Why “The Lone Ranger” is Not “Just” a Movie, By Michelle Shining Elk
It keeps being said about the upcoming movie “The Lone Ranger”, “it’s just a movie,” it’s not going to “change the world.”
Well, I wish that were true and I wished this were JUST about “a movie.” But sadly, it goes deeper and farther back than many realize, or have taken the time to think about, especially when considering how we, as Indian people, are perceived by mainstream society and the perpetual time warp we are stuck in because of how we continue to be portrayed in film and television.
It’s all about framing and I advocate re-framing the negative images. Framing…what do I mean? Framing can be subtle or invisible, harmful stereotypes or perceptions that cause problems that are more overt that manifest themselves in all degrees of subtlety. How is the damage done – because all of these things are embedded in the public psyche and roll into our modern day existence and continue to be seen everywhere. We are trapped in a muddy time warp and defined by stereotypes and historical images that are NOT accurate by any stretch of the imagination. The “Injun say how!” way Depp delivers his character “Tonto” is NOT helping, no matter how much “courting” he and Disney are doing to get “in good with the Indians.”
Any group that has an interest in obtaining or achieving success in the world, at large, understands that portrayals have consequences. Hollywood continues to portray American Indian people in ways that perpetuate damaging stereotypes and inaccurate depictions of who we are and that, in turn, affects all outside interactions, perceptions and understandings that mainstream has of us – worldwide. Lost and seemingly unknown is the fact that we are current, educated, relevant, multi-dimensional people and tribal nations, and NOT the images, symbols, portrayals or caricatures that exist and constantly used in film and television to define us.
This is about the baggage, the Hollywood baggage we can’t seem to ditch. The baggage that, has for decades, created inaccurate perceptions of who we are as the first people of the Nation. Baggage we have been trying to dump for years.
Hollywood caters to popular culture – popular culture is comprised of predominantly members of the majority (we are not in this mix, just so you know). In this, Hollywood has, and continues to, propagate misinformation, skewed perspectives and inappropriate depictions of who we truly are as NDN people.
What’s the big deal you might ask? Well, the big deal is that we continue to end up being defined by inaccurate depictions and skewed perspectives because the members of the majority (the group that doesn’t include us) internalizes the misinformation and depictions as fact and the way things are (when it’s completely not the way things are), because they do not know any better. It’s a sad fact, but true.
It’s time we change the public paradigm about who we are — the one shaped by Hollywood and non-Natives. People keep saying, “It’s JUST a movie”. Well, I’m not JUST an Indian willing to accept perpetuating damaging stereotypes for the sake of “JUST A MOVIE”. Depp made promises that he would move away from damaging stereotypes and provide a more well-rounded “Tonto” but he failed and regardless of what anyone wants to say, or think, Depp’s been driving this bus since the day he became an Executive Producer and took the film off the “dead” projects shelf.
Some say “It’s a new era, modern day movie, made to entertain…get over it.”
I say, “Yes, it is a new era, modern day movie, but when is our cultural group going to stop being the entertainment?” It’s a new era, but yet we continue to face, and be forced to deal with these old problems. When is enough, enough?
It’s time that we place ourselves into the American society equation as a contemporary force and as a people of interest that is nothing like the damaging stereotypical images and depictions that continue to define us.