March 13, 2014

Whitewashing Tiger Lily in Pan

More on the controversial casting of Rooney Mara as Tiger Lily in Pan:

White Woman Rooney Mara Might Play Tiger Lily in Pan, Because 2015 Needed Its Own The Lone Ranger

By Rebecca PahleTo recap what we know about Pan so far: It’s a Peter Pan origin story. It’s directed by Joe Wright (Pride and Prejudice, Hanna, Atonement) and so far stars Hugh Jackman as Blackbeard and a Garrett Hedlund as a young’n'sexy pre-Captain Captain Hook. Deadline described it as a film in which Peter is the “savior of the natives” of Neverland, which I was a little skeptical of, because what movie, in the 21st century, would be so blatantly, toxically racist, on top of clueless enough to think that “Peter Pan, savior of the natives” is an OK thing to present to an audience of millions, many of them children?

Apparently I may have been a little overly optimistic there. Because also falling under the “blatant, toxic, racist, clueless” category: Whitewashing Tiger Lily. I should have seen this coming. Star Trek Into Darkness. The Lone Ranger. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. What a sweet summer child I was.

The way Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie originally wrote his story’s Native Americans wasn’t exactly fair to begin with. They’re stereotypes: Violent, compared to animals, and frequently referred to as “savages.” It’s tough to watch “What Makes the Red Man Red?” from Disney’s animated Peter Pan without wincing.

But Tiger Lily being a problematic character isn’t an excuse to cast a non-Native American actress. Rather, it’s the same as it was with The Lone Ranger: The key to bringing a racial caricature forward to the modern day isn’t to disregard that person’s race but to change the character so they’re not a racial caricature. Jesus Christ. It’s not that hard. There’s something to be said for “loyalty to source material,” but early 1900s racism is not one of the things you need to keep.

"Tiger Lily Doesn’t Equal Human Torch" plus a very long rant

By Felicia DayBottom line, actors of ethnicity don’t get a lot of work to begin with. And that very fact creates a scarcity in the number of actors of different ethnicities to choose from when casting. It’s a chicken and the egg syndrome. In what instance can you point out a role where a Native American actress has a chance to be a lead in any movie? Almost none. So why chase a dream that doesn’t seem like it could come true, because the system would never allow it?

It’s a self-perpetuating reality we live with, so the only way to change it is to break the norm, and cast more leading characters with more diversity. At the very least give roles that are intended to be ethnically diverse to ethnically diverse actors, I mean, BARE MINIMUM, PEOPLE.

So for me, the opportunity to give a leading role that could be a Native American, a possible protagonist role that the audience could relate to and live the story through, to a white actor, is kind of shitty and backwards to me. And that’s why I posted my initial tweet.

To compare Tiger Lily being cast as a white women to Human Torch or Heimdall being cast as an African-American is not equivalent, because I don’t think this issue is about violating or adhering to “lore,” I think it’s about providing more representation. And that’s why I think that the Human Torch being cast as African-American is an awesome thing, because that move evolves Hollywood and storytelling and the Marvel universe.

Remember in the past, lead characters were most likely written as white in the first place, because they were created in an even more white-centric world. Fantastic Four debuted in 1961, segregation was outlawed in 1964. You can’t say that the culture at large at the time didn’t influence the creator’s choices when making these characters! Fast forward fifty years, the culture at large NOW doesn’t match up with the lore from before, and we should be open to changing it.

Tiger Lily, in the book, is actually portrayed in an EXTREMELY racist way. But hey, it could be a great opportunity to re-invent the character as a Native American to be proud of, rather than dodge the issue entirely, and take the role away and give it to a white woman.

Why NOT re-imagine Tiger Lily so that the audience can fall in love with and admire a woman of color? Or reimagine a superhero as an African-American, one among a TON of white ones we see every day? Let’s show the audience that they can live through anyone’s eyes!

Whitewashing, Colonialism, and Hollywood, Oh My!

By Samantha EstoestaThis is not the first time that Hollywood prefers, or specifically asks for, actors or actresses who are white to play roles of characters who are people of color. Who can forget the casting call for Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games trilogy, specifically asking for actresses of white heritage or that the only actor who is a person of color in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender (a tale that specifically focuses on persons of Central Asian, Inuit, South Asian, and Tibetan heritage) plays the villain, Zuko? There is even a list of the 25 infamous Yellow face performances in film.

Before someone starts telling me that Mara is chosen for the role because there are not enough actresses of Native heritage to play the role, here are seven fantastic Native actress that could have played the part: Julia Jones, Amber Midthunder, Teneil Whickeyjack, Roseanne Supernault, Q’orianka Kilcher, Shauna Baker, and Shannon Baker.

Listen, Hollywood, you liking and taking the histories of peoples only to transform those incredibly important histories into a bottom line is just another form of colonialism. Instead stripping people of color of the natural resources (things incredibly important to their existence as a people and their very histories) on the land that they inhibit in exchange for trinkets and small pox, you take their histories, transform it into a Hallmark-esque movie, only to vehemently refuse to give any proceeds back to the people.

We see this every day as people of color, be it Katy Perry dressing like Geisha, Lime Crime’s China Doll make-up line, the ridiculous number of Bindi-wearing white celebrities, and ever-popular “Sexy Squaw” Halloween costume.

Comment:  A couple of tweets on the subject:

tara zhaabowekwe ‏@zhaabowekwe Mar 13
Whether it's Johnny Depp or Rooney Mara, #redface is a disgrace. We're people, #NotYourTigerLily #NotYourStereotype and #NotYourMascot.

Mags ‏@Creekleo Mar 13
Native American women are depicted in movies as beautiful maidens sexually available to white men #NotYourTigerLily

The last point is a good one. No matter who plays Tiger Lily, she'd better not be a typical "Indian princess" from the 20th century or before. I.e., someone who's basically a damsel in distress and a prize for the white hero (or white viewers).

For more on the subject, see Tiger Lily in Peter Pan: An Allegory of Anglo-Indian Relations.

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