March 12, 2014

Rooney Mara as Tiger Lily

Apparently Hollywood didn't learn anything from its casting of Johnny Depp as Tonto. Here we go again:

Rooney Mara to Play Tiger Lily in Warner Bros.’ ‘Pan’

Hugh Jackman and Garrett Hedlund also on board

By Justin Kroll
Warner Bros. has tapped Rooney Mara to play Tiger Lily in its Peter Pan origin tale “Pan.”

Hugh Jackman and Garrett Hedlund are also on board with Joe Wright set to direct.
And:The film will be a new take on the classic story. It is set during World War II and follows an orphan named Peter who is kidnapped by pirates and brought to Neverland, where he discovers he’s destined to save the land from the pirate Blackbeard.

The world being created is multi-racial/international--and a very different character than previously imagined.
This news quickly spread through the mediaverse, with Native and liberal activists raising objections:

Today in Hollywood whitewashing: Rooney Mara cast as Tiger Lily in Joe Wright’s Pan

By Caroline SiedeJoe Wright’s Peter Pan origin story starring Hugh Jackman as Blackbeard and Garret Hedlund as Hook has potentially found its Tiger Lilly. If negotiations work out, the iconic role of the young Native American princess will be played by none other than Irish-Italian actress Rooney Mara. The film is being billed as a “new take on the classic story,” and in this case, that “new take” extends the old tale of Hollywood whitewashing characters of color. (Recently, Johnny Depp tried to skirt controversy by being “formally adopted” by the Comanche Indians before playing Tonto in the Lone Ranger film.)Rooney Mara Lands Tiger Lily Role, Stirs Controversy

By Emma KoonseComments on social media sites such as Twitter revealed anger and confusion over Wright's selection of Mara for the part, with many accusing Hollywood of "whitewashing" films with white actors.

"Rooney Mara cast as Tiger Lily in new Peter Pan film because there are clearly no Native American actresses," Sarah wrote on Twitter. "I like Rooney Mara and am impressed with her work, it's just frustrating how so many roles are whitewashed."

Carey posted, "Person from impossibly wealthy family gets wealthier," after re-tweeting news that Mara would portray Tiger Lily in the Warner Bros film.

Another Twitter user Lauren added," Rooney Mara joins Johnny Depp in 'People I Wish Hadn't Been Cast as Native Americans.'"

Is It OK for Rooney Mara To Play a Native American Character in 'Pan'?

By Matthew Hammett KnottThe internet exploded last night with the news that Rooney Mara was in talks to play Princess Tiger Lily in Joe Wright's forthcoming Peter Pan origin story "Pan." The uproar was immediate--Tiger Lily is a Native American character, while Mara is plainly white.

At first glance, this would seem to be another example of the Hollywood whitewashing that required "Prince of Persia's" lead roles of Prince Dastan and Princess Tamina to be played by Jake Gyllenhall and Gemma Arterton. We all know why it happens, but it doesn't make it any more edifying.

However, is this a similar scenario? Variety reports of Wright's film that "the world being created is multi-racial/international" and that Tiger Lily is "a very different character than previously imagined," adding that actresses including Adele Exarchopoulos and Lupita Nyong'o were considered for the role.

While it bears mentioning that all starring roles announced thus far have gone to white actors, we don't yet know what exactly Joe Wright has done with the role of Tiger Lily or how he envisages this "multi-racial" world as a whole.
Casting Controversy: Rooney Mara as Tiger Lily in 'Peter Pan' PrequelConcerned Natives and culture-watchers of many ethnicities are decrying the choice as yet another redface travesty, much like Johnny Depp's Tonto in the 2013 film The Lone Ranger.

The 1953 film, adapted from Scottish author J.M. Barrie's 1904 play and 1911 novel, has always been a source of aggravation for many Native Americans for its depiction of a "redskin" tribe, complete with "injuns" who speak in pidgin and say "how" and "ugh."

Casting a white actress as an Indian princess in a story that was far from racially sensitive to begin with--this really does sound like Johnny Depp's Tonto again, doesn't it?--was hailed as a stupid move all over the blogosphere and Twitter. "Great to see Hollywood so thoughtfully responding to criticism that it woefully under- and misrepresents indigenous people!" writes Callie Beusman at Jezebel.

Jacqueline Keeler--@jfkeeler--one of the #NotYourTonto organizers, tweeted, "Rooney Mara cast as Tiger Lily in a Peter Pan remake? WT-? Why won't they stop! I need a rest!" Tweeter @fozmeadows wrote "Rooney Mara as Tiger Lily? Right. Because NOBODY IN HOLLYWOOD has Q'orianka Kilcher's contact details. *headdesk*"

While casting a white actress as an Indian character is a familiar kind of disappointing, some folks who are trying to read the tea leaves are seeing something else--a revamped Tiger Lily who isn't Native American at all. This would be a departure from J.M. Barrie's source material, but maybe not such a radical one. Peter Pan's Indians, after all, do not live on Turtle Island, they live in "Neverland," and there is no real reason why they are Indians. And in J.M. Barrie's original play (but not the movie), they are said to be of the "Pickaninny Tribe," which adds an anti-African American slur to the anti-Native "redskin" caricature. It's a blurring that suggests Barrie didn't really care whether he was writing about Indians, or Africans, or African Indians or Indian Africans--he simply wanted a handy caricature and exotic other that might show up in the dreams of white English kids circa 1904.
Comment:  My own snarky tweet on the subject:

How long until Rooney Mara discovers one of her ancestors was Cherokee or Creek or something, and gets adopted into the Comanche tribe?

Actually, I include myself among the "folks who are trying to read the tea leaves [and] seeing something else." The actresses they've considered for Tiger Lily suggest they'll avoid Indians altogether and make the "tribe" multiracial.

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

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