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Does Johnny Depp's Tonto make The Lone Ranger a 'minstrel show'?

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Johnny Depp, as Tonto, with Armie Hammer as John Reid, a lawman who has become a masked avenger, from the movie The Lone Ranger. (Disney/Associated Press)

Disney's new adventure film, The Lone Ranger, rides into theatres on Wednesday, but controversy swirls over Johnny Depp's portrayal of the title character's native sidekick, Tonto.

Though, according to Depp, his version of Tonto was meant to be more culturally sensitive than past depictions, some critics are dismayed at the character's use of affected pidgin English, as well as the costume and makeup choices, including a prosthetic nose and painted white face.

CBC film critic Eli Glasner called the whole film a "mess of a minstrel show." 

The overall look chosen for Depp was directly inspired by artist Kirby Sattler's paintings. When the look was first revealed to be a near-exact real-life replica of his work I Am Crow, Sattler claimed that the work is not historically accurate nor was it intended to be. Sattler said that the subject was meant to be a mythical figure from a fictional tribe.

Depp has said that he has native blood in his family tree, and last year the president of the nonprofit group Americans for Indian Opportunity adopted the actor into her family and tribe as a gesture of goodwill

Also, film critics have remarked on similarities to the Depp's swashbuckling role as Captain Jack Sparrow in The Pirates of the Caribbean, from the choice of costuming, Depp's trademark quirky mannerisms and his odd deadpan delivery.

Is Depp's Tonto an improvement on a stereotypical role or is it a stylized version of the age-old native archetype? Share your thoughts in the comment field below.

(This survey is not scientific. Results are based on readers' responses.)

Tags: Arts & Entertainment, Community, POV

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