Rooney Mara as Tiger Lily on the 'Pan' Poster released this week.

Rooney Mara's Tiger Lily Could Not Be Less Native. That's a Problem.

ICTMN Staff
11/26/14

If this new Tiger Lily is not a person of color, why is her dad so dark?

A poster and movie trailer for Pan, the Peter Pan prequel planned for a summer 2015 release, is giving the public a first glimpse of actress Rooney Mara in the role of Tiger Lily, a Native American character in J.M. Barrie's 1904 play. The visuals have reignited the controversy that broke out in March over the casting of Mara, a non-Native actress, in the role. Reporting on the choice touted the film's "multi-racial" world and "a very different [Tigerlily] than was originally imagined."

But there was concern and even outrage over Mara's casting. An online petition was started to urge Warner Brothers to "Stop casting white actors to play people of color!" On Twitter and other social media, many people voiced disappointment in Mara for accepting the role.

RELATED: Casting Controversy: Rooney Mara as Tiger Lily in 'Peter Pan' Prequel

In our our earlier coverage of this issue, we saw two possible explanations of the casting choice. One was simply the old Hollywood practice of casting white actors as Indians—the traditions of "whitewashing" (casting well-known white actors in Native roles to ensure ticket sales) and "redface" (white actors playing Indians, often by invoking common stereotypes) that have been common from the silent-film era up through Johnny Depp's Tonto in 2013. We entertained another explanation, though: that the filmmakers, concerned by the racist portrayal of Natives in Peter Pan—and it's really bad, particularly in the 1953 Disney film—were trying to avoid repeating it. After all, many ICTMN readers have commented that the character of Tiger Lily is an inherently racist creation, and that Mara might as well take it because no self-respecting Native actress should have to reinforce the stereotype for the sake of a blockbuster credit.

Rooney Mara as Tiger Lily on the 'Pan' Poster released this week.

The image seems to suggest Mara's Tiger Lily is not Native. Aside from the actress's own physical appearance, there's a touch of tartan in her costume; Tiger Lily is the daughter of the Chief in the original story, but it looks to us like this Tiger Lily's dad might be less of an Indian chief and more of a Scottish or Irish chieftain. There is a big, big problem with this reading, though.

The Chief in Pan is played by Jack Charles, a famous Australian Aboriginal actor. Here's what he looks like:

Source: facebook.com/jack.charles.566

The choice to cast Charles as the Chief supports the worst-case scenario theories about this whole mess. Charles clearly signifies that the tribe in the film (originally the "Pickaninny Tribe" in J.M. Barrie's play and book, let's not forget) is non-European in nature. How or why does he have this white, Irish-looking daughter? It's hard to avoid drawing the conclusion that the filmmakers feel people of color are good for supporting roles, but a lead actress must be white. If the filmmakers wanted to avoid the racist attitudes behind the Tiger Lily and Chief characters, and cast a white actress to create a new, stereotype-free Tiger Lily, why is her father the Chief so iconically ethnic? If Tiger Lily's ethnicity doesn't matter, then go ahead and cast Rooney Mara, and give the character a dad who looks like he could have fathered her, given what we know about genetics. Casting a white actress as Tiger Lily to sell tickets but an Indigenous Australian as the Chief to keep the racial other-ness in the original story just isn't right. Rather than an attempt to rehabilitate a problematic character, it is what concerned petitioners originally feared: simple and unsubtle whitewashing, based on the belief that the film would not succeed with a Native actress in a Native role.

And yes, we're braced for the "revelation" of the plot twist that Mara's Tiger Lily came to Neverland from England before Peter did, and was adopted by the Chief. We can see that one coming a mile away. That doesn't negate the cynical nature of Mara's casting, just shows the filmmakers felt they had write an explanation into the storyline.

Here's the trailer:

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Hidden Wolf's picture
Hidden Wolf
Submitted by Hidden Wolf on
Let's get Queen Elizabeth to play hook and a horse to play Nana the dog and a starving Ethiopian to play Peter Pan and all the lost boys can be little girls in lacy dresses. The pirates can be Wall Street brokers and it all happens in Ferguson M.O. during a race riot.

Brian Abel
Brian Abel
Submitted by Brian Abel on
Relax people. Have you seen the ads for the new Annie? She is black and doesn't have red hair. It is a movie. If you aren't happy with it, don't pay to go see it. There are more important issues to get upset about.

talyn's picture
talyn
Submitted by talyn on
@ Brian Abel: Though it seems obvious, the equivalence you propose is false. If you take a traditionally white lead character (Annie) whose race is not critical to the role and cast a person of color, you have expanded the sadly small arena of characters a person of color can relate to/identify with/emulate, etc. If you take a traditionally colored lead character and cast a non-colored person, you have similarly shrunk the already small pool of 'acceptable' colored roles. Interestingly, you could go around switching white roles to colored roles for a very long time before making any impact on the availability of lead roles for white people to identify with because THERE ARE SO MANY OF THEM, and there are more with practically every movie that hits the box office. And that is why it is kind of a big deal for some of us. It is very hard for me to find a movie to take my daughter to where any character of consequence looks like her. She longs for 'golden' hair because she thinks it is princessy. She is young, and I work to limit the impact Disney has on her, but my options are much more limited than seems fair.

Man of Sin's picture
Man of Sin
Submitted by Man of Sin on
Or it implies the tribe is diverse and Rooney's character is half European.

Erasmus Pickler
Submitted by Erasmus Pickler on
How is there any ambiguity here? Their casting of a non-Native is an obvious effort to move AWAY from the profoundly racist elements that are an unfortunate aspect of an otherwise beloved story. I don't think anyone who's seen Disney's insanely offensive 'Red Indians' from the 1953 adaptation could come away thinking that Tiger Lily and the other 'Savages' as they're called can be salvaged. So what this film does is strip them of any association with American-Indians or any other real world ethnic group, depicting them instead as 'Space Elves', to use the TV Tropes term.

annielongtree1's picture
annielongtree1
Submitted by annielongtree1 on
are you dumb or just ignorant? they aren't native americans! are they in america?? nook they're in NEVERLAND. they are natives of NEVERLAND. they don't HAVE to be "people of color" bc its a made up place!!!!!

annielongtree1's picture
annielongtree1
Submitted by annielongtree1 on
im not understanding. people complain & complain about how its racist to portray them as native americans but then you get all fussy when they begin to do as you ask & pull away from the stereotypes of native americans!!! might i add they are natives of NEVERLAND a made up place, NOT america...??? they aren't native americans, they don't have to be people of color!

rabbibubba's picture
rabbibubba
Submitted by rabbibubba on
I'm sorry to say that tribes won't even talk to anyone that isn't Native American. I've tried and tried to talk to Chukchansi representatives to get an upcoming book of mine with a correct depiction and I never talked to them. I used the Chukcgansi lexicon given to me by Fresno State's linguistic department and finally got something by sending the opening half chapter which has the Chukchansi language and FINALLY got a response after over three years of attempting to speak with the tribe. Insularity will get natives nowhere and they will continue to have depictions that they will not like even from people like myself who try to get some input. Insularity is the problem. Do I have to ask permission to pick up a wild turkey feather in the woods? I understand the chip on the shoulder. Really, I get it. The canonization of Junipero Serra; I get it. The doctrine of Discovery; I get it. The problem with my text was that they were offended at the "nobel savage" and "primitivism". Okay, I was writing a historical novel 1850 gold rush. If not noble than what. Savage? Well, they had no cellphones and guns. Primitive? No flashlights. Natives are going overboard and they have tacit disrespect for people who write, depict in art of wear a feather that isn't Native.
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