Johnny Depp’s controversial portrayal of Tonto prompts donation from Disney

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Johnny Depp’s controversial portrayal of Tonto in the upcoming Disney film “The Lone Ranger,” has prompted Disney to offer the proceeds from the movie’s opening premier to the American Indian College Fund for a scholarship fund for native American students. Premier tickets are selling for $1000 each.

In “The Lone Ranger” movie, Tonto is supposed to be a Comanche Indian, but Depp’s use of ghastly white facepaint and a dead crow headress is not even close to authentic Comanche dress during the Old West era, according to Rod Pocowatchit, a Comanche Indian writing in the Wichita Eagle newspaper.

“It seems to imply ridiculousness for the sake of comedy,” he writes.

Commenting on the film, Wallace Coffey, who is serving his fifth term as tribal Chairman of the Comanche Nation and is the great-grandson of Comanche leader Chief Ten Bears, says, “This is not a documentary of the Comanche Nation, this is entertainment; but Tonto resembles a true Comanche warrior of the past. The movie is a modern-day portrayal of a period piece, and is a portrayal of how Native Americans may have spoken during that era, when English was their second language” says Coffey.

Coffey explained the significance of the crow on Depp’s head in the movie as reflecting a traditional Comanche dance called the Tuhu Wii, which is translated to the Black Knife. This was an exclusive warrior society, identified by black shawls around the waist, painted faces, and the dance mimicked the crow, which is a symbol of warfare to the Comanche.

“Each warrior painted their face individually as a reflection of their spirituality and visions, and no one warrior painted their face the same,” says Coffey, who has participated in the Tuhu Wii dance by being a Point-Man.

Kirby Sattler I Am Crow art print
Kirby Sattler Art Print

For the record, Depp said he drew his inspiration from a contemporary Indian painting by Kirby Sattler. According to Mr. Sattler, the portrait is illustrative of the period, but does not represent a real person or a particular tribe.

Ladonna Harris, a Comanche and president of Americans for Indian Opportunity, officially adopted Johnny Depp into the Comanche tribe, a move that also drew some protests.

Johnny Depp traveled to the Comanche Nation headquarters last September to complete the adoption ritual. Keeping with the traditional Comanche ways, Depp was presented to the tribe and Coffey completed it by dressing him in Tuhu Wii-style attire, which is a reflection of his character in The Lone Ranger movie.

Other Native Americans believe the role should have gone to a Native American actor.

Before Depp, the best known actor to play Tonto was Jay Silverheels, a Canadian Mohawk Indian. Silverheels, who died in 1980, played the character in the long-running television series in the early 1950s and in two Lone Ranger movies.

The Jerry Bruckheimer film, directed by Oscar winner Gore Verbinski, re-imagines the original tale. Armie Hammer joins Depp as the masked man, but unlike previous Lone Ranger movies and the television series, the tale is told mostly through Tonto’s eyes.

The movie, which was filmed partly on the Navajo Reservation, received approval from that tribe.

“The Lone Ranger” premiere will take place on June 22 at Disney California Adventure Park in Anaheim, California. Time Warner Cable will stream the premiere live.

Disney is underwriting the entire cost of the premiere, so 100% of the proceeds from ticket sales will go to the scholarship fund. Tickets can be purchased from the American Indian College Fund.

Your ticket entitles you to walk the red carpetalong with stars, celebrities, filmmakers and other premiere guests. And, of course, you will then be among the first to see the World Premiere of this  motion picture.  

Inside the theater, you will receive concessions to enjoy during the film (A Subway sandwich, popcorn and a drink). Then, once the movie is completed, you can play in Cars Land and enjoy World of Color, both open exclusively only to the premiere guests.

If you can’t afford a ticket to the official premier, you can still come to the park and witness the arrivals of premiere guests and celebrities while standing on Buena Vista Street and Hollywood Boulevard by purchasing an admission ticket to the Disney California Adventure park. However, you will not be able to view the actual film screening.

Disney California Adventure park gates open at 9:00 a.m. on June 22. Guests who have an admission ticket to California Adventure park will be able to enter the park and line up behind the barriers of the red carpet if they wish. Space along the red carpet is first-come-first-served and guests are not permitted to save spaces along the carpet. 

In addition to the official Disney premier of the “The Lone Ranger” movie, the Comanche Nation will be hosting another special premier of the movie before it goes nationwide Juy 3. Coffey, who has endorsed Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Tonto in The Lone Ranger, says the Comanche Nation is hosting the special screening of the movie in conjunction with Disney and tribal leaders from the U.S. and Canada are coming to Southwest Oklahoma to see the film and spend an evening with members of the cast.

“The Lone Ranger” also stars Tom Wilkinson, William Fichtner, Barry Pepper, James Badge Dale, Ruth Wilson and Helena Bonham Carter. It opens in theaters July 3.