Warner Bros. announced Wednesday that Rooney Mara, best-known for her portrayal of Lisbeth Salander in “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” would be playing Tiger Lily in “Pan,” the studio’s re-imagining of J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan.” Mara wouldn’t be the first white actress to portray Tiger Lily, who is characterized as Native. Sondra Lee played her in the 1960 TV movie starring Mary Martin as Peter Pan and Carsen Gray played her in the 2003 live-action feature film.
#NotYourTonto became a trending topic on Twitter during the Oscars. The “Lone Ranger” was nominated for an Academy Award for best makeup, which was controversial because of Johnny Depp’s casting as Tonto, the Lone Ranger’s Native American sidekick. Depp was criticized for donning redface, the term used for a white actor portraying a Native American, with similar implications as blackface or yellowface.
Pan is a work that’s fraught with racially insensitive themes; in Barrie’s original play, Tiger Lily is a member of the “Piccaninny Tribe.” Piccaninnies are more commonly known as one of the dominant racial caricatures of black children. The song “What Makes the Red Man Red,” made Cracked’s list of “9 Most Racist Disney Characters.”
Variety is reporting that the “world being created is multi-racial/international.” The new story will be set during World War II, and Peter will have to save Neverland from the pirate Blackbeard, played by Hugh Jackman. Garrett Hedlund will play Hook. The studio is holding open auditions to cast Peter Pan.
This news arrives days after Christina Fallin, daughter of Oklahoma governor Mary Fallin, posted a picture of herself in a Native American headdress on social media with the caption “appropriate culturation,” a twist on the phrase “cultural appropriation.” The photo was a promotional picture for Fallin’s band, Pink Pony. After intense criticism, Fallin pulled the photo, but issued this defense:
Growing up in Oklahoma, we have come into contact with Native American culture institutionally our whole lives—something we are eternally grateful for. With age, we feel a deeper and deeper connection to the Native American culture that has surrounded us. Though it may not have been our own, this aesthetic has affected us emotionally in a very real and meaningful way. Please forgive us if we innocently adorn ourselves in your beautiful things. We do so with the deepest respect.
Some background: Native American headdresses were typically worn by Native American warriors. Some nations wear them, and some don’t. They’re considered sacred and generally reserved for special ceremonies and powwows.
A few months ago, designer Walter Van Beirendonck sent models down the runway at Paris Fashion Week wearing exaggerated headdresses with the words “STOP RACISM,” printed across the feathers. It was Beirendonck’s way of critiquing his industry’s penchant for cultural appropriation.