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Is It OK for Rooney Mara To Play a Native American Character in ‘Pan’?

Is It OK for Rooney Mara To Play a Native American Character in 'Pan'?

The internet exploded last night with the news that Rooney Mara was in talks to play Princess Tiger Lily in Joe Wright’s forthcoming Peter Pan origin story “Pan”. The uproar was immediate – Tiger Lily is a Native American character, while Mara is plainly white.

At first glance, this would seem to be another example of the Hollywood whitewashing that required “Prince of Persia”‘s lead roles of Prince Dastan and Princess Tamina to be played by Jake Gyllenhall and Gemma Arterton. We all know why it happens, but it doesn’t make it any more edifying.

However, is this a similar scenario? Variety reports of Wright’s film that “the world being created is multi-racial / international” and that Tiger Lily is “a very different character than previously imagined”, adding that actresses including Adele Exarchopoulos and Lupita Nyong’o were considered for the role.

While it bears mentioning that all starring roles announced thus far have gone to white actors, we don’t yet know what exactly Joe Wright has done with the role of Tiger Lily or how he envisages this “multi-racial” world as a whole.

What we can at least expect is that we are not going to see a repeat of the Tiger Lily of previous Peter Pan incarnations. Which frankly, is wonderful news. Tiger Lily is a hugely passive character, not least in the Disney cartoon version, where her one trait is being forced to keep silent for the entire film (a task she eventually breaks… in order to cry for help). Yes, it’s a representation of a Native American woman, but a hideously stereotyped one.

But is that better than no representation at all? It remains to be seen. The casting of “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”‘s Mara suggests that the film may be going for a character of the “kick-ass” variety, although that doesn’t necessarily make it a positive representation of womanhood. Of course, what may have been ideal is if Joe Wright had used this opportunity to cast a Native American actress as Tiger Lily and then utterly flipped the character on its head, making her as active and fully-fleshed and interesting as she deserves to be. That is now clearly not going to happen. And was never exactly likely.

So in answer to the question posed at the top of this article, it seems Rooney Mara is not really going to be playing a Native American role at all. Of course, that very fact means that a culture perpetually rendered invisible in popular culture has been dealt that fate once again. But until we get to see the finished film or at least read a script, it remains to be seen what we are being offered in its place.

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I imagine how stinky Indiewire would be, if Mara was cast in a traditionally black role. New vision? Let’s see the final movie? HAHAHA!



Jay stark

It is horribly offensive to me the way the people are treated and portrayed in movies and history the very least native americans should be given roles they resemble ,and positive images would be a vast improvement for the most part.


NO. NO. NO! This is wrong on all fronts.

Isabel Sinton

I want all you young 'uns to google Picaninny .
As in 'Tiger Lily is . . the daughter of Great Big Little Panther, chief of the Picaninny tribe.'
And see what a REAL racial insult is. This has NOTHING to do with Native Americans.
And learn to check facts once in a while.


This is a massive gaffe. I remember watching Short Circuit recently and realising that the Indian (not Native American, btw) character Benny was in fact a blacked-up Fisher Stevens doing a terribly dodgy accent, something which we now know was grossly inappropriate. That movie was made in 1986. Have we seriously not moved beyond this shit yet?

Paul Holmes

Its ok for anybody to play anybody.. people that bring race into the mix are brain dead at best. People that think they can dictate what somebody wants to cast as a character, is also brain dead.

Lets move on past these ridiculous ideas that PC is in control… it is not.


I'm sick of this double standard crap. People say you're racist if you complain about minorities playing traditionally white roles, but if a white person plays a traditionally minority role all hell breaks loose. For all we know she's no longer Native American in this version. I mean she's princess of a race of people from a fictional universe. Would you prefer they make this the Disney way and have the chief say "How" and stuff? Why is it this doesn't make sense, but having an African American play the blood-related sister of a white woman in Fantastic Four make any more sense? Should they go with someone with less talent just because they LOOK the part? Apparently she beat out all the others that auditioned. To dump her simply because of her race would be racist, as well. You can't win. Peter Pan's traditionally played by a woman on stage. Get over it.

Marcella Dion

Please find an American Native actress to play this part, it could only be a positive all the way around, the young Native American girls growing up with their self esteem, I am 61 years old and as a young Native American girl, movies were always played by non Native American. we are in the 21st Century and please show some respect, there are many young beautiful Native actresses to choose from.

Shawnee D. Rydean

There are a plethora of great (actual) Nativctresses. Will send you a list… Try MarissaQuinn from the Twilight series or Qorianka Kilcher (the star of the New World)..etc…

Shawnee D. Rydean

No!!… Tiger Lily is Indian!.. This girl looks Irish.. Peter pan is my favorite by far!…I Will not watch this one if she is cast.. It Is your choice to get the casting Right this time or not

neshobe cunningham

if you have a native act let it be done by a native. 1+% of this continent is native

Jorell Dye

I'm white, but I'm going to paint my face brown and forget English if they keep doing this. I am being robbed of brown people. I need them in my life.


