Wednesday, November 26, 2014

How 'bout we all pan NBC's PETER PAN and Warner Bros PAN, too.

Over the weekend, Heather (a reader of AICL) wrote to ask if I'd seen a Salon article about changes made to music and lyrics in the version of Peter Pan that NBC is going to air in December. Though I knew about the production, I didn't know about these changes. Thanks, Heather, for letting me know.

In a nutshell, NBC hired Jerod Tate, artistic director of the Chickasaw Chamber Music Festival. He's Chickasaw but I don't know anything else about him other than what his bio (linked with his name) says.

With his assistance, the song "Ugg-a-Wugg" was changed.

Ugg-a-Wugg is a duet sung by Peter Pan and Tiger Lily. If either one is in trouble, they'll call on the other for help. The code word they'll use as a signal is ugg-a-wugg. If Tiger Lily needs help, she'll use that code word and Peter will come to save "the brave noble redskin." And if Peter Pan needs help, Tiger Lily will help him. They will be "blood brothers to the end." I think it was/is ludicrous but people love it. Do you remember it? Here. Take a look:
 (Update, Dec 6, 2014: The video was taken down. You may find other videos of the song online, but my guess is that they'll be taken down, too. Perhaps your library has a video you can borrow if you want to see how that song was performed.)




Enter Jerod Tate. Here's what he said, in the Salon article, about that song: 
And then the really big thing that we worked on was the replacement of [the lyrics] “ugg-a-wugg.” Just a little background: In general, what we all know is that the Indian tribe that’s represented in Peter Pan was influenced by knowledge of Northeast Indians of the United States. So we’re talking Iroquois, Huron, Wyandotte, Algonquin, these kinds of cultural regions. So what I did was I set out to find a replacement word for “ugg-a-wugg” that was literally a Wyandotte word.
Tate won't say what the word is, but he does say it means "come here." The interviewer asked him if he also worked on the costumes, but he said he only worked on the music and lyrics for the songs. He thinks the change is great, because the phrase is accurate. I disagree. The show and story will always be one in which the point of view is of Indians as exotic and detribalized. In chapter ten of Barrie's book, the Indians prostrate themselves in front of Peter Pan, calling him "the Great White Father." That point of view is the foundation for Barrie's story.

Now let's look at the new film from Warner Brothers.

The trailer for the new movie due out next year has a scene where Pan is on the floor, spears aimed at him. It looks like he's about to be killed, but an older man (which I imagine the script says is an elder or maybe Tiger Lily's dad) stops them. In his hand is a necklace of some sort that Peter was wearing. The man says:
"The little one. He wears the pan."
Here's a screen capture of that scene in the trailer:




The trailer cuts to Tiger Lily, played by Rooney Mara, who says:
"The Pan is our tribe's bravest warrior." 
Here she is in that moment: 



Her line (Pan is our tribe's greatest warrior) points right at the foundation for Barrie's film. Indians who worship whites. That's not ok. It was't ok then, and it isn't ok to give that racist garbage to kids today. Right?

Some of you know that there was a lot of discussion when Rooney was selected as the actress for the part. Many people said that a Native actress ought to be cast instead of Rooney. I disagree with that idea, too. 

Fixing the words in the song, and/or casting a Native person in that role does not change the point of view(s) on which the story rests. These are, through and through, "the white man's Indian." There is no fixing this story or any production of it so that the Native content is authentic. 

Attempts to do so remind me of the many schools that sought/seek to make their Indian mascots more "authentic" so that they could keep objectifying Native people, using their ideas of who Native people are for their own purposes. 

Can we just let that stuff go? 

Wouldn't we all be better off with a major studio production of a story written by a Native person? One that shows us as-we-are (or were if it is in the past), as human beings who do not say things about how we worship a "great white father" or a white guy who is our "greatest warrior"?  

By remaking this story, and/or by staging it in schools and theaters, we're just recycling problematic, stereotypic, racist images. Why do it?! 

Here's an irony. NBC released a promo featuring Allison Williams talking about the production. There's a part near the end where Williams is singing "it never never ends" as Tiger Lily drops to the stage:  




I want it to end. Don't you?

3 comments:

Gabriele Bianchetti said...

I didn't think the costumes for a 'big' movie like 'Pan' could look so fake and harmful.

sam said...

FYI it seems that Tiger Lily's tribe in Pan is no longer supposed to be Native. I don't think they were going for authenticity.

Sarah Proudfit said...

Just heard this: apparently the Pan producers are NOT paying the Great Ormond Street Hospital anything despite the hospital being the copyright holder of the Peter Pan stories. They claim the movie is changed enough so they don't have to give anything to a children's hospital.

So, they are adding insult to injury. Not paying the hospital added to creepy whitewashing.

BOYCOTT PAN!!