Whitewashing, Colonialism, and Hollywood, Oh My!

Surprise, surprise. Just weeks after the celebration by people of color for the larger numbers of representation in the film industry this year, the film industry brings back redface.

If you have not heard yet, Warner Bros. fills the role of Tiger Lily, the young daughter of a Native chief, by hiring Rooney Mara, a non-Native person, in their future live action film based on the story of Peter Pan entitled, Pan.


This is not the first time that Hollywood prefers, or specifically asks for, actors or actresses who are white to play roles of characters who are people of color. Who can forget the casting call for Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games trilogy, specifically asking for actresses of white heritage or that the only actor who is a person of color in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender (a tale that specifically focuses on persons of Central Asian, Inuit, South Asian, and Tibetan heritage) plays the villain, Zuko?  There is even a list of the 25 infamous Yellow face performances in film.

Top (left to right): Julia Jones, Amber Midthunder, Teneil Whiskeyjack Bottom (left to right): Roseanne Supernault, Q’orianka Kilcher, Shauna Baker, Shannon Baker

Top (left to right): Julia Jones, Amber Midthunder, Teneil Whiskeyjack
Bottom (left to right): Roseanne Supernault, Q’orianka Kilcher, Shauna Baker, Shannon Baker

Before someone starts telling me that Mara is chosen for the role because there are not enough actresses of Native heritage to play the role, here are seven fantastic Native actress that could have played the part: Julia Jones, Amber Midthunder, Teneil Whickeyjack, Roseanne Supernault, Q’orianka Kilcher, Shauna Baker, and Shannon Baker.

Listen, Hollywood, you liking and taking the histories of peoples only to transform those incredibly important histories into a bottom line is just another form of colonialism. Instead stripping people of color of the natural resources (things incredibly important to their existence as a people and their very histories) on the land that they inhibit in exchange for trinkets and small pox, you take their histories, transform it into a Hallmark-esque movie, only to vehemently refuse to give any proceeds back to the people.

We see this every day as people of color, be it Katy Perry dressing like Geisha, Lime Crime’s China Doll make-up line, the ridiculous number of Bindi-wearing white celebrities, and ever-popular “Sexy Squaw” Halloween costume.

It should not take the Navajo Nation to trademark designs that have been in their histories (for much longer than the existence of white people in North America, I might add!) to stop corporations like Urban Outfitters from making money off of their designs, only to endorse Mitt Romney.

I am fortunate enough to have been invited into the Native community in my area, to listen and learn from peoples who existed here much longer than I have a first Generation Canadian.  At one particular event, an all female group, Good Hearted Women Singers, sang words that I think sum up the feelings of peoples of color when looking at the multiple cases of colonialism today. I leave you with their words:

“When I was younger

Oh they told me

That I was wrong to be strong

But now I’m older

And I tell them

I’ve been giving away my power far too long

And I’m taking it back

Because it’s mine.”

Samantha Estoesta

Samantha is a 23 year old in Waterloo, ON, Canada. A graduate of Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Waterloo, and currently the Executive Director of a Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), she is going to start her Masters in Intercultural Communications in the fall. She is 50% Filipina, and 50% Azorean Portuguese.

1 Comment

  • Reply March 19, 2014


    Tiger Lily is a stereotypical portrayal of the “hollywood indian” and I don’t why you think it would be a positive for a native woman to play this role. Historically the role and Peter Pan have been very racist and I would rather see the part cut before I see a native or non native person in the role. It’s cool that you care about native issues but you aren’t native and we don’t need you to be our voice. In the words of Migizi Pen of the 1491’s “Go cry over somebody else’s tragedy because were alive and thriving”.

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