Get used to saying Alyssa Wapanatâhk’s name.
The 22-year-old Cree actress from Alberta was just cast as Tiger Lily in Disney’s upcoming live-action remake of “Peter Pan.” She’s joining as cast that includes Jude Law as Captain Hook, Milla Jovovich’s daughter Ever Anderson as Wendy, and New Zealand newcomer Alexander Molnoy as Peter.
Wapanatâhk’s agent confirmed that she had been cast in the role, but told HuffPost Canada that she’s not yet doing interviews.
But here’s what we do know about her: she was born in Fort McMurray and grew up in Conklin, Alta. She’s a member of the Bistone Cree First Nation and her reservation is Wabasca, southwest of Fort McMurray in Treaty 8 territory.
Earlier this month, she opted to change her name from Alyssa Alook to Alyssa Wapanatâhk. “Wapanatâhk” was a name she was given at birth, which translates to “first star in the sky” or “morning star,” she wrote on Instagram.
She gave her daughter, who was born in spring 2019, a Cree name, Nitanis, and wants to speak the language with her.
“It feels very right to change my name to this now. I have so much love and respect for my culture and nehiyawewin, the Cree language,” she said.
“It is a part of my goal in this world to bring our language back, and to learn it day by day.”
Last year, she made a short film, “The Boy and the Braid,” about an Indigenous teenager’s relationship with his hair and his cultural traditions. The movie was one of the first-ever recipients of the Telus Indigenous Storyteller Edition grants.
Wapanatâhk’s role as Tiger Lily will be interesting to watch. The character, an Indigenous princess, has been tricky to get right in film. She was certainly written as an offensive stereotype in J.M. Barrie’s original 1904 play, and predictably, Disney’s 1953 animated version didn’t do much to give the Indigenous characters more depth or humanity. (Remember “What Makes the Red Man Red?”)
But Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate, a Chickasaw composer who worked on NBC’s 2014 “Peter Pan Live,” told The Guardian that the character reflects the actor and the culture that continues to re-create her, “and even as a culture we do grow and get better.” Tiger Lily’s bravery, strong will and significant charisma could make her a compelling character, if writers are willing to do the work to understand the cultural context she comes from.
Unfortunately, most of them haven’t, over the course of the half-dozen adaptations we’ve had in the last few decades. The character was cut out of 1991′s “Hook,” and in the 2015 adaptation, she was played by white actress Rooney Mara. The 2003 movie, though, cast Haida actor Carsen Gray, and the 2011 miniseries “Neverland” featured Q’orianka Kilcher, an actor with Quechua roots.
Disney hasn’t yet released any information about the upcoming remake, beyond the casting. But we look forward to seeing what the movie — and Wapanatâhk in particular — have in store.