I don’t usually pay attention to Hollywood gossip, or most Hollywood movies. Today, however, a headline in a news feed caught my eye, “Warner Bros. Plans International and Multi-Racial Peter Pan”. It turns out, in the classic styling of Hollywood lack of imagination and creativity, Warner Brothers is making a remake (of a remake of a remake) of the story of Peter Pan with director Joe Wright. The buzz they are trying to create around this remake (called “Pan”) is that this will be a much darker, deeper, untold interpretation of the story of the character of Peter Pan, and will include an “international/multi-racial” cast of characters. Yet, so far the cast is sounding like a typical Hollywood white wash and includes Hugh Jackman for Blackbeard and Garrett Hedlund for Hook. Meh, pretty underwhelming story so far, but it gets even better…
For the role of Tiger Lily, it is not Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs (Rhymes for Young Ghouls), nor Nikki Gould (Degrassi) nor Kaniehtiio Horn (18 to Life, Hemlock Grove, The Trotsky) nor any other Indigenous actress who is being cast to portray the only female Indigenous character in the story. In fact, as Hollywood gossip rags have been reporting for the last 24 hours, the role of Tiger Lily will be played by Rooney Mara, the white actress from the Hollywood remake of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
Hold up, what? Let’s break that big pile of white snowflakes down. A white Hollywood director and studio has cast a white actress to play a role written by a nineteenth century white man that, albeit is nothing close to a real Indigenous person, is technically supposed to represent one? Oh, ok.
As my blood boiled, I took to twitter for a brief release. Difficult to sum up in 140 characters the complexity of the issue, but I managed to squeeze something out before I collapsed in a heap of exasperated disgust, thinking of the layers of problems with this Hollywood debacle.
After a cup of tea and some deep breathing, I braced myself to search the #TigerLily #PeterPan hashtags. Sure enough, amidst the outrage and outcry from the socially conscious ranks, there were white people tweeting rationales such as, “if Quvenzhane Wallis can be cast as Annie, why can’t Rooney Mara be cast as Tiger Lily #getoverit”. There were a few Indigenous voices pointing out the fact that the character of Tiger Lily is so racist, that it is hardly worth sweating over the lack of representation in the casting. And many who tweeted about how tired they are of the lack of representation and constant white washing of Hollywood.
It is certainly no shock that for representation of non-white characters and actors, Hollywood gets a giant F for Fail. Which leads to the deeper issue of the character of Tiger Lily herself. Not unlike Tonto, who was portrayed just last year by the non-Indigenous actor Johnny Depp, Tiger Lily is an extremely problematic trope that perpetuates stereotypes and erases the true depth, dynamism, diversity and complexity of real Indigenous people. She is Hollywood’s quintessential Indian Princess. She is quiet and demure, at the same time mischievous to the point of devious. She belongs to the made up tribe with an ultra racist name – the Picanniny Tribe. Most importantly, she is nothing like the Indigenous women and girls I know.
Rather than being true to the hype of multi-culturalism Joe Wright and Warner Bros. are trying to claim for Pan, and challenging this archaic, played out stereotype of Indigenous people by casting an Indigenous actress and fleshing out the character to be something a little bit closer to reality, Warner Brothers is sticking to Hollywood tradition and painting the character with a giant white brush. Who knows what kind of character she will actually be, and frankly, at this point, who cares?