When you're Native American and a journalist and something related to Native people gets mainstream media buzz, you tend to get e-mails from colleagues and friends to let you know. The news that Rooney Mara (of "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" fame) is being cast as Tiger Lily in Warner Bros. "original tale" of Peter Pan was no different.
Tiger Lily was the Indian that Peter Pan meets and loves (then doesn't). This cartoon version is the epitome of Hollywood's "Injun" — a red-skin having, broken English-speaking, crossed leg-sitting, peace pipe-smoking cultural melange.
Tiger Lily and all of the other Indians in this version of "Peter Pan" (as well as others I've seen) are stereotypical beyond belief. How? As I tweet-ranted on Thursday, there are some things you need to know about Indigenous people–specifically, Native Americans:
Although similar and connected in some ways, Native Americans come from hundreds of tribes with very diverse cultures and traditions. So, there's not just one Native language, one type of clothing, one style of dance or one ceremony. Native Americans are as diverse as the many European nations–if not more so. Tiger Lily is a sloppy construct, a hodgepodge of many Indigenous stereotypes.
The press release implies Tiger Lily will no longer be Native, which has inspired angry headlines:
"Rooney Mara Cast As Tiger Lily, Hollywood Can't Stop Whitewashing Characters" read one headline. And, a writer at Jezebel, sarcastically wrote, "Great to see Hollywood so thoughtfully responding to criticism that it woefully under- and misrepresents indigenous people!"
All of the OMG, that's so racist! articles are just as bad as Hollywood's whitewashing.
I mean, what do you propose? That we allow Hollywood to cast yet another talented Native actor to play a grossly offensive misrepresentation of an Indian character? Really?!
I'm definitely not giving Hollywood (or, Warner Bros.) credit for giving another lead role to a white actress, but I am glad the 'Tiger Lily' character will likely not be an Indian.
While Hollywood doesn't always get it wrong, they usually do. I would rather not see a legitimate Native actor cast to play a character that falsely represents Native people because it would give legitimacy to a film that doesn’t deserve it.
At least one writer sees the (many) problems with Tiger Lily.
"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," wrote Tyler Coates on Flavorwire. "The character is not a particularly sensitive or sophisticated representation of a Native American woman; after all, the idea of a Scottish author adding a tribe of indigenous Americans to his fairy-tale land is a little uncomfortable, no? Especially given that Barrie’s name for the group is the Piccanniny Tribe."
So, while the well-intentioned, but misguided PC police are up in arms, I'm giving thanks that I won't have to stomach yet another Native American fail like Johnny Depp’s recent portrayal of Tonto in “Lone Ranger.”
But, I won't hold my breath waiting for a Hollywood movie or TV show starring a Native American character, played by a Native American actor, written (accurately) by Native writers that is set in the present and doesn't involve teepees, buckskin and feathers. That would be just too good to be true.
*Amy Stretten is a member of the Chickahominy Tribe