Written by guest contributor Jacueline Kalisch
Hollywood is at it again. If you hadn’t heard, Rooney Mara, a Caucasian actress, is playing the role of a Tiger Lily, a Native American, in Director Joe Wright’s upcoming Pan (2015), a Warner Bros. version of the classic Peter Pan tale.
The casting choice for Tiger Lily in Pan doesn’t come as a shock, but is still completely disgraceful to Native American working actresses in Hollywood. Rooney Mara is a white woman playing a Native American princess, a teenage princess at that; this casting choice isn’t taking a step forward, but in fact it is taking a step back, proving the unfortunate truth that Hollywood loves to whitewash their movies.
Tons of Native American actresses struggle to land roles and now they have again been denied a role that is meant to “symbolize” their Native American culture and identity. Wright responded to the controversy by claiming J.M. Barrie’s novel Peter Pan or, The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up doesn’t describe Tiger Lily as Native American.
“In the book, the natives are described as being redskins, which is a term I don’t really recognize. So I couldn’t work out where they were natives of,” Wright explained. “So I thought, should they be Native American, or should they be African, or should they be Mongolian? And then I thought, well, better if they are from everywhere, that they are all natives of Planet Earth.”
But J.M. Barrie’s 1904 play and novel does refer to Tiger Lily as an Indian Princess who resides with the “Piccaninny tribe” in Neverland, and Oliver Herford’s 1907 illustrations clearly visualize her as a Native American. Barrie, however, did write Tiger Lily’s character as a stereotype of Native Americans. Barrie’s novel and Disney’s 1953 movie version of Peter Pan highlighted the term “redskins”and Disney’s movie version of the story had Tiger Lily’s father drawn with actual red skin. But the offensive term “redskins” shouldn’t have stopped Joe Wright from casting a Native American to play Tiger Lily.
Instead of making it “natives of Planet Earth,” which is suspiciously similar to the attitude #ALLlivesmatter, why not tarnish the racist term of “redskins” by finally representing a race that is real and has every right to be signified in Hollywood? Wright could have taken this opportunity to have a cast that represented the world by not making the lead of this so-called “Natives of Planet Earth” be white. With all the time the industry spends on making remakes, sequels and prequels you would think Wright could have spent a tiny bit more time on eliminating the offensive Native American imagery that Hollywood created in the first place by casting someone from the real culture. Actress Rooney Mara had some words on the matter also, which she recounted to Collider, stating:
“I was like, ‘How is that going to work? I can’t play Tiger Lily.’ Because I always thought of her as a Native American, because that’s always how she has been portrayed,” she said. “I met with [Joe Wright] anyway, because I love him, and I asked how this is going to work. Then he showed me all these images that he had of all these different cultures around the world. He explained to me what his vision was for the Native Village and it just made sense to me. They are natives of Neverland, and it’s a completely made up place. Then it just made sense to me.”
But Rooney: Did it make sense to you when you realized all the different cultures would not be in the main cast, before or after Wright explained this to you? Look, you can have as many cultures represented in the background of the movie as you want, but it doesn’t make sense having an all white leading cast seem multicultural when they are not. Instead of a movie that could have strengthened Native American girl’s self-image and self worth through the heroine Tiger Lily, we are left with another bland, cookie cutter movie that only furthers negative stereotypes and image.
But Pan is not the only culprit of this, in fact, it’s merely one of dozens. Some recent notables of this trend over the past two years include Emma Stone in Cameron Crowe’s Aloha playing a partially Chinese character named Allison Ng and Johnny Depp in Gore Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger playing a Native American named Tonto. Though both Stone and Depp are respected actors who have openly spoken for the acceptance of multi-cultures in Hollywood, I can not understand how it is they could’ve read a script like Aloha and the Lone Ranger and not have been like ‘wait a second, I’m not a ______ American.’
Many fans of these actors have come forward to say that we can’t blame the preformers, as they were not the ones to write the scripts. And while this is partially true – they can’t take all the blame for something they didn’t design – there is still the factor of how each actor could have turned the role down. Stone, Depp, and Mara are all well recognized and well-off actors, there won’t be a point any time soon when they will be short on money or work, so turning down these roles for the sake of diversity wouldn’t hurt their careers, only their chance at making more whitewashed movies.
Emma Stone, Johnny Depp and Rooney Mara were chosen to play these parts because of the name factor, not because their amazing acting skills can portray any race. We have come so far on these issues as a society. Hollywood likes to view themselves as progressive and trendsetting, but here is an instance where they are far behind the times. There are so many great Native American actors, Chinese-American actors, or great actors of any race. There is simply no excuse for what can only be considered blatant racism in these casting processes.
The words feminism, racism, and sexism cross our Facebook streams every day, with video clips demonstrating the ugly side of humans and text explaining how we, unfortunately, should expect more. But shouldn’t 2015 be the best time to be alive for change? For example, celebrities are on their highest pedestal imaginable because of social media. Why didn’t Rooney Mara or anyone who believes in change take a stand against this casting choice, instead speaking out for a culture so often disregarded?
Which leads us back to the question at hand: how did Warner Bros. Pan get away with a white Tiger Lily?
It’s because of us. Why should studios stop disrespecting actors based on the color of their skin? What will it do to their 30 million dollar movie? Simply nothing, because of the people (you and I) paying to see this movie. If the words feminism, racism and sexism mean so to us then we need to mean it when we talk about them. Pledge to be the change and stop giving your money to this racist film casting and to future ones. Don’t let Warner Bros. and Joe Wright get away with whitewashing Hollywood by boycotting Pan. If we don’t hit them where it hurts (their wallets) they’ll never understand that it’s not okay to misrepresent a race by always hiring an all-white cast.
Let’s start a trend, let’s #BoycottPan
[Image via x]