Shut up, Johnny Depp

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From EW: “Johnny Depp reveals origins of Tonto makeup from ‘The Lone Ranger’ — EXCLUSIVE

It was clear from this first photo of Depp and Armie Hammer, released from The Lone Ranger set last month, that Depp was sticking by his word to make this Tonto a radical departure from the Jay Silverheels performance on the 1950s era TV show.

“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 in a recent interview. “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.”

Well, not really … Separate sections of the individual?

Depp explained that the lines of paint on the Native American’s face looked to him like a cross-section of the man’s emotional life. “There’s this very wise quarter, a very tortured and hurt section, an angry and rageful section, and a very understanding and unique side. I saw these parts, almost like dissecting a brain, these slivers of the individual,” he said.”That makeup inspired me.”

You can see more of Sattler’s work here: http://kirbysattler.sattlerartprint.com/

Oh, Johnny Depp. SHUT UP.

You have made up some mumbo jumbo bullshit to explain why you are using an image you saw once to draw up the spiritual background of a Native person for a movie role. This kind of “this is how I feel about Native people” crap would be equivalent to someone making a movie about a Catholic priest and seeing some artwork somewhere and being inspired to have the priest where purple and green striped robes. No reason to find out if that is accurate because you *think* it expresses something about the character, their background, their spirituality. It’s absurd. What Depp is saying here is absurd.

Here is the Sattler piece that inspired Depp’s makeup in the above picture:

The EW article goes on to say this about this work and Sattler:

The title of Sattler’s original work is “I Am Crow,” a reference to the Crow peoples native to the northern part of the American Midwest. In the new film, Tonto is technically a full-blooded Comanche, and Depp identifies in real life as part Cherokee and Creek Indian, based on a Kentucky great-grandmother’s ancestry, so the character is proving to be less historically specific to one tribe than a blend of various cultures and influences.

Sattler himself, who licensed the look of his painting to the filmmakers, tells EW his work is a fusion of history and fiction. “The portraits I paint are composites created from a variety of visual references coupled with my imagination,” he says. “While being broadly based in a historical context, my paintings are not intended to be viewed as historically accurate. I used the combination of face paint and  headdress as an artistic expression to symbolize the subject’s essence and his affinity to the Crow.”

Here’s more from Sattler’s website:

The subjects are a variety of visual references and my imagination. I am not a historian, nor an ethnologist. Being of non-native blood, without personal history, it would be presumptuous to portray the subject I paint from any other view than as an artist with an innate interest in the world’s indigenous cultures. [...]

His current images evolve from the history, ceremony, mythology, and spirituality of the Native American. Sattler’s ultra-detailed interpretations examine the inseparable relationship between the Indian and his natural world, reflecting a culture that had no hard line between the sacred and the mundane.

Uhm…so the guy that made the image of a Crow man that inspired the paint on Johnny Depp’s face when he is playing a Comanche is non-native, not a historian, nor an ethnologist? AND he refers to Native peoples generally as “the Indian” on his website?

This is problematic.

Here is what Johnny Depp could have done instead of peruse the internet or the walls of a museum for his inspiration when playing a Comanche for his next film. He could have put some of his money into a plane ticket and rental car, flown himself to Oklahoma and driven to the Comanche reservation. There he could have looked at some art.

This kind of Hollywood pseudo-liberalism is incredibly frustrating. Are we supposed to swoon over the fact that Depp thought a little bit about the makeup he is wearing when playing a Comanche native? Are we supposed to believe that he is somehow on the side of good here because he at least thought about it and didn’t let the studio pressure him into something else? Is the narrative surrounding the making of this movie going to be the compassion with which Hollywood handled Tonto and will this bullshit be the evidence?

More from EW:

The American Indian community has been divided over Depp’s Tonto. Leaders from the Navajo Nation visited the Monument Valley set and expressed support for Depp and the filmmakers, and Dana Lone Hill, a writer who identifies as part Lakota, penned an essay saying she intended to give him the benefit of the doubt on adapting the character, since Depp is known for his fanciful and exaggerated performances.

In another column titled “Why Tonto Matters,” Native Appropriations blogger Adrienne K. expressed the frustration echoed by some other Native Americans over Depp’s characterization, saying there are too few authentic portrayals of Native people in pop culture to accept a highly fantasized version.

Look. If the people making this movie, including Depp, care so little for the character of Tonto that they have collapsed Comanche and Crow and used Sattler’s painting as the inspiration for the paint on Tonto’s face, I’m just going to assume it’s going to perpetuate lots of Native stereotypes (like that all Natives are the same and that face paint is a decoration not related directly to the spiritual practice of Native peoples). And I will continue to believe this EVEN IF Johnny Depp thinks he is doing otherwise.

Also, because he participated in this garbage fest of a plot line in the second Pirates movie that was all about stereotypes of Native peoples in other parts of this world:

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FINAL THOUGHT: Is Depp’s makeup as Tonto any more authentic than this (that’s Chief Osceola, the mascot of Florida State University, my alma mater)?

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10 Responses

  1. You just put into words what I have been trying to say. I’m not from the US, so when talking about this with other people it was difficult for them to understand what was wrong with it. That and I’m inarticulate as hell in a non written format. Since he was cast as Tonto it just hasn’t sat well with me. This interview cements where that feeling was coming from.

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  3. Curt says:

    I grew up in the middle of the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma, my family has been involved in tribal government ever since we were relocated from Mississippi. In fact on particular tribal council seat has never been held by anyone outside my immediate family, my grandmother retired and became a judge for the tribe, and currently my uncle holds the chair. So I make these statements from the perspective of someone who has, for the entirety of my 35 yrs, been very close and has a deep love for my tribe and my people. I cannot speak for members of other tribes, and yes separate tribes are very different it’s not a one size fits all, but it’s so rare to actually see authentic portrayels of Native Americans on the screen that I almost take no notice anymore. Most ( read nearly everyone) people who are not Native believe that all of us can be lumped into one group, one belief. You all know what I’m talking about, a deep spiritual almost mystic connection with the earth, nature etc. The truth is at least among Oklahoma Choctaws is that we love our land, our home, our Nation but the same can be said of many peoples. Again it varys from tribe to tribe but with us as well as many others we are a predominately Christian (or at least that is the religion that most of us identify with) hard working, with a firm grasp on the modern world. We don’t visit the medicine man ( we have, gasp, trained doctors) our Chief Gregory Pyle doesn’t walk around in a headdress at all times, ( suit and tie at the office, blue jeans and shirt at home). It is a difficult thing to manage tradition and progress, hold to tightly to the past and the present will pass you by, live too much in the now and lose your traditions and wonderful history. The struggles we face are much more complex than shedding a single glistening tear when someone throws an empty beer can out the window. And just once I would like to see it portrayed on screen as such, instead of just taking all of the stereotypes from every tribe and lumping them into one poorly constructed character. We are good, bad, honest, corrupt, hard working, greedy, sinners, saints, democrats and republicans. We are Americans, we are America, but more to the point we are human, no more, no less and just once I wish that we could be portrayed as such.

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