Friday, July 27, 2012

Johnny Dangerously?

The Greatest Actor Alive Today has played an effeminate pirate; John Dillinger; an undercover Fed trying to bust the mob; a young man with scissors for fingers; the Mad Hatter; and that's just for starters.

What he hasn't done, despite all that range and the sometimes cartoon-like qualities of the characters he's portrayed, is sparked a whole lot of controversy.

Johnny Depp, The Greatest Actor Alive Today, will be appearing as Tonto in a new Disney movie about the Lone Ranger. It's a Jerry Bruckheimer project. And while that has many Deppophiles licking their chops, it has one group a little on edge.

Those would be the Native Americans, a segment of whom have been a little queasy ever since Bruckheimer Tweeted a photo of Depp in his Tonto garb, complete with face paint, feathers, the whole shot.

"The moment it hit my Facebook newsfeed, the updates from my friends went nutso," wrote Natanya Ann Pulley, a doctorate student at University of Utah, in an essay for the online magazine McSweeney's.
According to the Associated Press, for Pulley and her friends, the portrayal of Native Americans in Western movies is getting old.
"I'm worried about the Tonto figure becoming a parody or a commercialized figure that doesn't have any dimension or depth. Or consideration for contemporary context of Native Americans," she said.

What's funny is that Depp has played so many different characters in so much scene-chewing glory but has never really brought the ire of any particular group.

Until now---maybe.

Just because some Native Americans have a problem with Tonto's return to the big screen, that doesn't mean Bruckheimer and Depp have alienate the entire brethren.

According to the AP, in New Mexico, where some of the movie was filmed, the Navajo presented Depp, his co-star Armie Hammer, director Gore Verbinski and Bruckheimer with Pendleton blankets to welcome them to their land. Elsewhere, the Comanche people of Oklahoma made Depp, one of Hollywood's most bankable stars, an honorary member.
"In my niece's mind, I met Jack Sparrow," said Emerald Dahozy, spokeswoman for Navajo President Ben Shelly and a member of the Navajo group who met with Depp. "My personal view, I like him playing in a character which he can embody well."

There's also the matter of Depp being perhaps the most likable big box office star in recent memory---maybe ever.



Depp as Tonto in the 2013 Disney version of "The Lone Ranger"; Armie Hammer is the Lone Ranger


Stories abound of his generosity, with everyone from autograph seekers to curious kids who've commiserated with him on movie sets. He has sent them gifts, appeared at their school functions, and been just an all-around nice guy.

So maybe Depp's nice guy image off screen will soften any indignation or blowback from his portrayal of Tonto---if there's any necessary to begin with. Those who decry the film may change their mind once they actually see it.

The AP reports that Depp has said the film will be a "sort of rock 'n' roll version of the Lone Ranger" with his Tonto offering a different take from the 1950s show.

That would appear to be a step in the right direction, right there---for those worried of any over-the-top stereotyping.

The film is slated for a 2013 release, and the cost is already at $200 million---before all the marketing costs.

Gyasi Ross, a member of the Blackfeet Nation in Montana who lives and has family in the Suquamish Tribe, outside Seattle, said, "I'm not sure how much redefining I'm going to expect, not sure how much of the movie will be something I can show my son."

Maybe he'll be pleasantly surprised.

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