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The Lone Ranger and the Toughest Movie Indian

By Paul Chaat Smith
The National Museum of the American Indian blog

Smith_Everything coverOn March 8, 2012, Johnny Depp passed the audition.

That's when producer Jerry Bruckheimer released the first still from his forthcoming movie The Lone Ranger. Android phones lit up across Turtle Island as we stared at the glowing screens and prepared to render judgment.

By lucky coincidence or shrewd planning, it was International Women's Day.

This is what we saw: Johnny Depp as Tonto, wearing angry face paint and a matching glare that said, "I am probably going to kill you." Also, on his head, a bird. Average size, black. A raven, most likely. Tonto wearing the bird like a hat.

And this is what we thought, in rapid succession: outrageous, shocking, wait, is that a bird?, and okay, pretty fabulous.

Now that Depp (Cherokee?) has the part, and the tentative approval of Indians of America, where does he go from here? The expectations, already sky high by virtue of its being Johnny Depp, are suddenly raised by this genius move of turning a bird into a hat and looking ferocious instead of friendly.

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