Johnny Depp As Tonto: I’m Still Not Feeling ‘Honored’

By Guest Contributor Adrienne K., cross-posted from Native Appropriations

I guess we can put all the talk about Johnny Depp “honoring” Native people to rest now. ‘Cause it’s been over a month since those first horrendous publicity pics of Depp-as-Tonto surfaced, and more information has been trickling out about Depp’s “inspiration” for his lovely costume. I think we’ll now see just how careful, respectful, and honoring Mr. Depp was with his “research” for his role.

As background, Depp has said in numerous interviews that wanted to change the role of Tonto, and wanted to “reinvent” the relationship between Indians and Hollywood. He also cited his Native heritage–“Cherokee or maybe Creek”–as part of his reasoning behind taking the role. In this clip from MTV news, Johnny describes his plans for Tonto’s character, which, out of context, actually sound pretty good:

He says in the clip:

I like the idea of having the opportunity to sort of make fun of the idea of Indian as sidekick… throughout the history of Hollywood, the Native American has always been the second class, third class, fourth class, fifth class citizen, and I don’t see Tonto that way at all. So it’s an opportunity for me to salute Native Americans.

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“Queen Chief Warhorse, Tchufuncta Nation, Chahta Tribe”

by Guest Contributor Deb Reese, originally published at American Indians In Children’s Literature

I registered for the Healing for Democracy conference yesterday, found a place to sit, and pulled out the conference program. Among the speakers for the Welcome was “Queen Chief Warhorse, Tchefuncta Nation, Chahta Tribe.”

“Queen” gave me pause right away and its use cast doubt on the rest of the information provided. “Tchefuncta” and “Chahta” are not nations or tribes I have heard of before, but there are over 500 federally recognized tribal nations and I don’t pretend to know about all–or even most–of them. Still, “Queen” made me uneasy.

That unease was confirmed when “Queen Chief Warhorse” took the stage and began delivering her remarks. She was wearing a necklace that was supposed to suggest Pueblo Indian or Navajo turquoise and silver. To most, it probably looked like the real thing. To me, it screamed imitation. I wondered where she got it.

Right away, she had most of the audience eating out of her hand. Working with the theme of “healing,” her opening remarks began with calling out the limits of a black/white paradigm. That was fine, but then–for me–her train went off a cliff.

She started using “we” in ways that demonstrate she doesn’t know much about tribal nations and our reservations. One statement after another was problematic. It was a “poor Indians” narrative, living on our “prison camp” and “the projects” reservations.

Her remarks were, in short, a mess for lot of reasons.

Her use of “we” was wrong. Using “we” as a keynote speaker to an audience who, I hazard to say, is fairly lacking in knowledge of American Indians, only added to the already-too-big body of misinformation about American Indians.

I did a quick bit of research and found photos of her in a Plains style headdress. Why was she wearing that?! When I have more time, I’ll do some research on her and the “Tchunfuncta Nation, Chahta Tribe.” Will I learn that the “Chahta Tribe” or the “Tchunfuncta Nation” are Plains people?

For now, I’ll say this:

Healing requires accurate information, not sensational remarks that generate a righteous anger and create or affirm a body of misinformation.

The Racialicious TV Roundup

By Guest Contributor Kendra James and Managing Editor Arturo R. García

Late Night With Jimmy Fallon: Say what you will about Fallon’s “Slow Jam The News” bit (to put it lightly, Fallon’s take on “soul” is no favorite of mine), but featuring President Barack Obama last week paid dividends for both men: Fallon taping the episode at the University of North Carolina provided Obama with a prime audience for his campaign pledge to reduce the financial aid burden and, according to The Washington Post, Obama might have attracted enough viewers to give Late Night its best ratings in two years.

The final numbers for the show won’t be released until Thursday but, of course, the skit has already drawn the ire of conservatives, who will no doubt keep this video handy when it comes time to bust out the “Celebrity President” smack-talk as election season rolls on. (And hey, if presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney wants equal time with Fallon, I say go for it. After all, even Pat Boone released a metal album, right?)

From there, the President returned to the airwaves in a slightly more bipartisan setting, as he turned in another good showing at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, despite being “a 5 on the Just For Men scale.”–AG

30 Rock: In which Tina Fey continues to think that blackface is funny.

Everytime I go and attempt to give this show a second chance I find myself cringing on my couch. I’d given up after the first season–it just wasn’t my kind of humor, and let’s be frank: watching Tracy Morgan just makes me extremely uncomfortable, even if the character is supposed to be a joke. The first time I decided to give it another chance I was (un)lucky enough to tune in to the Black Swan episode. This time–a year and a half or so later–I tuned in because I like live television. For my troubles I received the live television… and Jon Hamm in blackface.

I chose to include this here rather than writing an article, because I’ve already said most of what I feel on the topic of white entertainers using black face for a cheap laugh. That said, it still needed to be mentioned. Whether intended to be satirical or not, whether it’s ‘full’ blackface or not, I don’t find it amusing. I don’t enjoy Tina Fey grabbing a cheap laugh from a historically degrading medium. I don’t understand why Fey felt the need to stick Jon Hamm in blackface multiple times during the live show last Thursday night. I don’t enjoy knowing that somewhere, someone is laughing at the bit without knowledge of the history behind the use of blackface in entertainment.

