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Depp's Tonto 'A Major Setback for the Native American Image,' Says Expert

An expert tells NPR that Johnny Depp is doing Native Americans a disservice as Tonto in Disney's new film The Lone Ranger.

In a new interview with NPR, Johnny Depp, who plays Tonto in Disney's The Lone Ranger (in theaters today) further muddies his possible Native ancestry. In the past, he has claimed Cherokee or perhaps Creek—he now tells NPR the theorized heritage "could be Choctaw."

But it's the thoughts from Harry Geiogamah, Kiowa, that are more provocative. Geiogamah, a former UCLA professor who served as a consultant on Disney's Pocahontas movies, describes Depp as looking like "a gothic freak."

"It's a major setback for the Native American image in the world," Geiogamah adds, "because that's how millions of people will think American Indians are now."

Geiogamah's appraisal is contrasted with Depp's reiteration that he feels he's bringing "a dignity and a respect" to the role that previous portrayals had lacked.

But Geiogamah feels that the progress that has been made in Hollywood—progress in which he had a hand—is being "pushed aside because a big star wants to play Tonto."

To read or listen to the full NPR feature, visit "Does Disney's Tonto Reinforce Stereotypes Or Overcome Them?"