Alyssa Wapanatâhk Talks Reimagining Tiger Lily In ‘Peter Pan & Wendy’, Indigenous Representation & More – Interview
Get ready to fly back to Neverland! The long-awaited premiere of Peter Pan & Wendy is finally available exclusively on Disney+.
Based on J.M. Barrie’s novel and adapted from Disney’s 1953 animated feature, this live-action retelling of the timeless tale introduces Wendy Darling (Ever Anderson), a young girl who is hesitant to leave her childhood behind. Her life takes a magical turn when she encounters Peter Pan (Alexander Molony), a boy who refuses to grow up.
In this reimagining of the film, Disney has made important changes to the character of Tiger Lily, the warrior princess of Neverland’s Indigenous tribe. To celebrate her role, Geeks of Color caught up with Alyssa Wapanatâhk for an exclusive chat.
Check out the interview with Alyssa Wapanatâhk below:
Wapanatâhk discussed some of the challenges in preparing for the role Tiger Lily and said, “I went and did some deep diving in archives to see what the actual traditional wear was back in the day for Cree people, and what types of things did we have or what kind of things did we do? And I’m sure that it’s different now because I’m still heavily involved with culture, like ceremony and all that, but I know that there are some things that changed along the lines as time went on. So, I wanted to make sure that we were rooted in the realness of Cree culture from back in the day. So that was a little bit challenging because there wasn’t a whole lot. Of course, there weren’t photos, there wasn’t a whole lot of documentation back then. So, I had to pull more from what we have now currently, and then trying to make the pieces fit together that way. So, that was a little bit challenging because I was a little bit nervous about making sure that it was accurate and making sure that I did the best job representing in that way.”
Wapanatâhk shared with us the connection she had with her grandparents while filming Peter Pan & Wendy that resonated with her so dearly. She said, “Yeah, I think one of the biggest things that meant the world to me was working with my Mosôm (Cree word for grandfather) and my grandma. I just had them there with me pretty much the whole time. Not physically, like they weren’t there with us filming, but I always had them in the back of my mind. I had their teachings with me the whole time, and I would call them, and I would ask them for help. And I just made sure that they were a part of it because I knew that we have to listen to our elders, and you know, that’s something very special to me that I grew up with. And I wanted to make sure they were also a part of this because this is the present; this is what’s coming out into the world, and they didn’t get to see that as kids. And I knew that this was very special for them as well.”
In the 1953 animated film Peter Pan, Tiger Lily was portrayed as a damsel in distress, adopting the stereotypical depiction of Indigenous princesses in need of rescue. Unfortunately, the movie also included racially insensitive songs that perpetuated harmful stereotypes. In response to this criticism, Disney has added a warning about the offensive nature of these depictions. Moreover, in the latest adaptation of J.M. Barrie’s classic tale, the company aimed to address these issues and improve representation.
When I asked Wapanatâhk about her hopes for the audience’s takeaway from the new film’s material, she said, “I definitely want them to see that the representation was done. I think they took their time with it and were very careful. Disney was very mindful about what they were doing throughout the process, and I want us to salute them for that. They did the hard work and made the change, even though it may have been difficult, or there were some things that happened in the past that we think about. But there is a line from the movie that says, ‘We could all cherish as well as hold the past in your heart. But know that where you go from here is up to you.’ That’s what we’re doing right now, and I want people to really take that in and experience it for what it is.”