Posts Tagged ‘movie’

Johnny Depp as “Greasepaint Injun”?


by Glenn Lovell

There’s much gnashing of teeth in our house during Cleveland Indians games. It’s not that we can’t stand the team, it’s their longtime logo, that deeply offensive caricature of a Native American “Injun” ‒ red face, stupid grin, prominent, beak-like nose.

How it is possible in the age of political correctness that a major league team could get away with something so insulting?

Answer: In the 21st Century, the PC police have still not gotten around to our country’s indigenous people. Native Americans remain the one minority it’s still OK to ridicule. Imagine the hue and cry if a team wore a WorlJohnnyDeppTontod War 2 caricature of a Japanese (buckteeth, thick glasses, slit eyes) or an African-American on its jersey?

Need more proof of our culture’s lingering insensitivity to American Indians?

Look no further than Disney’s “The Lone Ranger,” due out this summer. If I’m not mistaken that’s Johnny Depp in the old Jay Silverheels role of Tonto, the Indian who saves a Texas lawman and then rides into battle with the masked man. Last I checked Depp was a Caucasian, as in lily W-H-I-T-E. Who over at Central Casting could have thought it was a good idea to have Depp slather himself in bronze body makeup to play an Indian? His Tonto ‒ under long black wig, artfully applied war paint, stuffed-crow bonnet ‒ looks like Captain Jack Sparrow crossed with Conan the Barbarian. (Not surprisingly, Depp’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” makeup man had a hand in the preposterous get-up.)

Depp’s justification? As a kid, he hated the way Tonto was portrayed in the Lone Ranger TV series and, since there’s a drop or two of Indian blood coursing through his veins ‒ “maybe Cherokee or some Creek” ‒ he’s taken it upon himself to right this wrong. No mention of the millions he’s being paid or a monstrously oversized star ego.

Of course, Depp is only the latest in a long line of “Hollywood Indians.” (See “Dances with Deception” on this site.) Other white actors who claim Indian heritage to justify taking Indian roles include Val Kilmer, Lou Diamond Phillips, Fred Ward and Frederic Forrest.

Reminds me of an interview I did with Doris Leader Charge, the Lakota Sioux teacher who appeared in “Dances with Wolves.”

“White actors playing Indians are all Cherokee,” she laughed. “That must have been one huge tribe.”

The $200 million-plus “Lone Ranger”  is hardly the first Disney film to feature whites as Indians. The practice goes back to the studio’s “Tonka” (1958), starring Sal Mineo as a Sioux warrior, and includes “Running Brave” (1983), with Robby Benson as Sioux Olympian Billy Mills.

“If asked to do it again, I would in a second,” said Benson when I asked him about whites playing Indian roles. “It’s what an actor does, become something they’re not. If you’re worried about the political fallout every time you take a role, you might as well hang it up.”

Make yourself heard if you’re offended by this ongoing practice — by boycotting the film.

Coming to a Theater Near You: Wholesale Paranoia


by Glenn Lovell

The audience emitted a collective gasp Friday morning as the exit door at the front of a northern California multiplex opened about 30 minutes into “The Dark Knight Rises.”

With CNN updates of the overnight massacre at a theater in Aurora, Colorado, fresh in our minds, those of us in attendance at Santa Clara’s Mercado 20 had our focus snapped when a pool of bright sunlight poured into the auditorium. A figure exited furtively through the door, leaving it slightly ajar for a minute or two, and then reentered ‒ the shooter’s M.O. at the midnight showing of the new Batman movie.

Of course it turned out to be a theater employee doing a security check.

Still, for a moment there, suspecting a copycat crime, our hearts were in our throats.

I’m sure the above scenario will play out at hundreds of theaters around the country this weekend.

And while they won’t admit it, box office analysts are right now wondering how the horrific events in Colorado will affect ticket sales. Will they keep people away from the dour, plenty violent Warner Bros. release co-starring Christian Bale and Anne Hathaway? Will potential ticket-buyers say, “Not on your life ‒ I go to the movies to escape, not to be reminded of a real-life movie massacre!”

Or, God forbid, will the mass shooting add a filament of danger, morbidity, making the new Batman saga all the more alluring to young thrill-seekers?

Warner Bros.’ front office won’t own up to this, but I would wager it’s secretly banking on the latter response. After all, it’s in the business of making money and “The Dark Knight Rises” was highly touted as the summer blockbuster.

To the studio’s credit, it wasted no time yanking most of the trailers for its fall release “Gangster Squad.” The tease includes a St. Valentine’s Day Massacre variation, with gangsters positioned behind a movie screen, spraying an audience with machine-gun fire.

Will the sequence be cut from the feature, much as domestic terrorism scenes was deleted from movies released in the wake of 9/11? Probably. Audiences wouldn’t be able to look at it now without being reminded of the carnage in the Aurora strip mall.



Two films, one about to open, the other still on the drawing board.

Both bad ideas.

Do we really want to see a redo of Sam Peckinpah’s ultraviolent “Straw Dogs,” this time pairing James Marsden and Kate Bosworth in the Dustin Hoffman-Susan George roles?

Do we really want to see Tom Hanks (white, middle-aged, righteous) battle Somali pirates (black, young, fanatical) in an announced high-seas docudrama that graphs “Black Hawk Down” to “Cast Away”? If Spike Lee hasn’t already spoken out against this project as a potential minefield of Third World stereotypes,  stay tuned.

In 1971, when we were still in Vietnam, Peckinpah’s “Straw Dogs” tapped into something dark and primordial, the lengths to which an ordinary man will go to guard hearth and home … the bloodlust that’s in each of us, whether we want to own up to it or not.

Not surprisingly, “Bloody” Sam was then reading Robert Ardrey’s “Territorial Imperative,” which, for the director, answered questions about why one man shoots another when he steps over a boundary line.

If the trailer for his long-delayed September release is any indication, Rod Lurie is attempting to goose his stalled feature career with a baldly cathartic home-invasion thriller a la “Last House on the Left” and “Cape Fear.” Peckinpah’s rite of passage, whether you bought into it or not (I didn’t), was deeply personal, as much self-justification as self-analysis. Lurie’s updated “re-imagining” smacks of crass commercialism.

While the basic situation and signature battle cry (“I will not allow violence against this house!”) remain intact, Lurie and company have made a number of telling changes. In the original, Hoffman’s David Sumner is a mathematician on sabbatical in Cornwall, England, at its most foreboding. Hoffman, no one’s idea of a classically handsome leading man, made perfect sense. His Sumner was fussy, nattering, preoccupied. The remake takes place in Shreveport, Louisiana, thereby forfeiting much of the stranger-in-a-strange land paranoia. (The novel, “The Siege of Trencher’s Farm,” hinges on British resentment of brash, know-it-all Yanks.) Marsden’s Sumner, besides being a conventional pretty boy, is a struggling screenwriter. (Like the one who came up with that profession?)

British sex kitten George was cast to type as Amy: trashy, dumb, insatiable ‒ every brainiac’s wet dream. As filmed by Peckinpah, the rape scene devolved into consensual seduction, thereby igniting feminist protest and setting a new standard for screen misogyny.

Bosworth looks to be an improvement. Let’s hope Lurie has been sensitive enough to let her screams of “No!” mean no.

Somehow, given its exploitation trappings, I doubt that this remake will rise to the challenge.