Pocahontas was a Disney animated feature film produced Walt Disney Feature Animation and launched for viewers by Walt Disney Pictures in 1995. It is based on the love story of an American Indian woman called Pocahontas and Capt. John Smith who was a resident of a new world. The story explains the woman’s journey to the New World with people of her community to start new lives. The Chief Powhatan of the North American tribe (who is her father) condemns her love affair with Capt. John and tells her to choose a native fighter for her marriage. He refuses to accept the newcomers and is of the view that they want to plunder their world for their purposes. As the story progresses Capt. Smith remains oblivious of his fellow Englishmen’s intentions to take advantage of this situation and to steal all the gold from the Native Americans and run away to their new world. The story then takes the form of a tipsy and curvy ride where Pocahontas has to decide between her love for Capt. Smith and the welfare of her people. Both lovers face a lot of turmoil to prevent an incoming war and to protect their love for each other. The movie Pocahontas is a quality film because it significantly highlights the kind hearted and resolute of woman Pocahontas was and addresses the issues faced by women in a patriarchal society and also enlightens all of the people to look beyond a woman’s role as merely a home maker. The main reason behind choosing the film in view is the strong message that it conveys.
Cultural and Historical Legacy along with Stereotypes and Pocahontas’s Conformation of them
The very start of the movie focusses on gender-related representations stereotyping them in the film maker’s perception of the Native Americans life. Native American women are engaged in collecting corn and hastening to take care of the men who just returned from the war zone. Over time, it has been noted by many people that Disney tends to show women emerged in domesticated homemaker roles who are happily associated in household chores. Another scene from the movie shows the princess and her friend collecting corn, where her dad is seen bashing her for coming alone. “You shouldn’t be here alone; I’ll send for Kokomo” This implies a stereotype imposed by Disney that many Native American women are never free to go alone and should always be sheltered by men. These scenes are a testimony that the women are thought to be engaged in homemaking tasks along with doing chores whereas men are to fight fierce battles and participates in ensuring safety and security of the tribes’ women. (Henke et. al)
Another stereotype which is a common one displayed by Disney is the portrayal of Pocahontas as a young, stunning woman with big black eyes, silky long black hair, and a tiny waist. It only represents the society’s perception of beauty; setting unachievable high standards of being attractive and good looking for women. About the Body image shown, more and more girls are thought to be exposed to stereotypical images that they ought to attain to be called beautiful. (Farhat, Hiba)
Being called as the “savages” in one of the songs, the Native Americans are yet again stereotyped as being substandard to white people. Over and over constant flow and progress of such words throughout the movie lead the viewers (mainly children) to believe that white people are superior to blacks who remain to be in a poorer position. Referred to as “others” and called “uncivilized people” along with savages by Smith, the white adventurer, this furthermore creates a huge discrepancy and discrimination of its kind. (Nunez, Veronica) Even if this may be the case in the real story line, Disney should have focused on implementing some cultural sensitivity as these movies shape the young children’s thinking patterns. White people are once again attributed as higher to the Native Americans, since their target is to impart the ways of using the land and living properly to the Native Americans. John Smith is seen telling Pocahontas in one of the scenes that their goal is to make the “savages” “civilized” hence testifying to Disney’s assumptions of racial roles in the society. (Farhat, Hiba) (Edgerton, Gary, and Jackson)
Disney again focusses on stereotyping Masculinity of men setting higher duties and responsibilities on them for being a “man” similarly creating an ideal approach for women to be powerful, along with being beautiful and associated in homemaking roles like Pocahontas. Chief Powhatan is shown having a conversation with his daughter regarding her marriage to Kokum and is seen describing a perfect and ideal husband by saying A perfect man “will make a fine husband,” he knows and should be: “strong, loyal, and can build good houses with sturdy walls. He can keep you safe from harm.” Also in another scene, when one of the British’s couldn’t shoot on the defined target, his boss was found saying: “a man is not a man unless he knows how to shoot,” this henceforth creates a strong image in young children’s minds that using weapons along with their accurate knowledge is a critical factor associated with being a man. Pocahontas father was yet again shown as influential and strong which is a typical Disney classification for “Dads” role. Disney films show Dads as strong and impatient characters who almost always and fail to comprehend or support their youngsters. (Farhat, Hiba)
The movie also shows Native Americans to be as resilient and stubborn in their views as that of the British. However, history and reality negate this by clearly prescribing British with the roles of alleged annihilators and murderous while the Native Americans and their struggles and sacrifices remain ignored. The movie ends with a peaceful resolute on both ends while this was not the case at all in real where Powhatan nation was always the victim to eventual decimation. (Farhat, Hiba)
- Farhat, Hiba. “Pocahontas Stereotypes.” WordPress.Com, https://hibafarhat.wordpress.com/pocahontas-stereotypes/.
- Nunez, Veronica. “Disney Movies And Racism / 1 Pocahontas”. Disneyandmovies.Pbworks.Com, 2009, http://disneyandmovies.pbworks.com/w/page/17905676/1%20Pocahontas.
- Hastings, Waller. “Disney’S Pocahontas: Folklore, History, And The Culture Industry.” Academia.Edu, 1995, http://www.academia.edu/2144708/Disney_s_Pocahontas_Folklore_History_and_the_Culture_Industry.
- Morenus, David. “The Real Pocahontas.” Pocahontas.Morenus.Org, 2016, http://pocahontas.morenus.org/.
- Henke, Jill Birnie, Diane Zimmerman Umble, and Nancy J. Smith. “Construction of the Female Self: Feminist Readings of the Disney Heroine.” Women’s studies in communication 19.2 (1996): 229-249.
- Edgerton, Gary, and Kathy Merlock Jackson. “Redesigning Pocahontas: Disney, the “white man’s Indian,” and the marketing of dreams.” Journal of Popular Film and Television 24.2 (1996): 90-98.