Whitewashing in Joe Wright’s ‘Pan’ Is Just the Tip of the Iceberg

Peter Pan, Tiger Lily, Rooney MaraWalt Disney Pictures/Getty Images

We don’t live in a post-racism society, folks.

I mean, come on – yesterday, a homeless woman very pointedly told me not to eat my dog! Granted, she was probably nuts, but this is happening on much larger scale than crazy ladies and my evening walk with my dog. Last week, it was announced that Joe Wright – the director behind critical hits like Atonement and Pride and Prejudice (as well as critical misses, like Anna Karenina) – had cast Rooney Mara as Native American character Tiger Lily. Now, that’s just plain wrong.

Many fans are petitioning for a recast, yet some don’t seem to mind  and even go so far as to liken the situation to Michael B. Jordan’s upcoming turn as the Human Torch. Luckily, Whedonverse actress Felicia Day is setting people straight; she has some wise and cogent words on why Tiger Lily and the Human Torch are not even remotely the same situation:

Most lead characters and lead actors of movies are white … Across 100 top-grossing films of 2012, only 10.8% of speaking characters were Black, 4.2% were Hispanic, 5% were Asian, and 3.6% were from other (or mixed race) ethnicities. Just over three-quarters of all speaking characters are White (76.3%) … Bottom line, actors of ethnicity don’t get a lot of work to begin with. And that very fact creates a scarcity in the number of actors of different ethnicities to choose from when casting …  In what instance can you point out a role where a Native American actress has a chance to be a lead in any movie? Almost none … The opportunity to give a leading role that could be a Native American, a possible protagonist role that the audience could relate to and live the story through, to a white actor, is kind of s**tty and backwards to me.

But you know what the worst part of this whole debacle is? We’re not moving forward: whitewashing is not something we left back in the days of ultra-racist filmmakers like D.W. Griffiths and grossly distorted stereotypes like Mr. Yunioshi. No, it’s still a pervasive problem that continues to flood all avenues of pop culture – films, music, television  even celebrities. Remember when former DWTS star Julianne Hough thought it was okay to don a little blackface to portray her favorite Orange Is the New Black character?

Just last summer, J.J. Abrams cast whiter-than-white actor Benedict Cumberbatch (he and Rooney Mara could probably go head-to-head in a Caucasian-quotient contest) to play Khan Noonien Singh, a role originally played by Mexican actor Ricardo Montalban. How telling is it, that in some ways, 1960’s Gene Roddenberry was more progressive than present-day Abrams? And a little more than month ago, Katy Perry shamelessly appropriated Egyptian culture in her latest music video – and that’s after dressing up like a “geisha” at the VMAs. Oh, and let’s not forget that at the beginning of this year, well-loved sitcom How I Met Your Mother (or, as dubbed by Twitter, #HowIMetYourRacism) employed some tasteless (not to mention tin-eared) yellowface.

It’s hard to believe that we’re still seeing this kind of ignorance and blatant whitewashing in this day in age. Well, at least we can still hold out hope for a recast.