Why Racial Stereotypes Are Not Always Racist: The Lone Ranger (2013)

lone_ranger_ver19_xlgRacial stereotypes are “simplified and often misleading representations of the characteristics of members of a given ethnic group.”1 Stereotypes can be misleading because there will be individuals in a group who do not have the same characteristics as other group members. It is a common misconception that racial stereotypes are always false. On the contrary, in some instances, they may accurately portray individual members of an ethnic group. Stereotypes are not only negative; they can also be positive.

Gore Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger (2013) has been criticized for reinforcing racial stereotypes about Native Americans. Some critics have called the film racist.2 Tonto (Johnny Depp) speaks in broken English, has a painted face, and is referred to as a noble savage. Although these are considered racial stereotypes of Native Americans, Tonto’s characterization is not racist.

Racial stereotypes are only racist when they are used to characterize one race as being inferior to another race. Racism is “the ideology that humans are divided into separate and exclusive biological entities called races … and that some races are innately superior to others.”3 For The Lone Ranger to be a racist film, it would have to characterize Native Americans as being inferior to white people. Tonto, representing the Comanche Indians, is not inferior to anyone.

One stereotype in the film is Tonto’s inability to speak English as well as a white person. A recurring (and funny) line is when he says, “Make trade.” Tonto is not inferior because of his broken English. On the contrary, he is bilingual, a sign of intelligence, and he has learned a second language without going to school.

Tonto does not have any formal education, yet he has something more important: wisdom and life experience. In contrast, John Reid (Armie Hammer), who has a University degree, is naïve and out of touch with the real world. He refuses to carry a gun, saying, “I don’t believe in them.” Unarmed, he gets shot, falls off his horse and nearly dies. In an earlier scene, he does not realize that a poster for “Reds” is for a brothel, and when he sees the women in the brothel, he does not know they are prostitutes. Reid grows as a human being and becomes the Lone Ranger due to Tonto’s wisdom and influence. Tonto’s characterization as the “wise” Native American is a positive stereotype.

Another stereotype in the film is Tonto’s painted face. Although the style of his face paint may not be historically accurate,4 and the dead crow on his head is a parody of the Comanche Indians, Tonto’s strange appearance is used for comic effect, to make audiences laugh, not to portray him as inferior. Stereotypes arise from past and present observations of an ethnic group, and some of those observations are funny. Tonto, however, is more than a comic character. A loyal friend to Reid, he twice rescues him from death, often risking his own life in the process, even after Reid has abandoned him. Tonto is the hero of the film, a brave warrior who is not afraid to die, a positive stereotype of Native Americans.

Perhaps the most controversial stereotype in the film is Tonto being referred to as a noble savage. In a flash forward scene, he is too old to work, so he earns money in a circus by standing in a tableaux called “Noble Savage in his Natural Habitat.” This term is not negative or demeaning. A noble savage is “a representative of primitive mankind … symbolizing the innate goodness of humanity when free from the corrupting influence of civilization.”5 Tonto may fit the definition of a noble savage, but he is not a brutal one. A white man, Cavendish (William Fichtner), is the brutal savage. He guts Dan Reid (James Badge Dale) with a knife and eats his heart. Cavendish, who killed everyone in Tonto’s village, is the most inhuman character in the film. Additionally, all of the “bad guys” in the film are white men—another racial stereotype.

In The Lone Ranger, the Comanche Indians are innocent victims of white men, but the historical reality is they were a brutal and violent tribe. The word Comanche means “anyone who wants to fight me all the time.”6 According to author S.C. Gwynne, when the Comanche attacked white settlers, “All the men were killed, and any men who were captured alive were tortured; the captive women were gang raped. Babies were invariably killed.”7 The film, however, tells a different story: The Comanche are a peaceful tribe who “didn’t attack any settlements” and only go to war to defend their territory. This is a positive stereotype of Native Americans, and while many Native Americans in the 19th century were peaceful, there are others who were not. Thus, it is not only negative stereotypes that can give us a simplified and misleading representation of an ethnic group; positive stereotypes can too.


