.


                And all the bad images that full bloods get.

                Then to top it off, too often, ignorance from both sides.

                Are we cool?

                *The difference between that and Johnny Depp dressing as he did is that he himself is part NDN. He is the one that has bamboozled white America this time.

                • C. D. Leavitt

                  I get what you’re saying. I’m sorry for not being clearer, because without some of the background I can totally see how what I said would have been misinterpreted. I didn’t word what I was saying right at all, and text does cut out so much.

                  I think we’re largely in agreement. Thank you for being patient with me.

            • C. D. Leavitt

              Just to be clear on this, so you don’t think I’m holding up one identity above all others: I’d also dismiss claims of a “Native American community” in general. If someone said “this is how things are done in the Native American community”, I’d reject that just because there’s no such homogeneity.

              • There are different levels of community and none are ever 100% in agreement.

                The one drop rule and a common history of slavery and all it entailed are things that make African Americans a community. Make no mistake about that.

                • C. D. Leavitt


        • Hey, I’m tri-racial, too! My dad’s black/white/Choctaw, but my mom’s white. I’ve got black hair and brown eyes and if I stay out of the sun I’m as white as a fish belly.

          Trust me: I’d be getting just as much hell as Depp is getting if I was giving interviews talking about how I was single-handedly going to change how people view African Americans in film.

          Actually, I’d get more. And if I tried to play a straight up black guy in a movie? Aw hell no.

          You’re arguing a fantasy version of race politics, I’m afraid. It’d be nice if we all just focused on culture and heritage and all of that good stuff. We don’t. You can’t really hold up any race as having a perfect record on this.

          • Au Contraire. Looking at your picture I think you could pass for a light skinned black person.

            These people are as light as you but are considered African American.

            Wentworth Miller (Star of TV’s “Prison Break” and “The Human stain.)

            Soledad Obrien

            Mariah Carey

            Oh yes… you would be accepted as black if you claimed it. Black people don’t mind when people who are even a little black claim it. What they mind is when people deny it (which is more often).

            On the cultural front… suppose someone black made a video using articles of Amerindian culture like this one?

            Every black person I have shown this likes it.

            • That’s actually heartening, thanks. I’ve had so many white folks telling me I’m “really” white or admonishing me for “talking black” that it can be hard to believe people outside my immediate family aren’t always going to treat me like an unwanted misfit.

              Then again, I can remember them saying the same things about Obama…

              People trying to police other people’s identities is tough.

              • Too sadly true. There are some in both communities who need people to pass a purity test.

                The black community has the odd flip side to your problem. Ever seen a very dark person told they were acting white or talking white because they were educated?

                I personally haven’t seen NDN’s do that yet… but you never know.

                • “I personally haven’t seen NDN’s do that yet…”

                  Really? Then you’ve never been in the same circles I have. My sisters and I have been called ‘corporate NDNs’ and sell-outs because we were either educated or because we had high paying professions (that we worked our asses off for). We’ve been told plenty of times we aren’t really Native because we don’t talk Native (they were referring to how we speak the English language) and we don’t write Native.

                  Um, it’s called working hard to acquire a well rounded vocabulary, grammar, and spelling skills. It has nothing to do with our ‘racial purity’. And what the Hell message is that sending? I have to be uneducated to be a real NDN? Is that what we want our future generations to aspire to?

                  There even used to be an internet meme called “How to Tell if You’re a Corporate Indian”. And all of the things on the list were about having a steady, well paying job, having an education, and being articulate. Why are those bad things?

                  • Wow. That’s really disappointing.

                    Have you heard why you can keep crabs in a barrel with no lid? When one crab is about to get out of the barrel the others see it. Instead of helping they grab that crab’s tail and pull it back in.

                    The people calling you corporate are just like that. Try not to let their words pinch you. Don’t give them that power.

                  • M. Specialfxlady

                    Hi Amelia, I’ve been reading your comments over the last couple of days and haven’t had many concerns debating with you. Until reading this today:

                    “Um, it’s called working hard to acquire a well rounded vocabulary, grammar, and spelling skills. It has nothing to do with our ‘racial purity’ And what the Hell message is that sending? I have to be uneducated to be a real NDN? Is that what we want our future generations to aspire to?'”

                    I know text can make communication difficult at times, so would you be open to unpacking what you’re saying here? I would like to comment, but want to make sure that I understand what you’re actually trying to say first.

