Chris Eyre directed 'Skins' and 'Smoke Signals'

Director Chris Eyre: Debating Tonto Was 'a Ridiculous Use of Our Time'

Dominique Godreche
11/30/13

Chris Eyre, Cheyenne and Arapaho film director of Smoke Signals, Skins, and Hide Away, is chairman of The Film School at Santa Fe University of Art and Design (SFUAD), where he also teaches a director’s class. He recently took some time to speak with ICTMN about the controversy over Disney's Lone Ranger, as well as his enthusiasm about the Robert Redford Milagro Initiative, and its impact  on the young generation’s involvement in film.

How do you see the debate on The Lone Ranger, and the issue about Native American actors not being hired for Native roles?

As a Native making movies on Native themes, my opinion is that there are three types of films including Native Americans: The first one is a bad representation of Natives in the movies, and the second is related to a new generation describing their own experience making movies, including my 14-year-old daughter. And the last one, like The Lone Ranger, is a pure invention of the Indian for the masses, without specific history, having nothing to do with Natives, other then dressing someone as people expect an Indian to be -- a pan-Indian composite. So I am not offended -- it's humorous, comical.  Where is the reality of Natives? I see nothing there as a reflection of our reality. It's a total farce, you can see that from the beginning. It could be dangerous if people believe that Natives are like that, but then again, it was not written by a Native -- it is pure entertainment.

Cherokee actor Wes Studi with Chris Eyre

And I laughed at it, as good entertainment. So this debate is a ridiculous use of our time. The Baby Veronica case is a more relevant discussion. Regarding Native actors -- if a Native actor had to play Tonto, it would be worse for him than for Johnny Depp, since this character never existed. And there is such a long history of actors playing Native roles, like Burt Reynolds -- this is nothing new,  thus it does not seem much of a controversy to me. The invention of Indians will continue forever; the Lone Ranger is a fictitious story, just entertainment.

As chair of The Film School of SFUAD, what is your opinion on emerging filmmakers, and the future of filmmaking among Native students?

The Santa Fe University  is part of a large international network, from Europe, to Mexico, which is great. It includes an eclectic group of people, offering a unique reflection of the world, with a larger percentage of Native students than most schools. I teach a directing class, since we offer a BFA in film making, that is open to everyone. We also have two brand new scholarships, Robert Redford Emerging Artists scholarship, and the Unique Voice scholarship, for an individual reflecting the indigenous voice, from anywhere in the world -- this fall, we awarded it to a student from Mexico, who reflects the indigenous voices, and to another one from El Salvador. Both reflect Native voices to the degree we think is part of the Redford initiative, as this scholarship is dedicated to the representation of indigenous voices -- whether Aboriginal or Sami.

And we can see a generational phenomenon, which keeps growing. Everybody wants to have a voice, through Vimeo, You tube, Internet etc. I see young people filming with phones!  We really notice that passion in the school, from young people, among an international group. Any country, tribe, nationality, can be here. And nothing is more enlightening to me than watching this passion. It feeds me and makes me feel good to be here.  I am really glad that more Native people are working in film and music -- the way we are progressing. It takes a whole group of people, with various points of view, to show that there is not just one Native America, but a whole spectrum of places, and people. Today, Native American film festivals are popping up everywhere!

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Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
Are you serious!!!!!!!! What? Chris, if you don't know before that Tonto is a ridiculous BIA and IRA Hang Around the Fort Uncle Tom Scout; then you shouldn't be an First Nation Film Director! It don't take a snobbish wanabee traditional Hollywood Indian to know that! Or any good dog!

nativewomn's picture
nativewomn
Submitted by nativewomn on
Well, if he thinks defending the way we are portrayed in Hollywood is something of a waste of time, and wants to play the 'more important things to worry about' card, he's lost my respect.

cindy 's picture
cindy
Submitted by cindy on
I would like to know from a Native perspective if there have been ANY movies that have in anyway captured the culture of Native Americans?

chahta ohoyo's picture
chahta ohoyo
Submitted by chahta ohoyo on
halito, chris i agree with you 1000percent about 'the lone ranger' being pure entertainment...too many of our people have started taking offense at piddly things they should ignore...i mean, really...every particular thing in white society has all of a sudden become offensive....being negative about every thing leaves one no time to be positive about anything...for example, OUR language, customs, beliefs, ways of knowing... the lone ranger's 'tonto' (which by the way, i believe means 'stupid' has always been nothing but a semi-conscious side kick any way...and i would love to meet the texas ranger who dressed as high fashion as the one in the movies, tv series, comix, anyhoooo....pure entertainment and not even worth taking offense at....

Sharon Anne
Sharon Anne
Submitted by Sharon Anne on
And the man Chris Eyre is standing next to in the main photo is Annawon Weeden (Wampanoag), Native American education-activist

Iain McGinn's picture
Iain McGinn
Submitted by Iain McGinn on
There is very little representation of "real people" anywhere in movies. Social, economic and racially excluded groups are usually represented as stupid or criminal. Most well funded films expensive shiny people driving expensive shiny cars and living in expensive shiny houses. This is a global phenomenon.

ROD BRUYERE-OJIBWE-CREE's picture
ROD BRUYERE-OJI...
Submitted by ROD BRUYERE-OJI... on
COMPLETELY A WHITE INVENTION N DESERVES NO ATTENTION NOR CREDIBILTY N BETTER IF PORTRAYED BY A NON NATIVE! CHRIS WE NEED TO INVENT OUR OWN DYNAMIC DUO TO COUNTER ACT THIS FIASCO AND INSTILL POSTIVE NESS N STRENGTH IN THE MINDS OF ALL WHO HAVE BEEN MIS INFORMED
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