Oh Armie Hammer. The guy who played twins in the Social Network, the guy who’s name sounds like baking soda. Now he’s playing the Lone Ranger opposite our good friend Johnny Depp as Tonto, and recently he said in an interview about the movie that all the Natives he talked to were SO SUPER STOKED that the film was being made. Guys, that’s the movie equivalent of “but I have a black friend!”
Tonto recap, if you haven’t been following along. My posts are here: my initial reactions, why you should care about Tonto when there are “bigger issues” out there, tearing apart Depp’s reasoning over his costume choices, and finally the controversy I dealt with for writing about Tonto.
So back to Armie. Here’s his quote in the LA times, defending the casting of Tonto, saying there were plenty Natives he talked to who loved it, and only white people were upset:
“They were nothing but excited about it. They loved it — they’re thrilled. It’s so funny, because every Native American we talked to was like, ‘This is awesome! I’m so excited.’ And every white person we talked to was like, ‘How dare you cast a non-Native American?’ It’s like, the white people are the one who have the problem, but the Indians — the Native Americans — are like, ‘This is great. We love it.’”
A few things.
So. The casting of a non-Native thing has kinda gone by the wayside for me. While I was initially super mad that they cast JD and didn’t give the role to a Native person (blah blah Johnny has Indian heritage blah blah he was adopted by the Comanche Naiton–Not the point right now. That doesn’t excuse anything.), the more that has come out about the film, the more I’m glad that a Native actor isn’t embroiled in this mess. So Armie, the casting is only part of the issue. The bigger issue is the mountain of stereotypes Depp’s portrayal of Tonto represents–from his hot mess of a costume with a freaking dead crow on his head, to the horrible stereotypical mystical warrior BS that we can see in the trailers, to the ridiculous and demeaning use of Tonto-speak broken English that has haunted Native communities since the first spaghetti westerns.
Also, let’s put this in perspective. You know how contemporary Natives are completely and totally invisible to the vast majority of the world? You know how we get ignored by all areas of mainstream media unless we’re doing something wrong or playing into stereotypes? Well let’s say one day a big fancy production company and really famous actors that we only see in the movies roll into our Rez and say they want to make a movie–and we can be extras in the background! and we can get paid! and our kids will be able to eat because of this movie!
Of course you’re going to say it’s awesome. Because it is. For a moment your community isn’t invisible, you’re going to be on the big screen with all those fancy white guys that get to walk around on red carpets all day. And most importantly, in a community struggling poverty and unemployment, you’ve got a job.
I’m not hating on these folks. Do I wish we lived in a society where Natives were more visible and it wasn’t such a freaking novelty that someone wants to make a movie with us? Do I wish we the resources and publicity to get the same amount of attention on our own media? Do I wish that we had other economic ventures on our reservations that could provide jobs without having to become a Hollywood stereotype? yes, yes, and yes. I think we deserve much more.
But back to Armie’s comments. The second part really bothered me as well–that only “white people” were complaining about the movie. I’m sorry dude, but I know PLENTY of Indians that are not happy with this film. Circling back to our invisibility, just because the white voices are louder and get more publicity, doesn’t mean that we aren’t pissed off too. And I’m sorry, if “every white person” you talked to had an issue with the film, you might want to listen. Additionally, if the only Indians that you talked to were the ones getting paid by your film or from the reservation benefitting economically from your film’s presence, you might want to rethink your sampling method there. The comment also just feels so patronizing–“but the Indians love it!”–and invited a host of comments on the LA times and others about the “whiny, overly sensitive, hyper ‘PC'” culture we live in. Which is nothing new, but still no fun.
This film is going to be a mess. There’s no two ways about it. Every picture that has been released, every trailer where we hear more of JD’s horrible Indian-pirate-I-don’t-even-know-what accent, I roll my eyes even harder. They’re clearly realizing that this was maybe not the best idea, given JD’s sudden interest in Indian Country and Indian causes, and all these super defensive comments coming out. I feel like they’re on a damage control tour.
So in conclusion:
Hey Armie Hammer–I’m an Indian, and I’m mad about this film. I think Depp’s choices around Tonto’s costuming and speech are demeaning, stereotypical, and set us back a bunch of years in the small gains we’ve made in Hollywood. I don’t feel “honored” that Johnny has decided to make Tonto less of a sidekick and more of a main character. I don’t appreciate that Native protest against this film has been all but ignored. I’m glad you chatted with some Indians, but I’d encourage you to chat with a few more. Because I can promise you not all of us are “thrilled” about the Lone Ranger.
AK note: Thanks for all of your love and concern over the last week, it was so nice to feel love from all over the US and world. As you may remember from my last post about Boston, I live in Watertown–so things were a little tense here, to say the least. My apartment was outside the perimeter where the search was occurring but not by much. I’m sure I have plenty more processing to do about the experience of being on lock down with a terrorist up the street, but right now I’m happy for a return to normalcy, and thankful for all of the (thousands and thousands of) law enforcement officials who kept us safe.