                    • My sister’s and my personal experience is that when we demonstrate a certain level of skill in grammar, spelling, or vocabulary we’re told by other Natives that we “Don’t talk like NDNs”. The first few times I assumed they were referencing our accent. Our father grew up on Pine Ridge in South Dakota and has a distinctive accent, but my mother’s family from Canada managed to stay off the reserves when they were being forced onto them and has no discernible accent.

                      But it wasn’t our accent they were talking about. It was how articulate we were. “You use all those $5 words” was a common explanation for why we “don’t talk like an NDN” which was often followed with a comment that we were either a Corporate Indian or a sell-out.

                      Had I heard it one or two times, it would be a fluke. But having heard the same thing over and over virtually every time we displayed any level of acumen with the English language leads one to the conclusion that it’s a problematic misconception we hold amongst ourselves.

                      So what is the message? What are people supposed to derive from that? Do we somehow lose our Native heritage because we’ve chosen to work hard to be as concise and articulate in our speech and writing as possible to further our goals in life?

                      Comments like these, in my opinion do two things: it discourages people from seeking a higher education or developing necessary communication skills that they might have wanted to achieve for fear of being labeled a lesser Native or a sell-out and it demeans all of us by stating that we, for some unknown reason, should be uneducated or inarticulate when conversing in English.

    • Guest

      Actually, white Snoop would be Adrien Brody

    • Mountainbo

      Actually, white Snoop would be Adrien Brody

  • Kelley Harrell

    What in the world were they thinking (besides cha-ching) when he was cast?? :

  • Meredith

    OK, so it had to be Depp to get the movie made. Whatever. But would it have killed them to go with some honest to god historically correct costumes? I used to think more of Depp. But his comments about his role in this movie are beyond stupid. I won’t be going to see it.

  • DesertSage

    Have you ever tried looking into what it would take to change our education system so that text books and curriculums correctly reflect not only history of the various tribes in our country, but the present day situation? because that is where the real problem lies. Hollywood is hollywood, they don’t care and they never will, because all they care about is money. However, if you can change the amount of education that people are given on these serious issues, hollywood will be forced to change, because, at least hopefully, people will no longer support an innacurate, racist representation on the screen. If nothing else, it is at least a start.

    • M. Specialfxlady

      The education system (and I am going to school to become a teacher) is facing a lot of difficulties as people continue to underfund schools while moving in favor of turning schools into corporations.

      The content of textbooks is dictated by finances and the districts with the most money determine what goes in. For example, since Texas buys a large bulk of schoolbooks they have some clout when it comes to what those schoolbooks contain: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/may/16/texas-schools-rewrites-us-history

      Right now in Tennessee, they are (or were, I haven’t checked up on it lately) trying to pass legislation to have slavery referencees REMOVED from schoolbooks.

      Granted, a really dedicated teacher could get around the lack of materials but teachers can’t do much when they have parents, administration, and a community who feel that accurate representations of history are detrimental to the education process.

      So I would like to see the education system go through some changes, but it would take a complete overhaul and change in the power structure, i.e. the legal power needs to be in the hands of teachers who are out there in the classrooms every day and not overpaid administrators.

  • Rachel Kantstopdaphunk

    I’m sad about this, I loved JD. Its over between us, Johnny. Its 2012, yo. Let’s get real.

  • I don’t get it. Given the Native American community’s concern for the environment, I thought Native Appropriations would be more supportive of Mr. Depp recycling the Captain Sparrow look from those Pirates movies.

  • A Mwekali

    Thanks for another insightful piece~

    I live in India in a Tibetan refugee community, and recently encountered an arrogant 60s-yr-old white guy visiting here who told me “I only speak Tonto Tibetan! ha ha!” (meaning, I suppose, halting broken speech of mostly loud commands) after bragging to me about how he was a teacher/practitioner of Buddhism. Our entire encounter was basically him stopping me in the hallway to be incredibly offensive and off-putting and racist- a nonconsensual ‘conversation’ if there ever was one!

    I was speechless, not knowing where to start addressing his idiocy… He had brought his insulting conceptions of Tonto, of Native American-ness, to this other community of displaced politically oppressed people– and was laughing at himself for how he had managed to “get away with it” being a supposedly respected teacher of Tibetan Buddhism without even learning much Tibetan– I was appalled. From our encounter, I left angry at yet another selfsatisfied white guy who is unreflective and assumes himself to be in the prime power position everywhere he goes… Even in India, Native American issues come up!