"the world being created is multi-racial / international" yet "all starring roles announced thus far have gone to white actors", really? Joe Wright’s math is delusional at best


Fine a Native American Indian!!!!!!


Oh we all know there's no respected Native American who can speak Native American better than a Caucasian. Good lord. 👀.
Ridiculous right!

Claudia Alick

I just wrote a poem about this topic inspired by the Oscars. I've now had to add aline about cartoons because this is uncool and disingenuous. The cast is primarily white. Unless they have a higher percentage of POC roles then making Miss Mara do redface (or even worse rewriting the role so it's somehow white) is disgusting. Poem is here but I had to break it up so the spam filter doesn't block the comment. http://claudiaalick. blogspot. com/2014/03/you-are-not-green-screen.html

Danielle Ducheneaux

I wouldn't blame Rooney Mara for the selection, however I would think that the director should know better. We don't have white people play African Americans or vice versa. I am a Native American woman and quite frankly I wouldn't mind taking her place. It bothers me that there is no selection process as far as Native American women being considered. I'll play the role…give me the part. It's time we give Native American people a fair chance at being stars just like the current stars have been given.


PLEASE stop this bullshit. This is an imaginary character invented by an Englishman. Tiger Lily is no more an Native American than–well, than Rooney Mara. Rent a grip people, it will come in handy in the real world.


No it's not alright for her to play the role.
But also, Tiger Lily is NOT a wholly passive character and I wish people would stop citing the Disney movie like it's the Gospel source on the story. In the book Tiger Lily is captured climbing aboard the Jolly Roger with a knife, Peter rescues her, but she returns to save him in turn after he's wounded and stranded on the rocks as the tide is coming in. She's not the biggest character in the story, but she is an extremely cool one.
The 2003 live action adaptation went much more in that vein with the character, and also cast an actual American Indian in the role (who, by the way, spoke Haida in the film). She was wonderful.
I refuse to believe that the creative team conducted an exhaustive world-wide search to fill this role and the best they came up with was Rooney Mara. It's insulting, and I say that as a white girl who's main interest in all this is a passionate love for the source material.


What made me mad about this … was the fact that Tigerlily was the only POC in Peter Pan who has a "big" role. She's a Chief's daughter, ffs! There’s literally just one POC (of any importance) in the entire Peter Pan franchise (book or otherwise) and they’ve now removed her. How is that not about race? How is that not racist?


Have any of you whites or other non-whites on this site EVER bothered to LISTEN to the accent of a Native Indian speaker? We are not europeans!! The controversy here isn't just over the character; you have no intelligence whatsoever if that's all you see. Mara is not going to pull this off in the Native community because WE know she can't. Again, LISTEN to the accent of a Native Indian speaker! The voice is important; it is outright racist to even suggest she could come close to it! Irregardless of what rights you claim as film makers and artistic license as creators of this film, you do NOT have the right to commit fraud and use my people as some sort of joke by pretending we 'sound' like YOU! We don't! If you can't do the character with some accuracy, then don't use it at all.

kathleen smth

I have to say first that film making is an art and all creators have the absolute right to do as they will. But the controversy is not just that they are whitewasing a role, its that suddenly articles like this are trying to smooth out the controversy and saying "hey hollywood does this all the time, its ok". The fact is, aside from the progression of finally seeing diverse actors in leading roles in mainstream tv and film- one of the rarest characters/roles is the native american female. Aside from the book being a fantasy, why doesn't it make sense to play on the fantasy of a 12 year old boy in the early 1900s seeing an indiginous person? I don't see why this role couldn't stay native american female, and if it is and they are brown facing a white person to play it- are you serious? Some of the downplay is that originally the role is a misrepresentation…uh duh hollywood, you have so many screenwriters you can't take out the misrepresentations and keep the role a native american female? Its just a joke to me that in 2014 not only is shit like this still happening, but there are people that are dismissive of the fact that this is an opportunity to keep diversity in film and television moving forward by sayin "does it really matter?" Who cares that we don't know what is in the script yet, we know one simple fact, this is a native american female role, and it went to a white chick. Even if the role is rewritten to be white, the fact that its rewritten is dismissive and quite frankly disrespectul. That character was written int he original story for a reason. Sorry to see that native americans don't deserve representation.

desean jackson

No it doesn't matter, its a voice. Why does a race have to tie to a voice? A person should be selected for a voice actress/actor role based on their adeptness not if its racially accurate. What the hell is wrong with you people?

Why on earth would it matter, what the hell. There is so much hate for white people in this comment section lmao.


i think point is simply this…. fiction or non-fiction… Hollywood is going to do what causes the most ruckus on the web. when Michael B. Jordan was casted to play johnny storm, people went off saying that a N***** shouldn't be playing a historically white (fictional) character. now that the buzz is out… everyone is going to go see how he does, whether they said they were going to boycott or not. this same sort of thing is happening over and over again… more to minority characters than others IMO… and its just to get people talking about it… its about dollars… its the world we live in… GTF over it…. go see the movie, or don't… you have a choice… but don't get on the internet bitching and whining… because its not going to change a thing… the next thing that will happen is that there will be a black batman, and Asian robin. then people are going to raise all kinds of hell, and the movie will make BILLIONS. Hollywood 1 , people whining online 0…


NO! Tiger Lily is Indian. and the character in the move should be Indian.

next thing you know they'll be doing a "re-do" of Roots using white actors….

