Rooney Mara has picked up a big role as Tiger Lily in the movie version of Peter Pan, but the casting has drawn a massive controversy online.
The news that the white actress would be playing Tiger Lily, who is Native American, were met with immediate curiosity online. The casting of Rooney Mara was compared to the selection of Johnny Depp to play Tonto in The Lone Ranger, which itself was controversial.
“Now, with Mara’s casting, it feels like a giant step backwards,” wrote Entertainment Weekly correspondent Lindsay Bahr. “Both could have been great opportunities to cast working Native American actors.”
The opposition to Mara has grown more organized in the days after her casting was announced. The hashtag #NotYourTigerLily started trending on Twitter, and more than 5,000 people signed a petition through Care2 to protest the casting.
“This casting choice is particularly shameful for a children’s movie,” the petition noted. “Telling children their role models must all be white is unacceptable.”
Rooney Mara and her casting seems part of a larger issue in Hollywood. Many filmmakers and actors have taken up the cause to call for better representation of actors of color.
Disney has a difficult history with the character. In its 1953 Peter Pan movie, Tiger Lily’s father was portrayed in red face.
Some critics have taken issue with the role of Tiger Lily, calling it an insensitive portrayal of Native Americans.
Azie Dungey, writer and star of the two-season hit web series, Ask A Slave, wrote:
“The role of Tiger Lily is horribly problematic for other reasons: it perpetuates the image of Natives as mythic relics of the past, absent from our contemporary socio-political sphere; and it marginalizes Native women as docile, thoughtless creatures, who are prime for the taking of the good white man. It’s an imperialist fantasy.”
Disney has tried to deflect the controversy over Rooney Mara, saying that the character is being represented differently than in the original story.
“The world being created is multi-racial/international—and a very different character than previously imagined,” Disney said, adding, “The studio took on an exhaustive search in finding the right girl to play Lily looking at other actresses such as Lupita Nyonog’o and Blue is the Warmest Color’s Adele Exarchopoulos before going out to Mara for the role.”
Rooney Mara herself hasn’t spoken about the controversy over the Tiger Lily casting.
[Images Via Bing And Walt Disney Productions]