Photo from the Live Broadcast of Peter Pan Live! (Photo by: Virginia Sherwood/NBC)
The #NotYourTigerlily movement began nine months ago with a single tweet during the #NotYourTonto twitterstorm that was being held in response to the Oscar nomination of The Lone Ranger for Best Makeup, the casting of non-natives in native roles and the negative and antiquated stereotypes that Hollywood continues to perpetuate. At the time it seemed to go hand in hand with the #NotYourTonto conversation, but two weeks later it took on a life of its own when Warner Bros. announced that they had cast Rooney Mara as Tiger Lily in Pan. The announcement sparked immediate backlash across social media, but there was a stark difference between the reactions from natives and non-natives.
For the most part, the non-native reaction was what U.S News: A World Report called an “obligatory twitter freakout” that focused strictly on the fact that Rooney Mara was not native and that Hollywood missed a great opportunity to feature an indigenous actress in the role.
The Native reaction to the casting focused on the misogynistic and racist nature and portrayal of Tiger Lily and her tribe. The conversation focused on the act of redface, cultural misappropriation, the consequences of Hollywood Whitewashing, and the lack of authentic narratives and representation in the mainstream media.
The irony of the situation at the time was that the mainstream media WAS discussing #NotYourTigerly and denouncing the lack of indigenous representation, but doing so without actually including ANY of the many natives using the #NotYourTigerlily hashtag. The only media outlet to even include Natives in the #NotYourTigerlily discussion was Huffington Post Live for their segment, Why Rooney Mara Casting Matters. Within days the obligatory freakout ended and the issue disappeared from the media while Natives continued to use both #NotYourTigerliy and #NotYourTonto to discuss the issue.
Then, of course, came NBC with PETER PAN LIVE! Unlike Warner Bros., they announced that they were searching for a Native actress to play Tiger Lily and that they would be working with a native consultant to address the concerns over the blatantly racist portrayal of Tiger Lily and her tribe as well as rewriting the Ugg-A-Wugg song.
They gave you hope that there might be a little more progress made in the Peter Pan universe, after all they did hire Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate, an accomplished Chickasaw composer, to aid David Chase and Amanda Green as they re-imagined the Ugg-A-Wugg song, now known as ‘True Blood Brothers’. There’s no denying that they should be commended for the use of authentic native language.
So, what’s the problem?
The problem is that they are still missing the point of #NotYourTigerLily, which is that we can no longer afford to compromise on the portrayal of our identities and culture by those who do not understand who we are as people and who do not have to live with the consequences of those portrayals. Seriously? What’s the point of working with a “native american consultant” or native american “descendant” actress, if you’re goal isn’t to get rid of racist stereotypes that plague and harm indigenous people?
I’ll tell you why.
It’s the same reason that Dan Snyder started the Original American Foundation ( OAF) and the same reason that he continues to parade around natives from the tribes that have accepted OAF money. It is to remove themselves from accountability and a way to keep clinging to racist stereotypes and imagery by perpetuating the idea that since these natives are okay with the exploitation of our identities and culture, that ALL natives are and should be okay with it as well.
It’s absolutely ridiculous that NBC hired a well-respected native composer and a Native “descendant” actress to bring more cultural sensitivity and authenticity to the production, but this…..this was the result.
Gregg Deal, artist/activist, posted the following status to his facebook:
“Things learned from Peter Pan Live: We’re not trying to abolish stereotypes, we’re trying to improve them? I’m so confused.”
He’s not the only one, especially after the National Museum of American Indians’ director, Kevin Gover, stated that:
“This new interpretation of Tiger Lily is closer to our heritage, our culture and portrays a deeper sensitivity and helps diminish the many stereotypes surrounding Native Americans.”
Having seen the production, I cannot even begin to understand how anyone could think that this gross misappropriation of our indigenous identities and culture is a step forward in diminishing harmful and racist stereotypes. It’s still the same disappointing, exploitative and racist characterization of indigenous women and people that it has always been. What’s really disheartening is that they took the same approach that Warner Bros. has decided to take with their feature film, Pan.
“They created a non-Native “tribe” that faux-headdress-loving Coachella fans would be proud of, while simultaneously engaging in an activity mainstream society is adept at — silencing Native peoples”, says Tara Houska of Not Your Mascots “There are plenty of Native actors and actresses to fill Native roles, and plenty of Native writers to consult. If Hollywood feels the need to bring back a character entirely based on racist stereotypes, one would think the smartest approach would be involving Natives as much as possible in the character’s re-imagination”.
Photo from the Live Broadcast of Peter Pan Live! (Photo by: Virginia Sherwood/NBC)
Let’s be honest. Peter Pan is one of the most racist and misogynistic literary classics and so are the cartoons, plays and films inspired by the novel. The world of Peter Pan is fiction, but the harm done through the blatantly racist treatment and portrayal of Indigenous people in the story is our reality.
I asked Not Your Mascots‘ Maggie Hundley why it was important to discuss the issues with Tiger Lily and her Tribe in the Neverland Universe and she replied:
“Unfortunately, as a kid, I bought into the Indian ‘maiden’ and ‘princess’ caricatures that I saw in movies and cartoons and used them to judge myself. Things need to change. By calling out the degrading and exploitative character of Tiger Lily in Peter Pan movies and plays, we are challenging institutionalized stereotyping of indigenous girls and women in entertainment. It is important to call out these mockeries and create a new narrative to replace the false ones that are force-fed to us by major companies such as Warner Brothers and NBC”.
Chasity Delorme, who launched a #NotYourStereotype campaign to challenge the negative stereotypes and imagery against indigenous people, said:
“As an indigenous person it matters to me how the settler society interprets my First Nation heritage. As an indigenous women, it matters to me how the settler society portrays indigenous women. So, the next person to stereotype my people or sexualize indigenous women they better be prepared for the repercussions. Because the entire indigenous nation is now awake, watching every move you make.”
It’s true. We are awake and taking more pro-active approaches to discussing the issues that affect us and working on solutions. While NBC and Warner Bros. were busy trying to update negative native stereotypes to keep the racism alive, Larissa Fasthorse (Lakota Playwright/Choreographer) was working with the Children’s Theatre to create what will hopefully be a new standard when it comes to performing Peter Pan.
Instead of the half-naked, Technicolor feather wearing tribe donning redface approach taken by NBC and Warner Bros, Larissa and the Children’s Theatre created the Pounce to replace the tribe. The Pounce will be a group of powerful girls that will act as a counterpoint to the Lost Boys. It isn’t official yet, but Music Theatre International is considering adopting The Pounce for all future productions.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.
“The way that we are represented and portrayed in the mainstream matters and it is important that we start reclaiming the power to represent ourselves and to force more authentic portrayals of who we are as indigenous human beings. We are STILL here and our voices and our people matter.”
Take note NBC and Warner Bros., Indian Country is watching you and we’re tired of your “updated” stereotypes.
Johnnie Jae is of the Jiwere-Nutachi and Chahta tribes of Oklahoma. She is the Managing Partner & Midwest Regional Director @ Native Max Magazine | Contributing writer to Native News Online | Board Member of Not Your Mascots | Member of the Native American