Sally Strange

Stop framing this as a question. No, it is not okay. Because yes, it does matter. Native American actors deserve better. I want to see them on the screen and so do many others!


I have two words for you: Tropic Thunder. It's Hollywood, give it a rest…!


It's not surprising that they decide to whitewash this character. Hollywood has a long history of this. It's sad that they cannot even find a Natice American actor to portray this role.


It's a MOVIE. You all know she will bring everything she's got. It's called acting. Quit overreacting.

Mino Warrior

Most whites will not see a film staring a person of color of with a cast of people of color. They are arrogant & narcissistic. Like Narcissus himself, they only want to see what looks like themselves reflected back at them. Look at the anger around the casting a black actress as Anne, a black actor as Johnny Storm, Idrus Elba ae Heimdal, or finally realizing that Rue from the Hunger Games was black. The whitewashed films Avatar the Last Airbender, The Lone Ranger and Ender's Game were flops but an all white version of Akira was in production for months. Whites played people of color in films and TV regularly until the 1970, isn't it time it was ended completely? Way too many whites cannot imagine people of color as full, complex human beings. It is not acting it is racism.

self-entitlement chief

"blackface"? why throw others under the bus? It's your own problems in your own head.


Ugh. Red face is the new blackface. As a Native American, I will boycott this film if this happens. Why doesn't Hollywood learn or is it that we don't matter? Didn't they learn their lesson with Tonto?


I was ok with Adrien Brody being polish in The Pianist and Russell Crowe playing a roman in Gladiator, it's basicly the same thing and it's called acting.


Was it okay for Johnny D. to play an American Indian in Lone Ranger? She is talented and gorgeous and director has a vision of his film with her in it – I don't see a problem with it. I do however see a problem with paying to see movies produced and directed by child abusers. We all draw the line somewhere.


I don't think Hollywood is "white-washing" anything necessarily. I don't hate Rooney Mara for taking this role, nor do I hate Johnny Depp for playing Tonto or Jake Gyllenhal for the Prince of Persia. It's not like they butchered the characters or anything, but it would be nice to see some true authenticity in these films that concur with the ethnicity and race of the characters being portrayed.


There are many Native American actresses that they could find if they REALLY wanted to. But of course not, God forbid any Hollywood movie have an actor darker than "Crayola Peach" play a lead or important role! Oh, sorry! There was a Native American actress in August: Osage County. Misty Upham, she played the maid and had seven lines! Right! The whitewashing oh Hollywood is a travesty and it's disgusting! To have Rooney Mara play Tiger Lilly would be a confirmation of the institutional racism in Hollywood. It would be a stupid choice to cast her.

Alice L

Funny how no one ever responds (and rightly so) "it's called acting" about blackface. Please let's be a bit more nuanced about this! Clearly there are deep historic issues for worrying about this casting, including but not limited to the systematic oppression of Native Americans, the acknowledged practice of white-washing in Hollywood and the general paucity of Native American actors on our screens.


They couldn't find a Native American woman to play the part?!? But this sort of thing is happening more and more lately. Just find an actor or actress that matches the character. They keep this up and people won't even remember what a true Native American looks like…it's not Rooney Mara. Just don't go see the movie. I now have no interest. They could've found a Native American actress.

Tim F.

Is it wrong for Lithgow and Molina to play homosexuals in LOVE IS STRANGE?


Totally sick of this double standard racial/culture thing.

Peter Pan is a FAKE BOY, created by a Scottish writer, historically played by WOMEN…..and yet, this matters? Hattie McDaniel was the first black woman to ever win an Oscar, and yet many people condemn her for winning it depicting a cliché part of a horrible past. Raven-Symoné played Belle (French & White) on Broadway even though she's not white, and frankly as a signer, has no real business being on Broadway. Yul Brynner was born in the states of Russian parents and played the King of Siam.

It's okay when Non-White people play White roles (even when they don't even have the talent to merit the job, using only their celebrity to land the gig) but it's not okay for White people to play cliché made up roles of other ethnicities.

What about gay actors playing straight characters, or actors playing disabled characters? Are they supposed to question the actors sexual orientation or mental or physical disability.

Especially on shows like Law & Order where the goal is often to educate and bring awareness hate crimes, and they frequently need people to play those roles to achieve that!

Screw that, that's racism. Thanks.

Tim F.



It's called acting.


Should Quvenzhané Wallis play Annie?




No, even with Joe Wright's re-imagining of Neverland, pretending that Tiger Lily was never based on Native stereotypes is still whitewashing. Erasure of Tiger Lily's culture doesn't fix the problem created by Barrie (Peter Pan and Tiger Lily's creator). All it does is erase the existence of the culture, which is a racist practice in Hollywood. Rooney Mara and any other actress who wasn't native should never have been offered this role.

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