The Good, Bad and Ugly of Marketing ‘The Lone Ranger’

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 “The Lone Ranger” debuts in theaters in time for the July 4 holiday, and while Johnny Depp’s decision to play Tonto—a fictional Native sidekick to the white cowboy—has drawn attention and criticism, the film’s release means that all things Native are unusually relevant—and marketable. And that can be a good, bad, and very ugly thing, all at once.

Tonto action figures are already being sold as “Native American warrior spirit” caricatures. The Lego Corporation is pushing its “Comanche Camp” toys. And Subway is hawking plastic soft drink containers with Tonto snapshots that guarantee the image, which is offensive to so many Natives and non-Natives alike, will live on in consumers’ kitchens for years to come. While “The Lone Ranger” film will come and go in theaters, and perhaps to be revived on DVD and in film awards, corporate promo deals will sustain the Tonto image for years to come—and will make millions off of retailing Native stereotypes while doing so.

But it’s not just corporations that stand to make serious profit from the film. Just last week, Jezebel touted a $2,000 Lone Ranger belt created by an “actual Native American designer.” Racked, meanwhile, reported on the same designer, stating that a “Native American chief” made the accessories. A project that features Native artisans would be a great thing (notwithstanding the problematic nature of dissolving all Natives into “chiefs”). Except the artist in question, called Gabriel Good Buffalo, is not a “chief,” as Racked wrote. He’s not “Lakota Sioux,” as Jezebel wrote, either. In fact, Gabriel Good Buffalo is not even Native. Rather, he’s a striking example of how the burgeoning market for Native appropriation and branding operates. Read more here.