The title of Sattler’s original work is “I Am Crow,” a reference to the Crow peoples native to the northern part of the American Midwest. In the new film, Tonto is technically a full-blooded Comanche, and Depp identifies in real life as part Cherokee and Creek Indian, based on a Kentucky great-grandmother’s ancestry, so the character is proving to be less historically specific to one tribe than a blend of various cultures and influences.
Sattler himself, who licensed the look of his painting to the filmmakers, tells EW his work is a fusion of history and fiction. “The portraits I paint are composites created from a variety of visual references coupled with my imagination,” he says. “While being broadly based in a historical context, my paintings are not intended to be viewed as historically accurate. I used the combination of face paint and headdress as an artistic expression to symbolize the subject’s essence and his affinity to the Crow.”
The American Indian community has been divided over Depp’s Tonto. Leaders from the Navajo Nation visited the Monument Valley set and expressed support for Depp and the filmmakers, and Dana Lone Hill, a writer who identifies as part Lakota, penned an essay saying she intended to give him the benefit of the doubt on adapting the character, since Depp is known for his fanciful and exaggerated performances.
In another column titled “Why Tonto Matters,” Native Appropriations blogger Adrienne K. expressed the frustration echoed by some other Native Americans over Depp’s characterization, saying there are too few authentic portrayals of Native people in pop culture to accept a highly fantasized version.
For his part, Depp has said his motivation to play the character came from disliking how Tonto was relegated to subservience in the old Clayton Moore/Jay Silverheels TV series. While the look may not be historically authentic, Depp wants Tonto’s character to be honorable and self-reliant.
“The whole reason I wanted to play Tonto is to try to [mess] around with the stereotype of the American Indian that has been laid out through history, or the history of cinema at the very least — especially Tonto as the sidekick, The Lone Ranger’s assistant,” Depp told EW. “As you’ll see, it’s most definitely not that.”
The Lone Ranger, directed by the original Pirates of the Caribbean filmmaker Gore Verbinski and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, opens May 13, 2013.
Johnny Depp, dressed up in full ‘Tonto’ makeup and wardrobe, meets and greets with ‘Navajo Nation’ President Ben Shelly, and Vice President Rex Lee Jim.
In what could be her sixth time collaborating with Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter is currently in talks to star in Disney’s upcoming adaptation of The Lone Ranger, according to the actress’ rep. If a deal is struck, Carter would play the madam of a local brothel. Also circling the Western…