Johnny Depp To Play Malcolm X

THE LONE RANGER, Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels

Being that I am a Long Island resident, born and raised, the prevalent presence of Native American culture is well known to most locals. This knowledge of their culture does not come from visits to an ancestral museum or the noted reservations of the Shinnecock or Poospatuck Tribes. No, the historical presence of the Native American’s culture, can be seen in something as simple as a map or in your daily travels throughout the many townships of Long Island. Towns such as Ronkonkoma, Montauk, Aquebogue, Patchogue, Setauket, Manhasset, and Quogue (where I reside) all have heavy Native American influences in their name origin. In fact, the center of the world, Manhattan, was sold by Native Americans to Peter Minuit in May of 1626. So needless to say, their ancestry is the true foundation of this country. Unfortunately they are more recognized for having lower priced cigarettes in their smoke shops, hotel-casinos and as an iconic/controversial logo of the NFL’s Washington Redskins. Even during one of the most revered holidays in this country, Thanksgiving (my favorite), rarely are their humanitarian and philanthropic gestures towards the Pilgrim settlers fully honored and acknowledged. Surely one would think that if at anytime, especially in a modern day society that is more politically correct and exhibits a moral obligation in making sure that “we get this right”; something as simple as Tonto would be a piece of fry-bread (sorry, cake was not appropriate for this analogy). However, in a world that is constantly driving along the “information highway”, it appears that most of our cars are either out of gas or stopping at tabloid, smut maligned rest stops for the latest in voyeur gossip. It brings me to the premise of this blog entry which is: With all that we know, we couldn’t find one Native American to play Tonto? I mean Disney did do Pocahontas right? (Although she resembled a playboy model instead of the little girl she actually was) So why go so Depp, why not go deeper instead. If you can make a mouse talk for his breed or race, then why not let a true Native American act? This one should have never squeaked by the American public (insert all mouse jokes as they apply).

First lets address the word “Tonto”. In Spanish, the word Tonto means foolish or silly, however in native American it means the wild one. I am not sure which definition was behind the thinking when creating the character, however Tonto was portrayed as an intelligent equal to the Lone Ranger throughout his character’s introduction in the 1938 radio version of the Lone Ranger. We would see the character in latter years being portrayed on television by Native American actor, Jay Silverheels, who would reprise this popular character on the big screen in two movies: The Lone Ranger (1956) and The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold (1958). What is amazing in this revisionist history of the character, is that in a time where racial divide was at the forefront of American history, the networks somehow felt inclined to still cast a Native American in the role. Johnny Depp, who has claimed to be of Native American decent, yet his ancestral lineage states otherwise and traces him back to more African decent instead (see Elizabeth Key Grinstead); is donning nothing more than “war face” which is the equivalence to “black face” in the depiction of African American in movies and television by white actors. How is it possible that in a forward thinking society that we can somehow end up thinking backwards? If box office was the key element, then why not cast a Bradley Cooper in the role of Lone Ranger and utilize an actor such as Eddie Spears (see AMC’s television series Hell on Wheels) as the loyal sidekick. This level of irresponsibility is quite troubling and dangerously negligent. As I proposed in the title of this blog, what’s next, Depp plays Malcolm X? The Native Americans deserve better than that and frankly America deserves more truth and less buffoonery. The miseducation of individuals is the fuel that powers the engine of ignorance. Something that we as a society can ill afford to do.

Is it just entertainment or contamination? Are not the roles of characters we see displayed across our television and big screens nothing more than reinforcements for stereotypes? I cringe when my ethnicity is portrayed in an unfavorable light on reality shows and wish there were less Atlanta Housewives and more Huxtables. I am sure other minorities, including Native Americans, want the same for their cultures. In a time where minority actors are fighting for prominent roles in Hollywood, is it too much to ask for one them to at least get the role playing themselves. Will Smith will never play the role of Lincoln on the big screen, so the same should apply to Tonto. #whoa Kemo Sabe

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