Arts & Entertainment | Opinion

Opinion: Blatant racism in Tonto's portrayal in 'The Lone Ranger'

A poster for The Lone Ranger.

Writer addresses "blatant racism" in The Lone Ranger, featuring Johnny Depp as Tonto:
What is amazing to me is that pop culture, in my opinion, continues to marginalize Native Americans in way that harkens back to another era. The latest Lone Ranger incarnation and the characterization of Tonto is one example. Johnny Depp, whom I generally respect, is the latest actor to take on the role. For some reason, he dons a black bird on his head, does not wear a shirt and speaks in the halting pidgin English that the Tonto character has used since his inception on radio in the 30s. Somehow, I guess I had hoped Disney would have taken this opportunity to break out of that mold—perhaps this was misplaced hope.

Two things bothered me about The Lone Ranger show. The first was the title. I understand he was the sole survivor of a group of Texas Rangers. But, how could the main character be rescued by, be trained in and use Native American tactics and still be in charge? It was clear to me that Tonto should be in charge. It struck me as being a bit like Batman rescuing Robin, training Robin, and then Robin getting top billing. In my humble opinion it should have been called “Tonto & the Lone Ranger.”

The second issue I had was with the name: “Tonto.” The word, in Spanish, means “dumb.” If you respected someone, why would you call them that? Naming the him “Tonto” is practically making him subhuman. So much so that Spanish language portrayals and dubbing call Depp’s character “Toro.” Toro has a much more positive cultural connotation. Now I’m not naive about where this comes from. I understand the pathology. Historically, white males, being both the main audience these shows were written for and produced by, were not all that concerned how other groups were portrayed. Programs like Amos & Andy and Charlie Chan were just as culturally insensitive. I hope that these would not be tolerated today. Would they? If not, then why, in 2013, is it still okay to portray Native Americans in this demeaning way?

Get the Story:
Alex Yarde: Why Does Tonto Have That Bird On His Head? Racism in the New ‘Lone Ranger’ (Good Men Project 6/2)

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Johnny Depp portrays Tonto as 'proud warrior' on silver screen (04/18)

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