Ich Bin Ein Tonto: Johnny Depp at 'Lone Ranger' Premiere in Berlin
Thousands flocked to the Sony Center in Berlin, Germany on Friday evening, July 19th, to cheer on Johnny Depp as he walked the red carpet for the premiere of The Lone Ranger.
In the U.S., ticket sales have been disappointing and reviewers have been unforgiving, but the mood in Berlin -- perhaps boosted by the huge response of Japanese fans at the Tokyo premiere just two days earlier -- was far from glum. Those hoping to see the film's cast, and in particular Depp, who plays Comanche warrior Tonto, lined the red carpet with autograph books, cameras and mobile phones in hand. They eagerly yet respectfully waited for the stars to appear and the festivities to begin.
At rather short notice, promoters from Disney studios contacted Eldorado, a western themed “town within a town” just north of Berlin, wanting their “in character” performers to lend an Old West air to the Berlin event. The re-enactors wore period costume: ruffled skirts and corsets for the ladies, and long coats and hats for the men, who were outfitted with prop pistols.
Quentin Pipestem, my good friend and fellow Native American Indian, was also part of the spectacle -- dressed in regalia and playing himself. Quentin, his son Ninawa, and I were the only representatives of our people on the red carpet (unless you count Johnny Depp as an American Indian, as one member of the German press kept asserting).
Hailing from Alberta, Canada, Quentin Pipestem is a traditionalist from the Blackfeet Nation, and a multiple hoop dance champion who headlines the “Indian” part of the show at Eldorado. There he performs, dances and teaches its many visitors about his culture, people and their history, as well as other aspects of Native American life for all of Turtle Island.
When asked what he thought about the film, which from day one has been hugely controversial in Indian country, he wisely said, “I’ll have to decide after I see it.” After the event, he replied with a laugh, “Don’t quote me.”
The crowd was a mixture of all ages. Though most came "plain clothed," there were a number of Johnny Depp look-alikes as well as people sporting cowboy hats, vests and chaps, and even a few dressed as Indians -- or dressed as Johnny Depp's idea of an Indian, which has been criticized as inauthentic. One resourceful reporter even came fully tricked out as Tonto in an effort to attract extra attention. And it worked: As Depp made his way along the line of fans, he paused to compliment his character's doppelganger on his attire and in the process gave a slightly longer interview.
“Tonto is very dear to your heart, due to the fact you have Indian blood running through your veins," an interviewer asked, "how important was it for you to make this movie in regards that community?"
"That was the main reason for me to make the film," Depp replied. "to be able to salute the Native American community, to salute the original human beings of North America, and also at the same time to deliver thrills that were similar to the Pirates of the Caribbean, but with a message."
Later, an interviewer asked Depp why he thought he was chosen to play Tonto in the film. "Because I’m tall," Depp replied, sidestepping the controversy and confounding the interviewer, who replied, “Because you’re tall?”
“Yes,” Depp confirmed. “Because they couldn’t find anyone tall enough.”
Interviewer: "Do you keep anything from the set as a memory once you wrap up?"
Depp: "Yes, normally I kept the costume to put away. I take them back home, to put away from the kiddies, for a rainy day or something like that."
Interviewer: "What about the crows, since they made a couple of birds for the hat?"
Depp: "Yes, I took a dead bird."
There was also a group of fashion students who had been asked to participate, showing off their Indianer and Lone Ranger inspired creations. (Indianer is the German word for the indigenous peoples of the Americas, differentiating them from Indien, meaning an individual from the country of India.) In outfits heavy on feathers, fur and leather, the models elegantly paraded and posed for photos as requested. But there were no further attempts at Indian touches. Perhaps learning from the marketing blunders that accompanied the film's U.S. release, Disney and the organizers seem to have realized and accepted that the film isn’t really about Native Americans -- it's about Johnny Depp playing a parody of a Native American. Johnny Depp's Tonto is not representative of American Indians, nor is it even representative of the original Tonto.
German reviewers have largely ignored the cultural issues, instead criticizing the disjointed storyline, which seems to be secondary to over-the-top CGI thrills, action sequences and ill-placed comedy.
The official release for The Lone Ranger in Germany is set for August 8, 2013.
Red Haircrow is an award-winning author, poet, psychology major and former law enforcement officer of mixed Native American descent (Chiricahua Apache/Cherokee) who lives in Berlin, Germany.