    My friend and I had just watched the documentary film Reel Injun, and I highly recommend it to others on this site because it addresses many of these topics that you have mentioned.

    Anyway, be well.

  • apihtawikosisan

    What bothers me about Ray Cook’s article and comments like his, is that no one is asking anyone to get offended if they really aren’t, or if they think the issue isn’t that important. But please do not tell the rest of us that we have no right to criticise this sort of thing. Don’t bother with it at all, if it’s not your thing. These kinds of “I’m not offended” pieces only get used by non-natives to say things like, “See? THOSE natives don’t care, so we’re just going to keep portraying Indians the way we want to!”

    • M. Specialfxlady

      I wish there was a ‘+ infinity’ button on here ’cause one like ain’t enough…

    • Yeah he has a stupid crow on his head supposedly due to a really obscure Potawatomi story ( or more likely ripped off from a painting.) That’s one thing.

      He’s a wanna be Indian because his heritage. Oh look it’s a great grandmother who was an indian…it’s a complex. He does not look Indian enough….. etc. Thats something else. You of course have a right to say those types of things.

      At that point it has to be asked is this about culture or some idea of racial purity or having a certain look?

      • apihtawikosisan

        I am referring to natives telling other natives that they shouldn’t get upset about cultural appropriation or about how indigenous peoples are portrayed in the mainstream media.

  • Lil Tru

    This is not the first time Johnny Depp has shown poor judgement in accepting roles in movies that present stereotypical portrayals of indigenous peoples… check this out… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FTvm-25qkPM&feature=related

  • Rightojibwe

    Read Roy Cook and laughed my ass off. Holey Heck, what a guy. The same guy in the old days that would point you out to the police if you were doing ceremonies. The same guy that would go over to the Indian agent and tell him, that you sneaked out of the Reserve. The same guy that is first in line for enfranchisement (releasing Treaty Rights). These types of Indians are the people that white society go to for a Yes, when they want some “Indian consultation”. This guy is actually the one saying “get over it”. His argument is this, Indians never said anything before, so why say anything now. Wow. That is incredible. He is writing for a Native paper. I guess the paper needs an example of the other spectrum of Indians. You know, the sell-outs. Or as we say, “standard government issue Indian”.

  • Jeff Wolf Fitzgerald

    well we do not know how Tonto is being portrayed I know when JDepp first talked about the movie he said Tonto was the brains behind the LR. That he was revamping the character to not be a joke and steriotypical. Also Mr. Depp is a portion Native American and stated he wanted to make a tonto that put NA’s in a positive light.

  • Wendy_Smith_III

    I was really rooting for strapping sexiest man alive Depp not creepy make-up laden Depp as Tonto. Lord that picture makes me weep.

  • Esquiveld

    As a Native I am proud of my heritage and my culture, and i view this production as another insult to both. I don’t put all the blame on Johnny Depp tho, of course there was a costume designer and art director involved, as well as numerous producers (which Depp might be one of). Its a paradygm in the movie industry, Native Americans are portrayed as the stereotypes that are expected by non-natives. Depp expressed his intial intent on this project was to help change this way of thinking, but I’d say he missed the mark… missed the whole target, in fact hes not even playing the right sport! I’m not going to go as far as chastizing his whole career, but you can be damn sure I am boycotting this movie!! I urge all Natives to do the same!

  • While the “Twilight” series certainly warrants a lot in the way of valid criticism, I really don’t think that one can reasonably complain about a portrayal of Indians “as wolves.” First of all, not all Indians are portrayed as *possessing the supernatural power to transform themselves into wolves to fight evil* – only a few, and they’re portrayed as heroes and defenders to boot. The Native-Americans shown are acculturated, yet in touch with their own traditions and history. The series is free of “me Tonto” talk and free of any other portrayals of Indians as ignorant or clueless. In fact, Indians are the only group of people in the movie who can see the danger right before their eyes! Everyone else (save Bella) is completely blind and oblivious.

    Besides, it’s pretty silly to complain about the portrayal of Indians in Twilight because *some* individual characters posses supernatural powers – the ENTIRE series is about vampires!!!

