Only hours after a new trailer for "Lone Ranger" debuted online last week, the blogosphere flew into a tizzy questioning whether Johnny Depp's portrayal of Tonto is racist.
In the upcoming western, Depp's Tonto -- the sidekick to a masked Texas ranger played by Armie Hammer -- sports face paint and a headdress with a dead raven atop it. Some critics have taken issue with both Depp's costume and the fact that the role was not portrayed by a Native American actor. (For the record, Depp told Entertainment Weekly that in 2011, "I guess I have some Native American somewhere down the line.... My great grandmother was quite a bit of Native American, she grew up Cherokee or maybe Creek Indian.")
But Depp's co-star, 26-year-old Hammer, is puzzled by the claims of cultural insensitivity. The actor turned up in Las Vegas with Depp last Wednesday to unveil 20 minutes of new footage from the film to movie theater owners at CinemaCon. Before being honored as the Male Star of Tomorrow at the conference a day later, Hammer defended his film's depiction of Tonto, saying that the cast worked with many Native Americans on the project.
"They were nothing but excited about it. They loved it -- they're thrilled," the actor said in an interview. "It’s so funny, because every Native American we talked to was like, ‘This is awesome! I’m so excited.’ And every white person we talked to was like, ‘How dare you cast a non-Native American?’ It’s like, the white people are the one who have the problem, but the Indians -- the Native Americans -- are like, ‘This is great. We love it.’"
"Lone Ranger," which hits theaters over the July 4 weekend, has already faced a number of hurdles. In 2011, Walt Disney Studios was forced to halt production on the film and slash the movie's growing budget. The studio says the film ended up costing about $225 million to produce.
In a summer filled with big-budget spectacle, Hammer believes "Lone Ranger" will stand out because at its core its "very grounded."
"There are so many movies coming out this summer -- "World War Z" and several big fictional films -- but this movie seemed more non-fictional," he said. "It’s very grounded. It’s very real. It’s about two guys and the stresses and pressure of having to work together and deal with each other and not liking each other but then realizing you need each other. It’s people. It’s not boom-boom and explosions."