What could be more racially ignorant than the song “What makes the red man red?” in Disney’s 1953 version of Peter Pan?
Well, erasing the Native American part all together.
In the upcoming feature film, Pan, directed by Joe Wright, the character “Tiger Lily” is being played by Rooney Mara, best known for her role in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. She played, well, the girl with the dragon tattoo.
The character of Tiger Lily was in the original Peter Pan novel written by J. M. Barrie and was most definitely Native American. There’s supposed to be a whole section of Neverland that is home to a Native American tribe, and Tiger Lily is the chief’s daughter. Sounds like a great opportunity for Mara to expose herself as an actress…but a missed opportunity for the filmmakers to portray accurate representation of a Native American character. The moment I saw the movie poster I was appalled. There are Native American women actresses out there who could have played the part, but instead they gave it to a porcelain skinned woman.
Here is the problem: there is not enough representation in the media and pop culture of POC. This is so dangerous because it affects the way others perceive POC, and it affects the way POC see themselves.
As a young girl I was very insecure with the way I looked and did not feel comfortable in my own skin because there was no one who looked liked me on the TV. For a long time I resented my dark skin and my brown eyes because I did not look like the girls in the media who were portrayed as “beautiful”. All those women had fair skin and light eyes. I remember being a 13 year old wishing I looked like Emma Watson from the Harry Potter series, because that’s what was portrayed as desirable and relevant. I truly believe that if there had been more representation of POC then I wouldn’t have wanted to desperately to have fair skin and light hair.
Beauty aspect aside, I think that’s it’s most damaging to the way we perceive race in general. The term “white-washed” is throw around a lot, and I think for good reason. Pop-culture’s lack of diversity is not representative of the world that we live in. The fact that this was an intentionally Native American character in the original book is reason enough to cast a Native American actress. To erase her Native American identity entirely is offensive.
Another example of the new movie Exodus coming out, where Egyptians are portrayed by spray-tanned white people (this tradition dates back to Elizabeth Taylor and even further) is simply historically inaccurate. Egypt is on the continent of Africa, and I’m pretty sure they didn’t look anything like Christian Bale….