New Peter Pan Movie Has a 'Lily-White Tiger Lily Problem'

In the world of Hollywood politics, U.S. News & World Report is hyping "Peter Pan's Lily-White Tiger Lily Problem."  Warner Brothers is making a movie called "Pan" (due in July 2015), and the Indian princess Tiger Lily is being played by white actress Rooney Mara.

“This casting choice is particularly shameful for a children’s movie,” an outraged petition said. “Telling children their role models must all be white is unacceptable.” Tierney Sneed at U.S. News highlighted how this "stings" for the Native American actors:

The studio itself seemed to anticipate the backlash, with the film being described as presenting a “world that [is] very international and multi-racial, effectively challenging audiences’ preconceived notions of Neverland and re-imagining the environment.” New York Magazine’s Vulture blog translated this to mean, “Please don't yell at us for casting a non-Native American actress as Tiger Lily."

But the casting decision stings on multiple levels. For one, Native American actors and actresses are underrepresented in the entertainment industry in general. While Native Americans make up nearly 2 percent of the U.S. population, per the 2010 census, only .3 percent of the TV or film roles cast in 2008 went to Native American actors, according to a Screen Actors Guild report.

Liberals then turn that outrage around. The next issue for U.S. News is how the Tiger Lily character itself is a loathsome stereotype, meaning any Native American actress who took it would have been slammed the other way:

The character exhibits the issues that many Native American characters do in the Hollywood imagination. According to Angela Aleiss – the author of “Making the White Man's Indian: Native Americans and Hollywood Movies” and an instructor at California State University, Long Beach – whether the Native Americans are depicted as savage villains or sympathetic victims, they almost always are connected to the imagery of old Hollywood Westerns.


“While 'Peter Pan' is not the Old West, it’s drawn off the imagery of the Old West and it’s a boy’s fantasy. It’s not Indians today, as people,” she says.

Indian Country Today Media Network combined the two themes:

Concerned Natives and culture-watchers of many ethnicities are decrying the choice as yet another redface travesty, much like Johnny Depp's Tonto in the 2013 film The Lone Ranger.

The 1953 film, adapted from Scottish author J.M. Barrie's 1904 play and 1911 novel, has always been a source of aggravation for many Native Americans for its depiction of a "redskin" tribe, complete with "injuns" who speak in pidgin and say "how" and "ugh."

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis