Is there anything that says “Native American” more than Sondra Lee?
If you answered “yes, almost everything,” well, bingo. But that didn’t stop Jerome Robbins from casting the platinum blond Ms. Lee as Tiger Lily in his 1954 musical adaptation of J. M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan,” which went on to be a hit on Broadway and in later telecasts on NBC.
The character, portrayed with sprightly verve by Ms. Lee, was among the most memorable of the production, but it hasn’t aged gracefully.
The casting would seem to be a remnant of a benighted era, except for the fact that earlier this year Rooney Mara was cast as Tiger Lily in “Pan,” a new film adaption due out in 2015. The move prompted jeers and at least one petition for Hollywood to stop hiring white actors to play characters of color.
All of which put the casting of Tiger Lily and a reworking of the song “Ugg-A-Wugg” near the top of the list of things NBC’s new “Peter Pan Live!,” which debuts at 8 p.m. Thursday Eastern time, had to get right.
“Tiger Lily needed to be Native American — that’s how Barrie conceived the role,” said Neil Meron, an executive producer. But the treatment can’t be “insulting to the Native American community,” he said.
The song (from the 1950’s), and the entire portrayal of “Native Americans” (or “Red Indians” as they are called in the original) in this play written 110 years ago, is racist as fuck.
The 1980’s version, with Robin Williams and Dustin Hoffman, did away with that Tiger Lily altogether and introduced a new character, “Rufio” who was played by a Native or Asian actor.
The 1950’s version (which Mary Martin totally OWNED forever) was enough of a departure from the Barrie original, that removing all the racist shit from a new version would not be a horrific departure from tradition, and I am kind of fond of the Williams/Hoffman version.
Rooney “Dragon Tattoo” McWhitegirl? Why not Lupita N’yongyo as the Native Princess? Why not Lupita as Peter Pan, as the Pirate Queen, as ALL THE THINGS.