  1. Questia, s.v. “Ethnic Stereotypes,” accessed October 31, 2014, http://www.questia.com/library/psychology/social-psychology/ethnic-stereotypes
  2. Aisha Harris, “Johnny Depp’s Tonto: Not as Racist as You Might Think. But Still Kind of Racist,” Slate, July 3, 2013, http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2013/07/03/johnny_depp_as_tonto_lone_ranger_movie_pushes_against_racism_but_reinforces.html
  3. Encyclopædia Britannica, s.v. “Racism,” accessed October 31, 2014, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/488187/racism
  4. Caity Weaver, “Johnny Depp’s Tonto is Based on a White Man’s Painting of an Imaginary Native American,” Gawker, May 1, 2012, http://gawker.com/5906868/johnny-depps-tonto-is-based-on-a-white-mans-painting-of-an-imaginary-native-american
  5. Oxford Dictionaries, s.v. “Noble Savage,” accessed May 5, 2015, http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/noble-savage
  6. Encyclopædia Britannica, s.v. “Comanche,” accessed April 4, 2017, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Comanche-people
  7. Jonathan Foreman, “The truth Johnny Depp wants to hide about the real-life Tontos: How Comanche Indians butchered babies, roasted enemies alive and would ride 1,000 miles to wipe out one family,” Daily Mail, August 18, 2013, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2396760/How-Comanche-Indians-butchered-babies-roasted-enemies-alive.html#ixzz4cIFIGSB9

The Dangers of Casual Sex: It Follows (2014)

it-follows-poster-criticaIn David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows (2014), Jay (Maika Monroe) goes on a date with Hugh (Jake Weary), and after they have sex, a monster starts following her. Interpreted allegorically, the film is a warning against the dangers of casual and premarital sex with the monster representing a sexually transmitted disease.

The film suggests that if you have sex with the wrong person, it can have devastating consequences. After Jay has sex with Hugh, the shape-shifting monster that was following him comes after her. There is, however, a short-term solution. The monster will stop following Jay if she has sex with someone else, so she has sex with Greg (Daniel Zovatto). Unfortunately, this only delays the inevitable. The monster kills Greg, and then starts following Jay again.

The monster is playing a game. Games have rules, and the monster plays by certain rules: “It” only follows one person at a time, the unlucky individual who had sex with the last person it was following. (The game is similar to the children’s game of tag where the last person touched is “It.”) The monster is playing the long game with its victims: The last person who is “tagged” will be motivated to have sex again, giving the monster a larger number of potential victims.

The film can be interpreted allegorically with the monster representing a sexually transmitted disease (STD). Hugh says “It” started following him after a “one night stand.” Like an STD, the monster can only harm people who have casual or premarital sex. Two virgins who get married would never be in any danger from “It.” The monster punishes people who engage in risky sexual behavior.

Casual sex is risky behavior because you might get an STD. Despite the possible consequences, the percentage of young people engaging in casual sex is increasing. A 2014 study found that “35% of GenX’ers in the late 1980s had sex with a casual date or pickup (44% of men, 19% of women), compared to 45% of Millennials in the 2010s (55% of men, 31% of women).”1 The increase in casual sex has led to STD rates reaching a record high in the United States.2 In 2015, there were over 1.5 million reported cases chlamydia, 395,216 cases of gonorrhea, and 23,872 cases of syphilis, with most of the infections among people ages 15 to 24.3 Millions of Millennials have been infected with STDs because of their sexual promiscuity.

Although STDs can often be prevented through the use of condoms, the only safe sex is between two people who are married or in a monogamous relationship. Unlike casual sex (which is usually spontaneous), you can delay having sex until you both go to a doctor and make sure neither partner has an STD. Making sure your partner has a clean bill of health before having sex is the responsible thing to do. It could save you from a life of suffering, and possibly even death.

In It Follows, Jay nearly dies because she had sex with Hugh. She didn’t know his sexual history, and suffers the consequences of her unlucky choice. In the climax of the film, Jay and her friends try to destroy the monster. Unfortunately, with STDS this is not always possible. While many STDs can be treated and cured, others will never go away.4


  1. Jean M. Twenge et al., “Changes in American Adults’ Sexual Behavior and Attitudes, 1972-2012,” Archives of Sexual Behavior 44, no. 8 (May 2015): 2278, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25940736
  2. Jacqueline Howard, “STD rates reach record high in United States,” CNN, October 20, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/10/20/health/std-statistics-record-high/
  3. Ibid.
  4. McKinzie Brocail, “Sexual Healing: Which STDs Can & Cannot Be Cured,” September 11, 2015, STDcheck.com, https://www.stdcheck.com/blog/sexual-healing-which-stds-can-cannot-be-cured/

