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.
From the story’s original editors: Late last week we received an unexpected call from our New York-based correspondent Simon Moya-Smith: He had obtained press credentials for the copy,000-a-ticket gala premiere of The Lone Ranger at Disneyland in Anaheim, outside of Los Angeles. He attended and was one of a few Native journalists on the scene for an event tied to a film that has sparked nearly endless debate in Indian country. We didn’t know what to expect — would he speak to Johnny Depp, who plays Tonto in the film and who has proven unresponsive to ICTMN’s invitations? Would he get to see the movie? Would anybody even talk to him? “Give it a shot,” we said. “It’s going to be a crazy circus. Get what you can.”
Anaheim, CA–At about 4 p.m., some slippery lookin’ reporter with a double chin and gigantic sweat beads on his brow asked me which outlet I was working for.
“Indian Country Today,” I blurted.
“Hoping to interview Johnny Depp then?” he buzzed.
“No, man,” I said. “I’m here for the Ceremony. There’s going to be a fire later, and tobacco and spirits and all kinds of goodies. So keep the camera ready. They’re bringing in the wood now.”
My conversation with the portly camera handler was quick and ugly. Good, I thought. Talking to him was a waste of my time; I needed to watch this whole scene take shape. We, the journos, were huddled together like cattle ready for the slaughter. And any musician-turned-reporter will tell you that there’s very little difference between a press pit and mosh pit: throw your elbows. Avoid the wiggy drunkard in the middle. Gain the upper hand by staying low beneath the frenzy. Occasionally you may suffer a knee to the mouth, but it’s all in the name of The Story.
On my way out of the red carpet area, I caught a sudden glimpse of the film’s producer, Jerry Bruckheimer. He was straggling far behind the herd of ticket holders; the B-list celebrities and even the stars of the film had long made their way to end of the path, which, it occurred to me, was the exact shade of blood. Jerry B. was talking to a gesticulating show host who seemed too jittery in her posture not to be doped up on caffeine or coke or Red Bull. A moment later, I swooped in like a vulture hoping to steal some last scraps of meat (or at least nibble on the bone) of what looked like a rich interview. The Disney gods favored me that day, because as soon as I walked to the metal partition separating Bruckheimer from myself, the interview between Jerry and the frazzled reporter was over.
“Sweet Jesus, Jerry, do you have a second?” I shouted. “Indian Country Today. Can I ask you a few questions?”
My curious cry caught him off guard (as you want to do as a reporter in high-octane, red carpet situations like this — if you don’t grab their attention, they’ll keep on truckin’ and you’ll miss some seriously good comments or wisdom).
Bruckheimer obliged, and then I went in with the business that mattered to me. I asked the question that has been gnawing at so many of us from day one:Why?
“Why should Native Americans support this film? Why should they watch it?” I asked.
“It’s a retelling of a tale from a whole different perspective,” he said. “… From a Native American telling of the tale.”
Then zip. He was gone.
Anaheim, California–“Ah, god! Jesus!” I shouted. “Here they come!” Several reporters behind me clawed at my back to see what the Hell this savage reporter was staring at. Suddenly, a gaggle of white kids, clad in faux Native garb and face paint, sauntered down the red carpet; Mom dancing jubilantly in front of them, snapping photographs and goading reporters with mics to interview her brood.
They had Ritalin grins and privilege in their eyes … but also ignorance – yes, I knew it had to happen. Someone had to do it. Costumed-bodies crowded the red carpet, and wherever there’s face paint and fringe, there will be a white Indian. You can bet your ass, slick. #Halloween.
But I don’t want to get into that now. First thing’s first: the cleavage.
The Lone Ranger has caused a serious division in Indian Country, but we’re no stranger to that, are we? Divide & Conquer. We know the phrase – all too well. Nobody on this goddamn continent knows the detriments of the D&C quite like the indigenous peoples of this place, our place. “Remove the head and you kill the body.” That might’ve worked in 16thCentury Europe, but not here. No. You remove the head we honor it and then sprout another. We’re relentless like that. We’re the rock in the American shoe. Rumor has it that, at least once a week, President Andrew Jackson would wake up and find several stones in his boots. Jagged Toe Jack, they called him, and so do I.
I digress. … We were about to discuss the bathroom scene before we went on some odd rant about the DCs and heads and Jagged Toe Jack, the bastard.
After the wildly luxuriant premiere, we ended up at the Piano Bar in Hollywood. I was completely stoned. “When in Rome,” they say. And I certainly was in the back alleys of Rome that day. The premiere was over – for good or vicious ill, and I found myself reflecting on the afternoon, listening to my tape recorded interviews with Jerry Bruckheimer, Armie Hammer, LaDonna Harris, Saginaw Grant and others, when this large black man lunged into the urinal beside me.
“What are you listening to?” he asked.
“I’m not sure yet,” I said. “Some hits. Some flops.”
He stumbled a bit, nodded, urinated and then left without washing his hands, massaging the doorknob on his way out.
Alone again, standing in the narrow bathroom of some seedy dive just off the Sunset Strip, I wondered how I’d conclude this journey, this sojourn of wisdom and anger and edification and booze. Would I endorse the film? How could I? I haven’t even seen the end product, and I never endorse things without trying them on. Right.
Later, I found myself leaning over the bar and writing frantically on several available napkins. I scribbled things like, “Disney is a corporation. Not an advocacy group” and “the [American Indian College Fund] earned hundreds of thousands of dollars today” – which is true. According to Public Education Director Dina Howerdel, the College Fund raised an estimated $266,000 as result of the premiere. That’s what we call a headline in this business, folks – especially in Indian Country.
So it was a pleasant surprise to find this rumpled napkin in my jacket pocket the next morning. “Fine news,” I recall saying as I burrowed my toes deep into the sand of Venice Beach. I had a plane to catch, back to New York, and as I dug deeper into my jacket pockets searching for more evidence of debauchery, I found a ripped parchment with several letters etched into it. The words read, “Keep it pure.” … So I will, and do exactly as my elder in Denver instructed:
“Watch the fucking film and then get back to me. Until then, you’re no expert on it.”
Sweet Jesus, I thought. That’s a solid argument. He should’ve been a lawyer. Cheers.
Below is a selection of images from the photographer; more photos from the protests may be found here.
– CourtneyOccupy –]]>