    • I see your point. However I think that there is a valid argument to be made that the portrayal of First Nations people as wolves furthers stereotypes of us as ‘spiritual’ and in tune with ‘nature’. It may not be a particularly problematic representation within the movie Twilight if taken in isolation, but when there are so few representations of First Nations people that defy these stereotypes, using a popular film to illustrate the broader trend can be useful.

  • It’s very problematic that this article features a cartoon that capitalizes upon negative, worn out stereotypes of gays, then goes on to complain about the use of negative, worn out stereotypes of Native-Americans. You can’t have it both ways!

    • I’m glad I wasn’t the only one to notice this. I was hesitant to say anything because I really don’t need to get into another internet argument about making “divisive” statements. The article makes several important points about stereotyping, and I have no intention of derailing that discussion. However, as a two-spirited person I can’t ignore the homophobic stereotypes in the cartoon and they are hurtful. Can we please discuss these issues without further marginalizing members of our own communities by playing into homophobia and essentialism.

    • Adrienne_K

      Thanks so much for pointing it out Andi and Jack–I was so focused on the words in the speech bubble of the cartoon that I didn’t even take a minute to check my own hetero privilege. I switched out the image, and added an edit at the bottom. I’m truly sorry that I picked an insensitive image, and will definitely be more conscious moving forward.

      Here’s the edit I added:

      EDIT 3/20–I switched out the cartoon at the top of the post because of my complete ignorance to the homophobic undertones to the original. My deepest apologies to the LGBTQ community for using an insensitive image, it was definitely not my intention to marginalize anyone. I definitely try to be aware of when my hetero/cis privilege comes out–so please continue to call me out on it, and I’ll definitely do better moving forward. Wado!

  • 49ndn

    I am a Native American who knows my culture. From the time I could walk I have been active in my culture. I know who I am. I take no offense to how Johnny Depp portrays an Indian because it won’t change me or my culture. I don’t expect a different race to accommodate my race’s issues. Especially a race that has been trying to kill my race for centuries (It is only recently that this has stopped.) I expect my own race to rise above and start making our own changes.

    • Agreed. I stated on FB that I have no qualms with what Ray Cook or Johnny Depp has said. What you SHOULD all realize that while it has taken up three weeks of YOUR time to be angry at this and make blog posts and rants. In those three weeks this film has continued to roll on as scheduled. It will be made, and it will be released. People will love it or hate it. There is NOTHING you can do about that. The greatest thing that you need to realize is that you are giving it press. Free press. All they had to do was release ONE photo on twitter and wait. Now everyone is talking and they have only been shooting for about a month! It is laughable to me that no one has stopped to realize that you are giving it more promotion than, at this point, they have! I am proud to be of Cherokee heritage by way of my late father (at times. I’ve given serious thought to joining another, less “popular” tribe every time someone tells me they are too! #Toomanycherokeestocount) and proud to be a fledgling film maker (animated film, but film nonetheless). So my advice to all of you is this (and believe me since posting on FB I have tried to stay out of this, because it is indeed a waste of all our time) you don’t like the way things are? CHANGE IT. Not by bashing Johnny Depp, because if you are going to do that then there better be a lot of bashing going on starting at Twilight (blech!) and work your way down. Go for Irene Bedard & Russell Means too, because you all hate Disney’s Pocahontas and those two very talented and VERY native actors lent themselves to that one. But I would much rather see you all get out there and make something real, from a Native perspective. Do yourselves a favor get Netflix, watch Reel Injuns and some other great choice documentaries on there and get at it! Because that is where the real change is going to come from, certainly not from all this wasted anger over something that certainly is not the REAL issue at play here. The real issue at play is lack of education and I highly doubt we will see that change in American school systems within our lifetimes, but we can educate in other ways. Not by hating on Hollywood, it represents no one fair and just, so don’t take that personally it’s just a business and always will be.

      • I don’t think the intentions here are to stop or change the film, or stop discussion about it. Who says that watching Reel Injuns and addressing these issues in more concrete ways and making more accurate representations are mutually exclusive with pointing out problems with mainstream representations? The point is to spark discussion. Maybe if there is more discussion some people who would never watch a film produced by First Nations people and would never question mainstream representations will have their preconceptions challenged. I’m not in the film industry, but I am starting out as an artist. I hope that my work challenges peoples views and stereotypes, but producing my own work doesn’t mean that I never question or voice criticism of other works.

