Disney’s “Tonto” Decision Not a Cinderella Storyby Dee Dee Garcia Blase on Jul. 08, 2013, under Art y arte, Cultura, Culture
“What ever you do, do it well. Do it so well that when people see you do it they will want to come back and see you do it again and they will want to bring others and show them how well you do what you do.” – Walt Disney
Many of us can recall signing a viral petition recently that essentially caused Disney to withdraw the trademark on Dia de los Muertos. Mexican-Americans believe our culture and customs should not be owned by any corporation, and it is not a surprise others from different ethnic groups feel the same way.
That said, the new Lone Ranger movie featuring Johnny Depp as Tonto caused me to be more aware and attentive to our brothers within the Native American community. Some were insulted with the broken-English witticisms spoken by the latest Tonto and I was reminded how many Native Americans were tri-lingual (speaking in Spanish, English and in their Native tongue) before more settlers advanced westward. Admittedly, I cringed during the last scene when the Lone Ranger told Tonto, “Do you know what Tonto means in Spanish?” The term “tonto” is a term reserved in Spanish-speaking cultures and it means “village idiot.”
A calling for more who were like Marlon Brando is in order. Brando won the Best Actor Academy Award for The Godfather (1972) and became the second person in history to turn down the Best Actor Oscar. He believed his protest was a modest opportunity for a Native American Indian to voice his/her opinion to 85 million people in view of what Hollywood has done to him/her. Essentially Brando spoke prophetically four decades ago when he said, “I do not think people generally realize what motion picture industry has done to the American Indian, as a matter of fact, all ethnic groups, all minorities … all non-whites …. These clichés will be perpetuated.”
In my view, Brando was ahead of his time and I consider him courageous for his protest. He put his talent and popularity to good use for a good cause lending voice to those who have been silenced.
According to Indian Country, LeAnne puts the blame on Hollywood – not Johnny Depp for the latest Tonto. LeAnne Howe is an accomplished scholar who authored a book chapter on Choctaw history. She weighed in on Tonto’s character during a Q&A with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign:
Tonto is not just any American Indian character, Howe said: he was the only on-screen hero American Indians had growing up in the 1950s. Although Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Tonto with a dead bird on his head is the worst kind of stereotype, making it easy for American Indians to dismiss the film, Depp’s adoption by the Comanche Nation is not insignificant, Howe said.
The stereotype can be explained in one word, Howe said: “Hollywood. Seriously, American Indians have a long and complicated relationship with Hollywood films. MORE>>>
Howe makes an excellent point and it is duly noted when Depp, now an honorary member of the Comanche Nation, showed some of his respect to the Native American community when he requested proceeds from the film’s $1,000-per-ticket gala premiere supported the American Indian College Fund. In addition, Depp recalled the 1949-1957 TV show and told Entertainment Weekly: “Why is the f—ing Lone Ranger telling Tonto what to do?’
But according to the UK Guardian, Disney’s The Lone Ranger looks likely to lose the Hollywood studio more than $150m following disappointing box office results. Disney chief Dave Hollis expressed disappointment of the results to the trade bible.
Although this new movie suffered from largely negative reviews, this is an excellent opportunity Disney (and other movie makers) can learn from. Coincidentally, it was the Cinderella movie that saved Disney from financial ruin telling a tale of a girl who was kept beaten down for most of her life. We were relieved Prince Charming did not rest and would not marry none other but the girl who fit that glass slipper ultimately taking her from the dark garret living space to the light and brilliance of a palace. It would have been one helluva Cinderella story in the reincarnate to see Disney fill Tonto’s shoes with the likes of a Native American living on the res.