“Pan” Whitewashing

“Pan,” director Joe Wright’s newest movie release, has entered theaters absolutely studded in a whitewashing controversy.

Addy Bennett, Editor of Campus Life

Who, in America at least, has not seen Disney’s 1953 film “Peter Pan,” starring one jerk of a Peter, one obsessive teenager of a Wendy, and bits of fairy dust and racism? I tended to enjoy the classic rendition of J.M. Barrie’s 1904 novel. I mean, it was a cinematic goldmine for a child. Why would a kid not want to watch a movie about the battle between an immortal boy and the ridiculous pirate Captain Hook? Who wouldn’t want to fly to a place where time stood still? Who wouldn’t want to be saved by the dashing Peter Pan?

Looking back at the film now having matured somewhat, I think to myself, What on earth was I watching? Peter’s such a schmuck! And what’s with the racist caricatures of Native Americans?

And I thought to myself, that, yes, the franchise is over. We’ve had “Hook,” we’ve had the 2003 version, we’ve had “Peter Pan Live!,” and everyone and their dog has performed in the play (and the dog might’ve played Nana; who knows?). So we’re done, right?

But I was wrong. Now Joe Wright has coming waltzing out of his lavish period dramas (which I actually happen to enjoy) to direct yet another spin-off? Great. How exciting. Well, I suppose the trailer looked okayish- wait, why is Tiger Lily white?

There are a lot of things wrong with this. Why would they make the clearly Native American girl white? It doesn’t make sense.

So let’s narrow this down a little:

  1. By hiring a white actress to play the part of a Native American, “Pan” is depriving actual Native American actresses of one of the few roles available to them.
  2. Warner Bros. studio had the chance to heal some of the wounds the original Peter Pan story had caused but decided to get rid of the fact that Tiger Lily is Native American all together.
  3. Biologically, within the movie, it’s impossible. The white Tiger Lily is born to an obviously ethnic father (with no mother in sight) and is one of the few white people within her tribe. Her coloring doesn’t make sense unless she was adopted, and no mention was ever made of that likelihood.

So, what does that say about Warner Bros., Joe Wright, and “Pan?” That they’re racist? And this is where it gets rough. Because despite their travesty, Wright did make sure there were plenty of people of color in the film. There are multiple indigenous people in Tiger Lily’s tribe. And Wright also made sure that Tiger Lily was a strong woman, and stated that she did indeed “[have] all the action scenes” and stated that she was “far more proactive physically in defeating Blackbeard than any of the boys.”

But the thing about background characters is that they don’t really matter to the story. But if “Pan” contains an all-white cast, then what kind of message is the movie spreading? That people of color are somehow of less worth? That they don’t deserve a story of their own?

But that’s wrong. It is, albeit a little more subliminally, racist. By denying Native Americans a chance to finally be recognized, you belittle them and further them on their way to disappearing from culture completely. Instead of casting a white actress next time, let’s cast an actual person of color and encourage actual diversity.