Rooney Mara is speaking out about the controversy surrounding her casting as Tiger Lily in Joe Wright's Pan.
"It wasn't great, I felt really bad about it," Mara told PEOPLE at the NYC premiere of Pan on Sunday when asked how she coped with the criticism.
After it was announced in March that the Caucasian actress would be playing the Native American princess, the Internet went wild – and not in a good way. "The whitewashing accusations started to fly," wrote Entertainment Weekly at the time.
"It was something that I thought about before I met with Joe," Mara, 30, told PEOPLE at the film premiere. "When I met with Joe and heard what his plans for it were, it was something I really wanted to be a part of," she added of her decision to star in Wright's retelling of J.M. Barrie's beloved classic Peter Pan, out Oct. 9.
"But I totally sympathize with why people were upset and feel really bad about it," she added.
Mara also told PEOPLE that she relates to her character because, "I think we're both very independent women who can hold their own. We don't need a man to save us."
VIDEO: Hugh Jackman's Changing Looks
She might not need a man, but her boyfriend Charlie McDowell seemed to come in handy at Pan's Neverland-themed after party, where he entertained Mara's nieces at the arts and crafts stations while the actress mingled with family and friends.