In March 2014, the announcement that Rooney Mara had been cast to play Tigerlily in Pan, a planned prequel to the Peter Pan story, caught many Natives off-guard. In the original story by J.M. Barrie, Tigerlily was a princess from the Piccaninny Tribe, Native Americans who inhabit the island of Neverland. While Barrie's conception of a Native Tribe was anything but enlightened, the casting of Mara as Tigerlily suggested we might be witnessing Hollywood reaching into its usual bag of tricks in one of two ways: Either Mara would be made to look Native in a "redface" portrayal of Tigerlily, or the character's Native identity would be de-emphasized for the sake of star power, a phenomenon called "whitewashing."
Mara and British director Joe Wright spoke with Collider on Tuesday, and made numerous comments on their vision for Tigerlily within the context of the new film.
Rooney Mara on getting the part:
"I was like, 'How is that going to work? I can’t play Tiger Lily.' Because I always thought of her as a Native American, because that’s always how she has been portrayed. I met with [Joe Wright] anyway, because I love him, and I asked how this is going to work. Then he showed me all these images that he had of all these different cultures around the world. He explained to me what his vision was for the Native Village and it just made sense to me. They are natives of Neverland, and it’s a completely made up place. Then it just made sense to me."
Rooney Mara on the controversy:
"People are going to react how they are going to react and they have the right to do that. It will be fine. They will go see it and they’ll either still feel that way or they will feel better about it."
Joe Wright on the Natives:
"In the book, the natives are described as being redskins, which is a term I don’t really recognize. So I couldn’t work out where they were natives of. So I thought, should they be Native American, or should they be African, or should they be Mongolian? And then I thought, well, better if they are from everywhere, that they are all natives of Planet Earth."