      • On the one hand you say it’s all a waste of everyone’s time, then you tell people to watch “Reel Injuns” (the film is actually titled ‘Reel Injun’). But by your own argument for why this blog is a waste of time, that film was also a waste of time. It didn’t change any of the things that were done in Hollywood before the film was made. It didn’t keep the same things from happening again. But it did present an alternate view that wouldn’t have been seen or heard if the film hadn’t been made that may cause some people to stop and think. So you say speak out about things by making films, but don’t say anything because it’s a waste of time. Don’t like things? Then CHANGE IT. But change is only possible if the viewpoint is presented on film so don’t waste your time writing about it or discussing it. Wait… what?

        Neil Diamond chose film as his means of stating many of the same things that Adrienne has attempted to address in her blogs. Same discussions, different media.

        So do you think only film is a legitimate means to raise issues such as these? Film which allows you to throw your view out at the world and doesn’t allow the world to directly respond? I can see the allure, but I think both blogs such as this that are dedicated to calling attention to areas of concern while also giving the audience a chance to respond with their own thoughts are as vital as the static or sterile mediums like books and film.

        Again, you’re advocating the exact same discussions, but discouraging it if it’s done in another media such as a blog.

  • Win Blevins

    We have better things to spend our time on. There ARE writers, including Scott Momaday and Sherman Alexie (and me in STONE SONG) telling the truth about Native people. Let’s till our gardens, grow our fruit, speak our truths, and stop worrying about the rest.
    –win blevins

  • West

    This is a GREAT blog on this subject. As a major Johnny Depp fan and an NDN, as opposed to the inevitable and SO easily spotted “I have native ancestry” WANNABE posers who SURPRISE SURPRISE have shown up in the comments like they do at every powwow telling me all about their fullblood Cherokee/Blackfoot/Lakota great great grandma, yet who never have any clue about the pulse and real spirit of the natives and our perceptions today, I am glad someone is telling it like it is. It’s always the Vanilla Twnkies who love to claim their Pretendian tribe “blood” who have the typical Euro attitude of pooh-poohing and chiding any REAL rez skin who is sick of the stereotypes and racism and points it out. That’s because they have no real connection to our cultures, but only appropriate the title they give themselves for the convenience of making a supposed point supporting their agenda of trivializing our concerns. Every native who lives the culture will understand why putting a bird on it is not gonna make it fly.Especially a bird on top of a costume they stole off a make-believe portrait by Kirby Sattler, a WHITE man who admits he just kind of throws together random “spiritual” and “shamanic” items like a little girl playing dress-up in Mom’s closet, to — you guessed it — “HONOR” natives. PUHLEASE.I would LOVE for JD to be as “Cherokee or Creek” as his family myth “guesses” he is, because he’s so cool and “savvy” and brilliant. But the reality is that, unless he wants to get a DNA test, he has no geneology to support that, is the word in NDN circles who’ve researched it. I hope JD can prove that wrong, but it doesn’t look that way. 1 percent of white people in this country have NDN DNA, and those that do have a TINY bit, so those family myths are just that. And if you have no background of your family being really a part of the culture today, yes, it is racist for someone to play an already stereotypical role who is not native, for obvious reasons. Anyone who doesn’t understand that doesn’t get why Washington Redskins is insulting, either. I had hoped JD would play this in a cool way that turned the jokes on the white man and gave some dignity back to “Tonto,” but unless they have a damn good explanation scriptwise, I cannot see this as being anything other than another slap in the face invitation for rednecks to haul out their racial slurs they hung up finally after John Wayne died. White people and all you wannabes with “native” ancestry (right) who say it doesn’t matter if a native plays a native role do NOT get why it’s an insult that the most famous “native” was Iron Eyes Cody in a litter commerical. An Italian. You don’t get it because of what we’re talking about here. There are TONS of fantastic native actors. But Hollywood WANTS them to be invisible because they have an agnda to present an altered reality that suits the Eurocentric arrogant view that keeps people able to go on blogs and actually criticize us on our own land as mere annoyances when we object to being yet another mascot in a white game. It is as important that it stop this demeaning treatment as they get rid of L’il Black Sambo and blackface. And though Johnny means well, to say he wants to “fix” it by taking the role that a rez NDN actor enculturated could have made better than just a drag show is missing the point. Why do we need a guy with maybe some undefined blood and no embedding into his long-lost “heritage” to represent natives? Get it? Because Hollywood considers natives as fictional of characters still as Tonto. You’re brilliant, Johnny, but give me Denzel as Malcom X.