Here are a couple of typical reviews that mention Rooney Mara's role:
'Pan' review: A movie so resoundingly godawful that you have to see it
By Josh Dickey
Rooney Mara's casting as the Native American princess got its share of blowback when it was announced. Politically it wasn't a great move, but creatively it was worse. Mara's icy detachment worked for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but here she just seems weird and slightly mean, the leader of a tribe of mostly people of color who wear ghastly bright rainbow streaks and warpaint and do a lot of coordinated dance-fighting.
By Sandy Schaefer
Pan falls short at being either an imaginative origin story for Peter Pan and/or a satisfying standalone big-budget fantasy adventure, when all is said and done. Director Joe Wright’s usual inventiveness as a cinematic storyteller gets lost amidst the CGI malaise of the film, while the movie’s attempt to craft a more complicated mythology out of the relatively simple Peter Pan story might’ve worked–but would have required a far less conventional and run of the mill approach, in order to do so.
Comment: Now that the movie's out, we can say a few things about its execution.
1) The multi-ethnic "world tribe" of brown-skinned people is nothing new. In fact, that seems to be the default in Peter Pan productions these days.
Alas, it doesn't solve the racism problem. It merely shifts the problem from Native Americans in particular to indigenous people in general.
In almost every production, the pirates are white and the natives are brown. With their ships and guns, the pirates represent civilization--of the 19th century, at least. With their wooden weapons and half-naked outfits, the natives represent savagery. This is a core message of Western Civilization and the latest Pan merely repeats it.
2) Joe Wright talked about how wonderful Rooney Mara would be as Tiger Lily. No one seems to have shared that opinion. Whether Mara was poorly (1st review) or Tiger Lily was poorly written (2nd review), no one liked the character.
I'm guessing Wright didn't think deeply about Mara's ability to play an indigenous princess. I'll bet he thought, "She's small and sprite-like just like Peter Pan. She won't overshadow him as Jennifer Lawrence, Michelle Rodriguez, or Zoe Saldana would. Let's intentionally make her a lesser character so Peter shines as the 'chosen one.'"
Is that how you honor an indigenous character? No, that's how you whitewash one. It's a classic case of how "racebending" a character serves to neuter her.
For more on Peter Pan, see "From Tiger Lily to Green Inferno" and Natives Protest Tiger Lily Casting.
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