So it turns out that Mowgli may be a girl.
Mowgli is the hero of The Jungle Book, Rudyard Kipling’s story collection about a wild boy raised by wolves in India. Most people are familiar with the story from Disney’s 1967 animated movie, for which child actor Bruce Reitherman voiced the role, or the live action Disney remake from last spring. Both of those Mowglis are male.
But the Marin Theatre Company (MTC) has cast the young, local actress Sango Tajima as Mowgli in its Family Series Production of Jungle Book.
The idea for the gender switch came from the play’s director Login Ellis. MTC got approval to cast a female in the lead role Wednesday from Greg Banks, the author of this adaptation.
Kipling's stories, written in the 1890’s, are in the public domain.
“We just thought it was right time to do it and the right cast to do it with,” says Jason Minadakis, artistic director for MTC. “With everything that is going on today, we thought it was really important to re-envision [the work] with a female hero at the center of the play, one that has always been so male-centric.”
By “everything going on today,” Minadakis says he means the Presidential campaign that could result in the election of Hillary Clinton as the first woman U.S. President, as well as the growing awareness of gender inequities throughout society.
“It just seems like we need to be re-envisioning stories that we hold as cultural touchstones, and letting the power of those stories apply to women and people of color who may have felt left out before," Minadakis says.
Minadakis says the show's director and dramaturg went through the script carefully to ensure all the gender references were correct for a woman in the role of Mowgli.
But there was no need to tweak the name itself. Kipling made up the name, claiming that Mowgli was a wolf word for a smooth-skinned creature like a frog.