Everyone’s buzzing about Paula Deen. An overweight white woman who made millions showing the rest of us how to get overweight, all the while giggling like a ninny, has got the entire country outraged over her racist ways. She’s lost her TV shows, her book deals and her sponsors. She’s apologized three or four times—I’ve lost count now—and we’re all still talking about what a racist cow she is.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, a white man takes a job away from a Native American and nobody says a damn thing.
Johnny Depp owes Paula Deen a big fat thank you, preferably sandwiched between two Krispy Kremes.
See, Johnny has cast himself as Tonto in The Lone Ranger, Disney’s latest cinematic release. Yeah, yeah, Disney did the casting, but Johnny Depp is Johnny Depp and he’s a big enough star that he gets to do whatever the hell he wants. He wants to play Tonto? He gets to play Tonto.
And Johnny’s Tonto is as far from the Tonto I grew up with as a Tonto could be. My Tonto was played by a man named Jay Silverheels. Jay’s dad was a Canadian Mohawk tribal chief. Johnny claims that his great grandparents said some relative on down the family line had Native American blood. My family had a similar kind of story about Grandpa Mike. Johnny’s not really sure what tribe, but you know, Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek? What’s the diff?
The diff is a big one if you’re hoping to be accepted in many tribes. Many have rules regarding how much tribal blood you need to be recognized by, well, your tribe. The Mississippi band of Choctaw would turn their backs on Johnny. They have a 50 percent rule.
Johnny’s lucky, though. Not only is his great-grandma’s cousin’s nephew’s sister-in-law Native American, but Disney got Johnny around all that nasty blood business. He was adopted by a Comanche activist and accepted into the Cherokee Nation. That, and a big fat Disney donation to the American Indian College Fund, makes Johnny a Native American!
Whether or not Depp’s got enough tribal blood to fill a thimble, though, isn’t my biggest problem with him playing the loyal friend of the LR.
My biggest problem with Johnny is that he’s making shit up about Native Americans and throwing it all up on the screen to see what sticks.
I’ve been to the North Woods in Wisconsin a few times. The place we stayed is a beautiful resort on a wide lake in the middle of the forest. Bald eagles nest there; people fish there; snakes swim in the water there; I don’t swim in the water there. And Native Americans call the place home. The resort sits in the middle of an Ojibwe Reservation.
First stop after getting to the lake cottage would be a visit to the local grocery store, where we would see real-live Native Americans. Not one of them walked around in full ceremonial paint with a dead bird for a hat. They all had shirts on, too, it being not the beach and all. But Johnny Depp plays Tonto in full whiteface, no shirt on his back and a big black bird on his head. Sort of a reverse Al Jolson, if you will.
Here’s the kicker, though. Depp believes that he is doing Native American children a favor by reminding them of their noble warrior heritage. Never mind that the head-scalping warrior is the first thing that comes to mind when many non-native Americans think about their native neighbors. Never mind that Native American children have Native American doctors and lawyers to look up to today. Never mind that any number of Native American actors could have played a more authentic and, to my mind at least, hotter Tonto.
Johnny Depp’s arrogance knows no bounds, though. The man who has less Native American blood in him than a wooden dime-store Indian, grinds Native Americans into the Hollywood soil with a twist of his mocassin’d foot. The only thing Depp reminds Native American children is they still aren’t good enough to play their own people in the movies.
So, call Paula Deen racist. She did, afterall, use the N-word and fantasize about a plantation-style wedding replete with all Black waiters. And for her racism, she lost work. Unfortunately, Johnny Depp’s racism doesn’t cost him work; it costs the very people he claims to revere.