It seems Hollywood has learned nothing from the barrage of criticism for casting straight actor Jared Leto in his (ultimately Oscar-winning) role as a transgender woman in “Dallas Buyers’ Club” or casting Johnny Depp, a white man, as the Native American Tonto in “The Lone Ranger.” Once again, an actor has been cast in a role that could have been more authentically portrayed by someone with the actual experience of the character: Entertainment Weekly confirmed last week that Rooney Mara, who is white, will be Native American princess Tiger Lily in the Peter Pan remake/prequel called “Pan.”
Of course, acting is “acting” and any actor could hypothetically play a character of any race or gender. The problem is that Mara’s casting is an example of Hollywood’s longtime problem with whitewashing — take, for instance, white, blonde Jennifer Lawrence’s casting as olive-skinned, dark-haired Katniss Everdeen in “The Hunger Games.” Hollywood could have easily found a Native American actress to play Tiger Lily. There are numerous Native American actresses who have appeared in other films about Native Americans, including Q’orianka Kilcher, who starred as Pocahontas in “The New World, ” or Irene Bedard, who was in “Smoke Signals” and voiced Pocahontas in the Disney cartoon. Or, since the character of Tiger Lily is supposed to be fairly young, the role could have gone to a new, up-and-coming Native talent.
Indian Country Media Network notes that the play, book and Disney movie are considered offensive to Natives “for its depiction of a ‘redskin’ tribe, complete with ‘injuns’ who speak in pidgin and say ‘how’ and ‘ugh.’”
Tyler Coates at the blog Flavorwire brought up another good point: Tiger Lily has a pretty terrible role in the original Peter Pan book and movie to begin with. He wrote:
What’s astounding, of course, is that the outrage is about a white woman playing the character Tiger Lily rather than the fact that Tiger Lily is part of the new script at all. The character is not a particularly sensitive or sophisticated representation of a Native American woman … Disney’s popular animated film version was not better; while Tiger Lily herself is visibly Native American, she doesn’t utter a line of dialogue.
Other Peter Pan adaptations, like “Hook,” have avoided the Tiger Lily characters entirely. Since she appears in the original source material, it is more understandable that director Joe Wright and screenwriter Jason Fuchs put Tiger Lily in the remake. But the whitewashing of a Native American character, whatever the reason, is a disappointment.
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[Image of Rooney Mara via Getty]