|Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer|
The image and the discussions surrounding it raise the issue of authenticity.
Depp's headpiece has gathered the most attention. (For the moment, I will set aside the issue of casting Depp as an American Indian.) Some friends were pointing out that the headpiece seems inspired by a painting (I am Crow by Kirby Sattler). This accessorized bird raises the question of why would Tonto be wearing a headpiece from the Crow? Tonto was apparently Apache or Potowatomi (I have seen different references from histories of The Lone Ranger series). After the 1830s the Potowatomi would have lived primarily in Kansas and Nebraska, having ceded their lands in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Illinois. At the same time, the Apache lived pretty much where they always had: New Mexico, Arizona, West Texas, and Northern Mexico. At that time, the Crow were living in Montana and Wyoming.
So some might ask how Tonto would have come upon such a headpiece. Perhaps he saw it in a J. Crow catalog.
No one ever wonders about the Lone Ranger's mask -- is that really going to keep anyone from recognizing him? We understand the mask to be functioning as the sign of "disguise" and we do not question its ability to truly hide an identity.
No one asks about the historical accuracy of a Texas Ranger being friends with an American Indian. One of the main reasons for the creation of the Texas Rangers was to kill Indians. The Comanches on the western edge of Texas were giving the Texans fits, and so the Rangers were sent out to deal with them.
The Lone Ranger is a historical fantasy, not history. A historical fantasy tries to rewrite the past to make it more consistent with the present. People re-imagine their past to reinforce their beliefs about themselves today. America wants to think of itself as racially tolerant, as completely comfortable in its multicultural self, so it imagines a Texas Ranger and an American Indian being great friends to help it forget the ugly facts of frontier history.
|Clayton Moore & Jay Silverheels|
Is it silly to ask for authenticity in depictions of Tonto? The character of Tonto never had any authenticity. Like many American Indians in American film and literature, he was the figment of white America's imagination.
I do not want dismiss the real-world implications of such stereotypical depictions. I wrote about this in "Symbolic Indians vs. Smiling Indians." But the whole Lone Ranger franchise is a kind of drag show, so perhaps no one should take it too seriously. Perhaps we should lean back and laugh at its latest version, even laughing at the parts it may be trying to get right. Or at least wait until the movie is released and see how it all plays out.