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White washing has become a point of serious contention in Hollywood these days. Complaints regarding a lack of diversity have become increasingly common – especially in adaptations in which white actors take on the roles of traditionally ethnic characters. For the upcoming film Pan, director Joe Wright cast Caucasian actress Rooney Mara as native character Tiger Lily – and he stands by the decision.
According to New York Daily News, Wright made the decision to cast a white actress as Tiger Lily in order to prevent an even more offensive portrayal of the character from occurring:
I thought about the idea of having a Native American tribe, and that worried me actually. What would I be saying with that choice? So then I thought, well, where should they be from? And I couldn't decide, so I felt like picking just one race would be an unwise choice. So then I thought about the potential of them being the indigenous people of the (entire) planet.
So while the character of Tiger Lily may be white, the village she hails from is inhabited by a variety of characters from a variety of ethnicities. Wright reportedly auditioned numerous actresses for the role; only to end on Mara more for the way she inhabited the role than for the color of her skin. In doing this, Wright avoided a potentially offensive depiction of Native American culture by giving the film’s tribe an otherworldly aura to it. It’s a difficult assessment to make, because while Wright most certainly created a diverse group of natives for Pan, all of the members of the main cast are white – even the natives – and Mara herself has recently apologized for the outcry the decision has caused.
This issue may not have seemed quite so problematic if it wasn’t already a major issue among modern Hollywood films. This year’s Oscar ceremony drew backlash once people realized that every single nominated actor – both lead and supporting – was white. Even casting white actors in the roles of established ethnic characters has become a common practice – see: Ben Kingsley as The Mandarin in Iron Man 3, and Jake Gyllenhaal as Dastan in Prince of Persia.
What are your thoughts on the casting decision? Does Hollywood have a race problem? Whether or not Wright made the right call with regards to his casting of Tiger Lily remains to be seen. Rooney Mara is an undoubtedly talented actress and shares characteristics the director saw in the character, however, set against the monochromatic cast of Pan the casting choice is not only jarring – it highlights a serious issue that Hollywood needs to address. We will see if the decision pays off when Pan hits theaters on October 9.