The Age of Consent: The Deep End (2001)

deependAlthough it is never directly stated in the film, an important background issue in The Deep End (2001) is the age of consent: “the age at which a person is held to have the capacity to voluntarily agree to sexual intercourse.”1 When Margaret Hall (Tilda Swinton) discovers that her 17-year-old son is having a sexual relationship with a 30-year-old man, she offers him $5,000 if he will leave her son alone. As a parent, Margaret would not be faced with this dilemma if the age of consent in Nevada were raised to age 18, the age of majority, when a person “is recognized by law to be an adult.”2

Margaret’s objection to her son’s same-sex relationship is not because of homophobia. She loves Beau (Jonathan Tucker) and never condemns him for being gay. The reason Margaret objects to Beau having sex with Darby Reese (Josh Lucas) is because of the large age gap between them. Indeed, Darby is almost twice the age of her son. Because of this, their sexual relationship violates Margaret’s conscience as it would most other parents.

Consider a parent with a 17-year-old daughter who was having sex with a 30-year-old man. Few (if any) parents would approve of such a relationship. Whether gay or straight, a sexual relationship between a high school student and an adult 13 years older should not be tolerated. With such a large age gap, there is a maturity gap, and the younger person is vulnerable to sexual seduction and exploitation.

In Nevada, an adult (who is not a school employee) can legally have consensual sex with a minor who is 16 or 17.3 The state defines statutory sexual seduction as “ordinary sexual intercourse, anal intercourse or sexual penetration committed by a person 18 years of age or older with a person who is 14 or 15 years of age and who is at least 4 years younger than the perpetrator.”4

Nevada should follow the lead of other American states and raise the age of consent to 18. Under the current law, parents are powerless to prevent an adult of any age from having sex with their 16 or 17-year-old daughter or son.


  1. US Legal, s.v. “Age of Consent,” accessed August 27, 2016, http://definitions.uslegal.com/a/age-of-consent/
  2. West’s Encyclopedia of American Law, s.v. “Age of Majority,” accessed August 27, 2016, http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/age+of+majority
  3. “Nevada Statutory Sexual Seduction Laws / Nevada “Statutory Rape” Laws (NRS 200.368),” Las Vegas Defense Group, accessed August 26, 2016, http://www.shouselaw.com/nevada/statutory-sexual-seduction.html
  4. “Chapter 200 – Crimes Against The Person,” Nevada Legislature, accessed February 17, 2017, http://www.leg.state.nv.us/nrs/nrs-200.html#NRS200Sec364

Similarity Attraction Hypothesis: Griff the Invisible (2010)


Leon Ford’s Griff the Invisible (2010) reinforces the similarity attraction hypothesis: “individuals are most attracted to others who are similar to themselves.”1 Griff (Ryan Kwanten) and Melody (Maeve Dermody) are attracted to each other because they are similar. Not only do they have the same personality type, but they also have the same passion in life: the desire to live in an alternate reality.

At the start of the film, Melody is dating Tim (Patrick Brammall), but she is not in love with him. This is because they are completely different people. She is an introvert; he is an extrovert. But when she meets Griff, it is attraction at first sight. She tells Tim that Griff is like her. They are both “odd” and have difficulty relating to other people.

Griff is attracted to Melody after discovering she has the same passion that he does. When she shares her belief in “parallel universes”, there is an immediate look of intimacy and understanding between them. As Gian Vittorio Caprara states, “people … with similar habits, attitudes, interests, and beliefs” can be attracted to each other “because those shared attributes reaffirm and validate one’s own.”2 Melody and Griff are outsiders in society, but with each other they feel affirmed and validated. They fall in love, and she becomes his “sidekick.”

Two people with similar interests, beliefs, or attitudes don’t always fall in love, but similar people naturally gravitate toward each other. When we meet someone who is like us, we see a reflection of ourselves in that person. Griff and Melody find themselves in each other. With their ability to see what the other characters cannot see, they are soul mates.


  1. Gian Vittorio Caprara et al., “When Likeness Goes with Liking: The Case of Political Preference.” Political Psychology 28, no. 5 (October 2007): 609, http://www.jstor.org/stable/20447072
  2. Caprara, “When Likeness Goes with Liking,” 610.