February 09, 2010

Kayla Silverfox in Wolverine

In X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Logan (aka Wolverine) grows up to be a Special Forces type of US soldier. He quits and becomes a lumberjack in some mountain setting in the western US or Canada. He falls in love with a dark-haired young school teacher played by Lynn Collins.

People identify her as "Kayla" and "Miss Silverfox," which suggests she's an Indian. Then she tells Logan an Indian legend about Keukuatsheu, the Wolverine. Other than that, there's no hint of her ethnicity.

Lynn Collins does a perfectly acceptable job in Kayla's few scenes. But she looks like what she is: an Anglo American with a bit of Native ancestry who dyed her hair brown. I.e., like someone pretending to be an Indian. Without the character's name and the legend, you probably wouldn't guess her to be Native.

Why didn't the studio cast an Indian for this role? Lynn Collins isn't a huge selling point to investors or distributors. Not when you have Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, and Danny Huston plus a presold concept in Wolverine. There's no conceivable financial reason for hiring a white actress to play a minor Native role.

What the studio was thinking

You can almost see the racist minds at work. The character got the name Silverfox, the dark hair, and the legend so comics fans would think she was an Indian. But they added the Anglo name Kayla, didn't mention Indians, and cast a Hollywood starlet so other fans would think she was white.

Heaven forbid if audiences saw a big white hunk like Wolverine shacking up with a woman of color. I.e., someone who didn't fit (white) society's image of an acceptable mate. Ohmigod, she might not be rail-thin. Might not have a pert little nose. Stop Wolverine before he commits miscegenation!

It's basically a case of the Indian princess syndrome. In our society, the only good Indian women are sexy maidens. The rest are unpalatable "squaws."

Kayla Silverfox had a few moments, but it wasn't that great of an acting challenge. Any good Native actress could've played it as well as Lynn Collins. Using a Native actress would've added to the idea of Logan and Kayla as two outsiders against the world. It would've made the Native legend that much more believable. And it wouldn't have hurt the movie's sales (see Twilight and Avatar for evidence).

Wolverine is yet another example of Hollywood's casting non-Natives in Native roles for racial, not creative or financial, reasons. When will it end?

For more on the movie, see Debating Lynn Collins as Silver Fox, Another "Native" Actor Discovered, and Silver Fox in Wolverine Movie.

Below:  Hollywood's idea of a Native woman.


Anonymous said...

I agree that they should have used a Native actress to play the role. There are plenty of gorgeous, talented, indigenous actresses who could have done that role, and I'm willing to place money that they didn't even consider that. I'm not willing to make the leap that it was a deliberate and malicious thing, I don't give them that much credit for forethought, I'm more willing to bet that it was a matter of "this is the way it has always been done, this is the way we'll do it". I would have a lot of admiration for a casting director if they broke status quo and decided to set their OWN precedent. What's the chance of that though - when they won't even double check Tinsel Korey's past?

The only disagreement I have in this article is that Lynn Collins dyed her hair FOR the role. I've seen her in roles prior to Wolverine and since Wolverine and on all occasions she's had dark brown hair. It appears to be her natural color. There are dark haired caucasians, you know.

Rob said...

As I've said many times, racism can work on an unconscious level. I doubt studio execs sat around saying or even thinking the things I attributed to them. But these things could've been operating in the backs of their minds.

Given that the hair in my family runs to a dark brown that's almost black, I know about dark-haired Caucasians. I mentioned Collins's hair because most pictures show her with light, reddish, or medium-brown hair.


True, dark brown could be her natural color, and she could've dyed her hair light, reddish, or medium brown. But I'm guessing it's the other way around.