Casting Rooney Mara as Tiger Lily in Pan is not a move that went over well anywhere, and since she’s doing press to promote the movie, which comes out this weekend, Mara is now answering questions about the casting and whitewashing of what should have been a high-profile role for a Native actress. This is obviously not a fun question to field, but there is more scrutiny than ever on diversity in film and Mara and the Pan PR team had to be ready for this to come up on the press tour. They had to have discussed this, prepped for it. And yet Mara’s answer is…limp.
Speaking to PEOPLE at the New York premiere, she said, “It wasn’t great, I felt really bad about it. It was something that I thought about before I met with Joe [Wright]. […] When I met with Joe and heard what his plans for it were, it was something I really wanted to be a part of. […] But I totally sympathize with why people were upset and feel really bad about it.”
Well as long as you feel badly about it. Racism is over you guys! We did it! Normally, I don’t fault actors for the roles they take. You take the work you’re offered, and it’s up to the producers, directors, and writers to not be assholes and whitewash characters. But Rooney Mara isn’t a jobbing actor, she is not struggling and she isn’t supporting her family. She comes from a very privileged background—she can afford to not be in Pan. Many actors can’t afford to pass up a role—which is exactly how Native actors end up in garbage like Adam Sandler’s Ridiculous Six, because this is all that’s on offer to them—but Mara is not in that position. If she truly felt bad about taking a role clearly meant for a minority, she could just say no. She’s one of the few with that luxury.
I don’t know what Joe Wright and the producers were thinking in the first place, though. Peter Pan is, like The Jungle Book, the product of a less progressive era. Tiger Lily and her tribe in the book are troubling, they’re even worse in the Disney cartoon—Honest Trailers recently did a GREAT break down of the cartoon’s blatant and rampant racism—and anyone approaching the material in the twenty-first century HAS to be sensitive to the fact that Tiger Lily is racist caricature and proceed accordingly. In 1991, Steven Spielberg did this by simply excising Tiger Lily from Hook entirely.
I recently caught Hook on TV and I was struck by how diverse the Lost Boys are. Spielberg’s intent is clear if you look at the scene in which Rufio first appears—by imagining the leader of the Lost Boys as a minority, Rufio becomes the Tiger Lily figure, and the Lost Boys themselves are a diverse group of kids, some of whom have costumes that reference Native pageantry without ever actually looking like they’re aping or appropriating Native symbology. The Lost Boys become the tribe and Spielberg sidesteps the entire issue, WITHOUT WHITEWASHING. In 2015, Joe Wright can’t manage the same feat.
Pan, which cost $150 million to make and easily sails past $200 million when you factor in marketing, is tracking for a $20-30 million opening weekend. Personally, I put it at sub-$20 million because I don’t know who this movie is for. There’s no audience waiting for this, and people don’t just up and go to the movies anymore, so I foresee people staying home in droves. Karma is real. I feel really bad about it, though.