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The Tonto Files: Big Picture Movies

A humorous meditation on Johnny Depp as Tonto by Marc Yaffee of the Pow Wow Comedy Jam
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The Tonto Files is an occasional series of ruminations and riffs on Tonto, a fictional sidekick from the radio days who is suddenly the world's most talked about Indian. That'll happen to a guy when Johnny Depp plays him in a $250 million summer blockbuster (coming June 2013). In this installment, Marc Yaffee of the Pow Wow Comedy Jam lays it down in plain and simple Indianglish:

One thing Indian people know is ever since the White Man first create Hollywood and the entertainment industry, he love to perpetuate many stereotype about Indian people. For many years, Hollywood make believe all Indians no know how to behave properly or speak proper English. For many years, Hollywood not even hire real Indians to work in their big picture movies, or their radio shows. In early days of radio and big picture movies, only best white actors got to play Cowboys. Unknown white actors forced to take roles as Indians. I don't think they even get their name in credits at end of big picture movie.

In 1930s, Lone Ranger radio show was created. Lone Ranger was given sidekick Indian, Tonto. Lone Ranger and Tonto were like Batman and Robin or Green Hornet and Kato or Williams and Ree. Too bad Lone Ranger creators not very bright. For instance, they name Lone Ranger Indian sidekick Tonto. Tonto supposed to be smart guy. However, Lone Ranger creators evidently no pay attention in high school Spanish class. If they did, they would have known Tonto Spanish word for stupid. I think maybe Lone Ranger creators were stupid ones. Also, Tonto, supposed to be son of Potawatomi Chief.

Evidently, Lone Ranger creators not so good at geography either. Lone Ranger show set in Southwest. Potawatomi people of course, live many miles from Southwest, near Great Lakes.

When TV picture box became popular in American houses, Lone Ranger became television show. Tonto actually played by real Indian, Jay Silverheels. Many Indian people remained disappointed though because Jay Silverheels, still got bad lines and had to speak broken Hollywood Indian.

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Now Johnny Depp going to play Tonto in Lone Ranger big picture movie. Like Taylor Lautner, from Twilight movie he claim "Distant Native Roots." This create much controversy. Plus, he going to make lots of money that could be going to Indian actor instead. He no need lots of money. He already have millions of dollars. Own his own island. Own many big houses. No ever need work again. Many people, especially Indian people, wonder: Why he no go make another Pirates of Carribean big picture movie instead of play Tonto? Or, why he no go make another Hunter S. Thompson big picture movie. They think, correctly, that Johnny Depp good at playin’ crazy white man. Many people believe him to be crazy white man. We don’t need crazy white man to play Indian. We have plenty good Indian actors to play Tonto. Why no pick Adam Beach? Why no pick Chaske Spencer? Or, why no pick me? I work cheap and have plenty open days for making big picture movie.

I hope Lone Ranger big picture movie make lots of money. I hope Johnny Depp make lots of money. I also hope after Johnny Depp get paid, Lone Ranger cast has wrap party at Indian casino. Maybe Johnny Depp will drink too much and lose the millions of dollars he paid for big picture movie. That would be good payback, literally.

To me bigger question is not why Johnny Depp cast to play mythical character, that never existed, instead of many talented Indian actors. Good question but not right question addressing bigger problem. To me, bigger question is how we going to get more native big picture movies and plays and TV shows made? How do we support Native artists, musicians, comedians and filmmakers to be more successful? Because most white people no read history books or listen to teacher in school. If we are to reach them with true voices of Indian people, we must speak to them more through our plays, our music, our comedy shows and our big picture movies. So we all need to support Native artists and actors and filmmakers. They make good play or have concert, or make big picture movie, we must attend and support and tell others. We must ask our tribes and casinos to hire more Indian entertainers. And we must nurture the creative dreams of the youth.

I hope I make good point. Bring truth yet have fun. For I believe it is far better to speak with tongue in cheek than foot in mouth.

Marc Yaffee is one-third of the Pow Wow Comedy Jam. He and his fellow comics will next perform at the Tulalip Casino on Wednesday, June 27, at 8pm in the Canoes Cabaret.