Taking Back Tiger Lily
I happened to run across a call for submissions from Four Winds Magazine recently for sketches, paintings, beadwork, photography, poetry, short essays, and prose by Native American artists on the subject of "re-creating Tiger Lily to fit a real model of Indigenous womanhood." In case you aren't familiar, Tiger Lily is the Indian princess from J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan. Her most popular incarnation is likely from the Disney cartoon version, with early character studies shown above.
This feels like a project I want to take on. And, given that Robohontas is already created from a doll inspired by a Disney cartoon version of a Native historical figure, I wondered if there might be a Tiger Lily doll out there. In fact, there is. Coming out of South Korea is a line of fashion dolls called Pullip that has a Tiger Lily doll (shown above). This one isn't Pullip herself, but one of her friends named Byul. And clearly there is a little more to her representation than just the Disney version of Tiger Lily, but I think she could be an interesting figure to work with. And I'm fascinated by the fact that she's really designed and manufactured for a global market outside the U.S. Will she become a robot like Robohontas? I don't know yet. But I'm curious to discover how her story will unfold.
In doing some brief internet research, one of the best things I found was a blog post by Cutcha Risling Baldy (Hupa/Karuk/Yurok) where she "interviews" Tiger Lily. It was AMAZING and super inspiring as I was gathering ideas for my own art submission. Please read it for yourself if you are interested.
There were, of course, other articles that took a critical look at how Native women are portrayed by Hollywood. Dr. Adrienne Keene (Cherokee) of Native Appropriations had a great article in Indian Country Media Today Network titled "Why Fix Tiger Lily? Why Can't We Just Let Her Go?"
And then there were (of course... unfortunately...) the many images I also came across of a hyper-sexualized version of Tiger Lily. The image above is from a listing for a "Neverland Tiger Lilly (sic) Indian Princess Pocahontas Rave Festival Costume." You can buy it for only $75 from Electric Dream Factory via Etsy. And while I realize that these types of depictions of Native women are all meant in good fun, the harm that stereotyping Native women as two-dimensional characters that are always sexually available is exactly what leads to Federal data such as, "[M]ore than one in three Native women will be raped during their lifetime, whereas for women as a whole the risk is less than one in five." And yes, out of all the rave costumes being sold by this particular party on Etsy, this was the only one based off of a specific ethnic identity. (I plan on reaching out to ask that they respectfully stop making this particular costume. You should too!)
So. I'm excited to have a new project to work on. When I first read the call for submissions, I had a moment of hesitation that maybe I shouldn't submit anything since I'm a man. But then I realized that I should submit work exactly because I'm a man, to show that womens issues are human issues and to support all the mothers, daughters, grandmothers, sisters, aunts, nieces, wives, girlfriends, friends, coworkers, and women of the world. And I'll leave you with my favorite image I ran across on Flickr while doing my research. A Pullip Tiger Lily doll holding a sign for Columbus Day...