A year ago, I wrote an article that touched upon the damage done to indigenous people through the misappropriation of our identities and cultures in Warner Bro’s Pan and Eli Roth’s Green Inferno. I wrote about the importance and need for authentic indigenous representation. I wrote about how our issues, especially media representation, are often treated like “obligatory twitter freakouts” that are over as quickly as they begin.
You would think that given the #NotYourTigerlily conversation that happened when Rooney Mara was cast as Tiger Lily and when NBC debuted it’s widely panned flop, Peter Pan Live!, that Warner’s Bros. and director, Joe Wright, would have taken a moment to reflect on their portrayal of indigenous people. You would think that given the #NotYourHollywoodIndian discussion that arose with the racist and misogynistic treatment of indigenous people in Adam Sandler’s Ridiculous Six, that they would stop and think about the impact that their portrayal of Tigerlily and her tribe would have on indigenous people.
Instead, Joe Wright and Rooney Mara took the time to talk with Collider.com and gloat about their willful disregard for the concerns of indigenous people, their identities and their cultures. It is exactly as Tara Houska, co-founding board member of Not Your Mascots, said in December:
“They created a non-Native “tribe” that faux-headdress-loving Coachella fans would be proud of, while simultaneously engaging in an activity mainstream society is adept at — silencing Native peoples.”
Although the erasure and misappropriation of indigenous identities and cultures in Warner Bros. Pan extends far beyond that of Native Americans and First Nations people. They are not culturally appropriating the identity and culture of one or two tribes. Instead they have reduced the identities and cultures of all indigenous people worldwide into one monolithic tribe of Technicolor savages.
As Joe Wright told Collider.com:
“In the book, the natives are described as being redskins, which is a term I don’t really recognize. So I couldn’t work out where they were natives of. So I thought, should they be Native American, or should they be African, or should they be Mongolian? And then I thought, well, better if they are from everywhere, that they are all natives of Planet Earth.”
Oh, that’s right. In addition to stating the obvious that indigenous people are in fact human beings from Earth, Joe Wright dropped the R-word and feigned ignorance of it’s meaning. Does he really expect anyone to believe that as an English man, that he has not read Peter Pan, seen the play or the Disney cartoon? Does he expect anyone to truly believe that he doesn’t have the internet and did no research prior to filming? Especially since in this same interview, Rooney Mara stated:
“I was like, “How is that going to work? I can’t play Tiger Lily.” Because I always thought of her as a Native American, because that’s always how she has been portrayed. I met with him anyway, because I love him, and I asked how this is going to work.”
According to Mara, the reason why a White Tiger Lily works is because her Tiger Lily is a tree-hugger and a punk. She’s “Not dirty, but a little bit of a hippie and also punk”. Nevermind that Hippie culture, much like Hollywood, thrives off perpetuating reductive Native stereotypes and ignoring the harmful impact that cultural misappropriation and whitewashing of indigenous identities has on the ongoing struggles in Native communities.
Instead of waxing poetic about the ethnocidal liberties that were taken with the portrayal of the indigenous people, I wish Joe Wright had taken a cue from Spielberg’s Hook. Rather than serving up the same racist characterizations or promoting the ethnocidal “melting pot” present in Warner Bros. Pan, there was no Tigerlily and there was no tribe. There was no dehumanization of indigenous people, no opportunity for an actress to describe her movements as an indigenous warrior as ‘animalistic’. There was no opportunity to misappropriate an entire people’s identity and culture. There was no glorification or servitude to the “Great White Father” figure (Pan) or White Savior Industrial Complex, which brings us to Eli Roth’s The Green Inferno.
IMDB describes the plot of The Green Inferno in the following words:
“A group of student activists travels to the Amazon to save the rain forest and soon discover that they are not alone, and that no good deed goes unpunished.”
This is a huge improvement from the original description released last year that described the plot as “A group of student activists travel from New York City to the Amazon to save a dying tribe. Unfortunately, they crash in the jungle and are taken hostage by the very natives they protected”.
In January of 2014, the Peruvian government greenlighted the Camisea gas project’s expansion to the lands of “uncontacted” Amazon tribes. The expansion allows Pluspetrol (Argentina), Hunt Oil (US) and Repsol (Spain) to detonate thousands of explosive charges, drill exploratory wells and move hundreds of workers into the Nahua-Nanti Reserve for isolated and uncontacted tribes. All of the land lots being given to these companies overlap with the territories of the indigenous people in the reserve. The mass deforestation and destruction of their local ecosystems combined with the increased exposure to diseases that they lack immunity to fight off threaten to destroy entire way of life as well as their very existence. They are also dealing with the murder of local indigenous activists working to preserve their way of life at alarming rates and while the gas/oil corporations and Peruvian government turn a blind eye.
Last year, when I first wrote about The Green Inferno, I wrote that:
“While it is just a movie and while it may not have been Eli Roth’s intention, this movie will negatively affect the way that people will treat the struggles of these isolated and uncontacted tribes. Dehumanizing them, making them into monsters will only help to justify the genocide of these aboriginal people because it causes people to lose their ability to empathize and to see these tribal people as fellow human beings. It instills fear and the belief that they deserve what they get for not joining ‘civilized’ society.”
I was wrong in my assessment that it was just a movie. What you are seeing in the trailer and what will be seen in the movie is beyond just a Redsploitation film. In an interview with empireonline.com, Eli Roth stated that:
“We went in the Amazon deeper than anyone has ever shot a movie before. I went so far up the river, we went to a village where they had no electricity, no running water, and they never before had seen a movie or television.”
“We had to explain to them conceptually what a movie was, and we brought a television and a generator and we showed them Cannibal Holocaust. They thought it was the funniest thing that they had ever seen, but we had to know whether they were down with it to let us in their village.”
“Thank God no one got killed, but there were tarantulas, there were spider bites, there were snakes. It was insane. Everybody had to get de-parasited after we got back, but the footage was incredible.”
It is reprehensible for a film to demonize indigenous people facing the threat of genocide. It is even more reprehensible that Eli Roth and his film crew, not only exploited and endangered this tribe, but took it upon themselves to expose this remote village to modern technology without any regard to the tribe’s autonomy or the ramifications that it could have upon their society. It is an extreme reflection of Settler Mentality and White Privilege and it wasn’t even done under the guise of “progress”. It is done to sate the ego and selfish desires of a filmmaker and an industry that profits from its racism without ever being held accountable.
This is why it is of the utmost importance that we keep fighting for authentic indigenous representation in the mainstream media. The ethnocidal exploits of Joe Wright, Eli Roth and Hollywood in general need to stop. It is time that the mainstream media starts taking responsibility and acknowledging the part that they play in the erasure of indigenous people, the silencing of our voices, the marginalization of our issues, and the harmful impact that their ignorance and arrogance has on our communities.
I don’t know how many more times that we have to say, but I will keep saying it as long as possible.
“The way that we are represented and portrayed in the mainstream matters and it is important that we start reclaiming the power to represent ourselves and to force more authentic portrayals of who we are as indigenous people.”