You don’t say the n-word, and you don’t black up. I don’t get why this is so difficult for white Hollywood to understand.–KJ

Girls: Great news for minority female twenty-somethings: HBO decided to renew Girls for a second season! This means that Lena Dunham gets the opportunity to fix her ‘completely accidental’ all-white casting and add in a WOC. We, too, can bathe in the water our roommate shaves in while eating a cupcake–unless this Black character has filled that promised quota slot that is. - KJ

Scandal: Kendra advised us to keep an eye on this show last month, and based on social-media activity, it looks like she was right; any given Thursday night, my Twitter feed is bursting with people following along. So, courtesy of Tambay at Shadow and Act, here’s a PSA: the show’s first season will be released on DVD on June 12th, presumably along with a Blu-Ray edition.

Tambay also points out that as of Tuesday morning, ABC still hasn’t renewed the show for a second season, but the numbers do seem to favor a return:

It’s telling that ABC hasn’t renewed it for another season yet; the numbers, which aren’t mindblowing, but, from all I’ve read, are steady: roughly 7 million viewers, taking the number 2 spot during that Thursday 10pm hour, behind CBS’ The Mentalist, with about 11.9 million. Compare that to Shonda Rhimes’ other ABC series, Grey’s Anatomy, which comes on the hour before Scandal, with 9.7 million viewers.

With three weeks to go until the season finale, Racializens, how do you feel? Should Kerry Washington and her crew come back?–AG

Bollywood Primetime: Can One Big Dance Number Smash Racism?

By Guest Contributor Sayantani DasGupta

I’m still thrilled when I see Desi (South Asian, South Asian American) faces in the mainstream U.S. media.

I’m old enough to remember a time when a single Desi presence on television (Vijay Amritraj, anyone?) was enough to bring the entire immigrant community to a standstill. When I was growing up in the 1970’s, in the U.S. Midwest, other Indian immigrants regularly found my family by stumbling upon our last name in the phonebook. Passing a fellow South Asian on the street or in the grocery store would result in enthusiastic introductions, exchanges of phone numbers and recipes, invitations to tea or home cooked dinners.

Although our communities have grown to astonishing numbers over the decades, I still engage in “Desi-Spotting” – a clever term coined by Columbia University journalism professor Sree Sreenivasan. Perhaps it’s an old habit, but I’m not the only one. South Asian-Americans in the public eye are discussed and debated, beloved and hated by fellow South Asian Americans: from the politics of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal to Bend it Like Beckham star Parminder Nagra’s appearing on ER, from Archie Panjabi’s groundbreaking role on The Good Wife, to Pakistani filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s win for short-subject documentary at this year’s Oscars for her film about acid attacks in Pakistan, Saving Face. Despite my concerns about America’s fondness for films about victimized brown women, while I was watching the telecast I actually tweeted: “Hooray Desi filmmaker representing at the #Oscars! Nice Salwaar Suit my sistah!”

So, while I hadn’t been tuning in to NBC’s Broadway drama Smash, I actually started watching last week because I heard there was a Desi guy on the show. And as it happened, I was just in time, too. Because I wouldn’t have wanted to miss this week’s huge Bollywood number.

Full disclosure: I have a love-hate relationship with Bollywood movies. As a Bengali, and not Hindi, speaker, I grew up in a household where Bollywood movies weren’t regular fare. Over the years, I’ve actually seen the “Bollywood-ification” of our diasporic communities as a negative thing–a homogenization, commercialization, and dilution of a heterogeneous and complex region with not one but dozens of languages, varied cultural practices, and many rich, classical traditions of literature, film, dance, music and art. Yet the nuances of our regional languages, histories and customs seem at risk of being forgotten under the blinding lights of Bollywood’s pop-culture machine. And of course, the violence against women, the oppressive gender roles, the rabid nationalism, the homophobia, the heteronormativity in (some) Bollywood movies–yea, I’m not a big fan of all that, either.

It also annoys me that the world’s concept of India is filtered through the surreality of Bollywood. It would be like South Asians imagining the U.S. solely based on images of Las Vegas or something. It irritates me that when I travel abroad, European and other vendors often yell “Hey Bollywood!” or even “Amitabh Bachchan!” (the name of a legendary Bollywood actor) after me. It astonishes me that a white American woman familiar with Bollywood movies recently asked me, “Is India really like that?” When I asked her for clarification, she said, “You know, all that singing and dancing.”

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Hail To The Chief!: Racialicious’ Editrix Named 2012-13 Knight Journalism Fellow

By Arturo R. García

Please join the Racialicious team in congratulating our Editrix, Latoya Peterson, who was just selected for a John S. Knight Journalism Fellowship at Stanford University. Latoya will join 12 other Fellows from around the nation and eight international Fellows in pursuing their own proposals for improving the field of journalism, while also taking part in special seminar and independent courses.

Latoya’s studies will cover how to democratize communication and societal participation through the multimedia and text capabilities of mobile technology. She joins colleagues from outlets including NPR, Al Jazeera English (where she has also appeared as a commentator), National Geographic, and The Wall Street Journal Americas, among others. The program, which began in 1966, has hosted almost 800 journalists, and has produced 26 Pulitzer Prize winners.

The big news kicks off a heck of a week for our boss: you can catch her on a panel at ROFLCon this weekend in Cambridge, MA, and she also appears in the latest episode of Mark Anthony Neal’s webseries Left Of Black, discussing the legacy and the lessons of the anger that overtook Los Angeles in the wake of the Rodney King verdict 20 years ago.