Sensitivity training in Neverland
By J. Kelly Nestruck
While Tiger Lily's tribe is still in both productions, its members no longer bear any resemblance to North America's aboriginal peoples.
So: What's up, Tiger Lily? Well, while Peter Pan remains a beloved and enduring work of children's (and adults’) literature, the century-old story of the boy who would not grow up has been causing controversy of late.
Back in December, Neptune found itself in hot water when a casting announcement for its production of the 1954 musical version went out calling for “Pirates/Indians.” After being contacted by angry artists, artistic director George Pothitos quickly sent out an apology: “It was an oversight on our part, not realizing how offensive that might be to some first-nations people.”
“At the time, we had just put out a casting call and the designs weren't in yet,” he says. “So I decided we'd produce our own Neverland, with a tribe not based on any one ethnicity.”
In Pothitos's version, which opened yesterday, Tiger Lily's mystical tribe is inspired by paintings by primitivist Henri Rousseau as well as bits and pieces of Mayan, Egyptian and East Indian culture.
No one will be wearing a feather headband or saying “ugh.” In fact, all mentions of “Indians” have been removed from the dialogue, which had already been updated to eliminate “redskins” years ago.
But I'm not sure Amazons or a mishmash of "Mayan, Egyptian and East Indian" cultures is an ideal solution. I still say make the tribe a fictional one--one with no ties to reality. That way there's no chance of offending anyone.
The "of late" part is off too. I believe Indians have been protesting the 1953 Disney movie for decades--perhaps since the 1960s.
For more on the subject, see Peter Pan = Harmless Fantasy? and Stereotypes in Peter Pan Sequel.
Below: You can see the Indian replacements at the video's 0:44 mark. They have headdresses like Indians and grass skirts like Polynesians. Not an improvement, people. If anything, it takes the "Indians = pirates and fairies" problem and extends it to indigenous people worldwide.