Here’s some quotes about Native coverage in The Lone Ranger (a topic which has been covered here many times if you want to check “has this been asked before?”). Native Appropriations is the only one worth checking out in full, it was long so I only quoted parts. Their review is very in depth on this issue. If you’re wondering how the movie went overall, critics have been pretty harsh. The Chicago Tribune summarizes most of the reviews with this quote:
"At one point the masked man gets his head dragged through horse manure. Watching ‘The Lone Ranger,’ you know the feeling."
So anyway… here you go, presented as is/without any commentary by me! (I haven’t seen it)
warning: some spoilers
”The Lone Ranger” is now a definitively more progressive tale where Tonto isn’t just a minstrel sidekick — it’s the Lone Ranger, played by Armie Hammer, who takes the back of the saddle — and the villains are greedy railroad tycoons (Tom Wilkinson). Although there’s no language (aside from the term “Injun”) or sex, the violence is considerably more gruesome (cannibalism, vague references to rape) than expected.
…The very first scene we are presented with an image of a Native person, in a museum–which presumably we’re supposed to critique, but there’s no questioning of Tonto’s position there. To me it reinforces the idea that all the Indians are dead, relics of the past, which is actually a theme throughout. This Indian is so silly and backward he trades a dead mouse for a bag of peanuts, doesn’t even know how to eat peanuts, and is feeding a bird, but it’s dead. Even the child knows that’s wrong….
Despite the Comanche involvement in the film, there’s still a lot of problems with conflating all Indians together… Tonto from the start talks about being a “Wendigo hunter” and that the bad guys are “Wendigos” and that “nature is out of balance.” Wendigos are a Eastern Woodlands (Algonquian/Cree/Ojibwe) thing. Though they did get the stories kinda right, despite it being the completely wrong region/tribe. I’m not trying to argue that the movie should have been 100% “authentic”–whatever that means–but to tout your Native involvement and have a central plot point be totally wrong just felt weird to me.
…Depp’s “accent” is hilariously inconsistent, and whenever he has more than a few words to say, it would veer into an almost stereotypical Italian-sounding thing… He’s also very much the mystical-magical-Indian, an early scene shows him in jail making his bird come alive by singing and flapping his arms, he talks to the horse (and the horse talks back), he talks about LR being a “spirit walker,” etc.
…I was distracted by the fact that Gil Birmingham, who actually *is* Comanche was sitting there with face and body paint on and doesn’t. have. any. lines. My dad compared it to Civil War movies where they have the Black regiment march by in a scene as a “oh, see, we thought about the POC!” moment. I feel like his cameo was an attempt to show they had Native actor involvement despite the lack of any depth of character.
Throughout the film, besides the tipi exchange, the only scenes we see of the Comanche are them preparing for war, leaving for war, fighting in war, or dead.
Edit: I should add that there is use of Comanche language throughout, for commands, greetings, and small exchanges. Tonto speaks it a bit too when talking to the horse. So that’s important to note. I also failed to mention that I’ve read the tipis in the film are done Comanche-style, and I can only assume the other details like the drums, dancing, etc. are “true” to Comanche culture
…we watch the Comanche attack come over a hillside in the shadows, you know what it looks like, and there’s a moment as a viewer of “ohhh damn, watch out you silly railroad and calvary dudes, you’re about to get owned by some Comanches!” because they look so intimidating and like there are far more of them then the white guys. But no, the Calvary mows them down with an early machine gun, and we watch as all of the Comanches are slaughtered, including a close up of Saginaw getting stabbed.
It’s very much a Guns, Germs, and Steel type moment– even though the Indians outnumber the whites, they’re not technologically advanced enough to win, and they are too dumb (or full of backward “honor”) to realize they’re headed for a death trap.
While all this is happening, Tonto is busy saving the LR from the firing squad, with plenty of jokes and quips, and he looks over his shoulder, watching the massacre happen, as he pumps away on one of those railroad hand cart things. He’s definitely too busy making jokes and saving his white friend to try and help his people.
After it all happens, and we’re to understand all the Comanche are dead, Tonto picks up his bird from the river full of floating feathers, shields, and bodies. I braced myself for the emotional realization that his entire tribe had just been slaughtered. Again. But no. Instead the camera pans up and we are shown Silver, the horse, standing in a tree holding the LR’s hat in his mouth. To which Tonto quips, “Yes. Something definitely wrong with that horse.” The scene then quickly cuts to a loud brass band and celebration at the unveiling of the railroad line back in town.
Let me reiterate that, not in Tonto speak, because it’s important: They slaughter an entire tribe of an entire tribe of Natives, and there is no discussion. Just an awkward joke and a cut to the next scene. What?
The Lone Ranger fails the Bechdel test. There are not two (named) women, who speak to each other, about something other than a man. The portrayals of the Chinese laborers who built the railroad are super problematic too, they have them in rice paddy hats, and the only time they speak is to tell the bad guys they won’t go in the tunnel because there are “Indian spirits” in there.
I thought I would be offended by Depp’s portrayal of Tonto with his two to three word sentences and stereotypical Native American accent. Surprisingly, I was more offended that Depp’s Tonto is a Native Americanized Jack Sparrow more than anything.
There is a lot of mentions of “stupid white man” or “dumb Injun” and of course, “Savage.” In case you have forgotten your US History, we weren’t exactly pleasant to Native Americans back then. Greed and power were our big motivators back in the day. There is a lot of violence, not just toward each other, but in general, and plenty of use of certain racial epithets. While the use of both the violence and verbage are in tune and appropriate for the time period, best to be prepared to have a discussion with your kids about it and maybe introduce a bit of history too.
Babble (just to note, Disney sponsors this site)
The filmmakers also work to make sure the Native American is the hero — or co-protagonist — and not just because the guy who portrays him remains one of the most beloved movie stars in the country.
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