This piece was originally published at Indian Country Today. This is the second part of Simon Moya-Smith’s coverage of the Lone Ranger premiere held at Disneyland on Saturday, June 22. To read his first installment, click here.
Anaheim, CA–By 5 p.m. I was completely sunburnt – even my eyes felt singed by the scorch of the Southern California sun. I was seriously depleted of anything resembling energy. I was done. My knees were buckling underneath the weight of my tape recorder, sweat and even that faux black feather that landed ever so gently on my shoulder … No energy to flake it off. I was losing it.
Calmly, coolly coming down the red carpet, past the teen and tween Disney actors, past that juggling long-legged stilt master, was a finely bedecked LaDonna Harris, Comanche, president of Americans for Indian Opportunity. Harris, Johnny Depp’s adopted mother, wore hypnotic turquoise. I could hear the audible gasps of the white reporters around me. They don’t experience turquoise often – not like this. They see it on shelves in Middle American trading posts. Not on bona fide Indians, and definitely not on red carpets at Disneyland.
I spoke with Harris, the whole time feeling the bony fingers of my elders poking at me insistently: “You have one mouth and two ears for a reason. Shut up and listen.” So I did. I asked only questions, if I could, and then thanked LaDonna for sharing a moment with me – Simon, the oft-verbose pain in many asses.
Then along comes Johnny Depp. There was an immediate roar from the crowd, like teens at a TOOL concert. People pushed hard at my back. “Johnny! Over here! Johnny!” The actor’s name was shouted maddeningly … like cries from a sinking boat. And all I could think was, “Who is this lady standing in front of me?”
The lady had appeared almost immediately. I could see her eyeing the white, laminated sign I stood before. It read, “INDIAN COUNTRY TODAY.” She looked at it with a stare & glare, then said, “Here, Armie. Right here.”
Armie Hammer, the actor who plays John Reid/The Lone Ranger in the film, suddenly appeared in front of me, standing tall in a soft-grey suit and with a smile that could melt the hearts of the darkest demon.
I found myself before the man in the mask. … What do I ask him? I thought. I could jab him with something major – like, “What do you know of the plight of Native Americans today?” Or “What does ‘Redskin’ mean to you?” No, I thought. Just tag him with the question I laid on Bruckheimer. I have only a moment:
“Why should Native Americans support this film? Why should they watch it?”
“Because I think this is a great project and one of the few examples when you actually see the Native side,” he said. “You see what happens when, through the Industrial Revolution and the building of the railroads, there was exploitation of indigenous peoples across the entire continent. And this is a movie where they don’t paint it in a positive light. In fact, there’s a very serious thing that happens at the end of the movie, and I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s a moment where you look at it and go, ‘Uh, yeah. We definitely didn’t handle that right.’ There’s no glorification of it. It’s a very real sort of side of what happened, and I think it’s a great side to see.”
Then, zip. Armie moved on and Johnny was gone, slipped past me somewhere behind Hammer during the interview. …Did they plan this? I thought. Was that an intentional diversion?
Who was the mysterious lady?
I didn’t get to speak to Johnny Depp, or even see him up close. But from the roar of the reporters and photographers, and the elbows in my back, I know he was there, in close proximity, just on the other side of Armie and the mysterious lady.