The casting of Native American princess Tiger Lily has not been without its casting controversies, such as when the very much not Native American Rooney Mara was cast as her in 2015’s Pan. Disney, however, is taking no such liberties with the role: The Wrap confirms newcomer Alyssa Wapanatâhk has been tapped to play the classic character in its upcoming Peter Pan & Wendy. (The news was first reported by The Illuminerdi).
Wapanatâhk, a native Canadian and member of the Cree (Nêhiyaw) First Nation, has been acting since she was 16 years old. Her recent work, the short film “Napes Kasêkipatwât / The Boy And The Braid,” which she wrote, directed and produced, was one of the first-ever recipients of the Telus Indigenous Storyteller Edition grants.
Sources say this version of Tiger Lily is being reimagined for the film. Most audiences are most familiar with the younger, animated version of Tiger Lily from Disney’s classic 1953 film, but in J.M. Barrie’s book, Tiger Lily was a bit older. Wapanatâhk, who is married and mother to a little girl, fits that bill, though we admittedly don’t yet know how the character will be reimagined. Back in January, the Disinsider reported that the role of Tiger Lily would be much expanded from the animated version, where Tiger Lily was more of a damsel-in-distress type. The casting call description for Tiger Lily at that time described her as being “a fierce warrior and a serene and benevolent leader who protects Neverland and the lost boys and girls from the dastardly Captain Hook.” Further, she’ll speak in both English and a native tongue.
To that end, the casting of Wapanatâhk tracks. The actress recently changed her name to Wapanatâhk, the Cree name she’d been given at birth, from Alook, her family name. In an Instagram post addressing the change, she stated it was part of her goal to bring back the Cree language and to speak and understand it more fluently.
Alyssa Wapanatâhk’s casting is the latest in a long-overdue effort by Hollywood to offer greater inclusion of Native American and First Nations peoples in movies and TV and to tell more authentic stories. Similar to Blu Hunt being cast as Dani Moonstar in Fox’s The New Mutants, Disney has shown a willingness to eschew experience or brand name in favor of authenticity.
Wapanatâhk joins a cast that includes Jude Law as the villain Captain Hook and the recently-announced Yara Shahidi as Peter Pan’s feisty fairy sidekick, Tinker Bell. Alexander Molony will play Peter Pan, the boy who refused to grow up, and Ever Anderson will play Wendy, the human girl who gets pulled into Peter’s Neverland. Pete’s Dragon director David Lowery is set to direct off a script he co-wrote with Toby Halbrooks, with Jim Whitaker producing.