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1 Pocahontas

Page history last edited by Veronica Nunez 11 years, 2 months ago


Pocahontas     Walt Disney Corporation is one of the most influential media production companies in North America. Its media productions range from TV and radio programs, cartoons, and animated movies. All of these media inventions are targeted to the American population but especially to children. Their animated movies among their other media creations have transformed Walt Disney in a multibillion profit company since its foundations in the 1930s. Moreover, it is well known that Disney fairytales movies usually depict gender stereotypes concerning males and females roles.


Gender stereotypes are pervasive and commonly portrayed through media in American society and large parts of the world, if not worldwide. It is important to note that the term gender is a socially assigned status or label whereas sex pertains to individual biological and physiological traits. Gender refers to the qualities that are considered feminine or masculine. Disney movies strongly influence children to conform to stereotypical images of women and men. For example, a woman ought to be a mother and homemaker whereas a man role is to work out of the house. Through Disney animated movies, little girls seem to learn what womanhood is like. Women are commonly portrayed as sensible, emotional and weak. In contrast, men are depicted as strong, courageous and powerful. However, Disney movies are not the only avenue through which children are influenced regarding gender role and stereotypes. Generally, children’s immediate environment as home, daycare centers, and schools also play a significant role in their socialization.


In Pocahontas, Disney portrays stereotypes on women’s role in society and also gives an inaccurate account of real life events, in which the animated film is based. It is my purpose on this project, to outline the subtle ways in which Disney animated movies, specifically Pocahontas, depicts gender role stereotypes of women and men. I will also underscore the erroneous portrayal of Native Americans in this film by analyzing racist remarks mentioned against such group; the analysis also includes the movie plot and music lyrics like Savages, for example.


Brief Summary of the Real Story about Pocahontas


The story of Pocahontas is controversial because its total accuracy is unclear to historians. However, it is known that Pocahontas was around ten or eleven years of age when English settlers arrived in 1607 to Jamestown. This very fact contradicts Disney depiction of Pocahontas as an adult woman who falls in love with Captain Smith. In other words, Disney distorted the image of a human being to fits its own notion or to make good entertainment. The English settlers gave the land the name of Jamestown in recognition to King James I of England, whom ruled at that time and ordered the voyage to the new world. Matoaka was the real name of Pocahontas and she was one out of the 20 children of chief Powhatan of the Algonquian Indians.


According to Chief Roy Crazy Horse, Pocahontas is known because she became the “good Indian” for Euro-Americans, the one who saved the life of a White man. Thus, a prominent theme in the movie is that of the good/bad Indian. With this stereotypical portrayal, children learn that “Indians” are bad people but some are exception to that rule, like Pocahontas. The movie also depicts American Indians as aggressive while ameliorating the image of the English settlers whom ultimately killed many Native Americans and deposed them of their land.


Furthermore, Captain John Smith and documents accounts concur on that he and some of his co-workers were captured by Native Americans while carrying out their expedition in the new world. Later, they were brought into Chief Powhatan residence. In the movie, only Captain Smith is captured. Some sources say that Smith’s acquaintances were killed during the captivity and only Smith survived due to Pocahontas’s intervention. It has also been said that the “legendary story about Pocahontas” may not be fully correct when referring to Captain Smith remarks (concerning his relationship with Pocahontas) as they were made public 17 years later after the occurrence of events. It is very likely that Matoaka and John Smith were never involved in a romantic relationship as the animated film of Disney portrays. Disney depicts Mr. Smith as loving, peacemaker, but also selfish until he meet Pocahontas. In reality, Captain Smith was known for being ambitious and treacherous.


Moreover, it appears that Pocahontas became an avenue between her people and the English settlers for negotiating goods and maintaining peace. Nevertheless, the relationship between both parties worsened due to hostilities from the English colonists. In 1612, Pocahontas was taken prisoner for a year while visiting Jamestown. Disney fails to portray what what Pocahontas suffered as a prisoner of the English settlers but highlights the mythical experience of John Smith which only raises numerous questions. Furthermore, Pocahontas married in 1614 with an English settler named John Rolfe, who was a very religious man. It seems that the latter marriage was an arranged marriage to iron the differences between Native Americans and the English settlers. However, the English colonists ultimately overthrow Native Americans of their own land. Lastly, Pocahontas was Christianized, named Rebecca and gave birth to a child. At some point, she traveled to England with her husbandand in their way back to Virginia she died in 1617. Pocahontas did not become the leader of her people as the movie insinuates. Neither, the English settlers returned to England empty handed but with a basket of corn. 


 A Short Description of the Principal Characters


Pocahontas is a beautiful young woman who is the daughter of Chief Powhatan.  She has brown skin, black eyes, and light red lips. Her nose is very small and only her nostrils are visible. Her ears are most of the time covered by her long and smooth black hair. Likewise, she has great body shape and tone. Her silhouette is perfectly outlined by her dress. She appears to be bilingual as she speaks English and her native tongue. In the movie, her role is that of a heroine, peacemaker, wise, and adventurous women.


John Smith is an English settler who has directed many voyages to different parts of the world. His main motivation is to find gold and wealth. In England, he is well-known for his expertise in the open sea and successful submission of savages in other “new worlds” he has visited. His European features are highlighted. He is white, blond, tall, and well-spoken. The movie depicts him as adventurous, courageous and strong.


Chief Powhatan has brown skin, long hair, and an outlined body shape. He is depicted with big muscles and distinctive facial features. He always carries a stick and a robe which highlights his authority. He clothing appears to be made of animal skin and he is judicious and well-spoken.


Governor Radcliffe has fair skin, a big nose, and his eye brows and beard are notably outlined. He is in charge of the expedition to the new world and he is only concern with acquiring gold and wealth. Through the movie, he refers to Native Americans as Indians, savages, and uncivilized people because they do not speak proper English or behave as normal human beings should. He is the most racist character in the movie.


Positives and Negatives Highlights from Pocahontas


  • This is the first film where Disney depicts Native Americans. It shows the company’s progress towards a more inclusive approach in their media productions.  Nevertheless, the portrayal of Native Americans is deceitful and the story in which the movie is based is heavily distorted.
  • Pocahontas, the protagonist, is adventurous, wise, and future leader of her people. She does not nicely fit the usual stereotypical images that Disney depicts of women. However, she was not an adult woman who defended the love of her life by putting her own life in danger.
  • Pocahontas could be used as a teaching tool for teachers. The movie can initiate dialogs and conversations between educators and students about the real story of Native American. Nonetheless, if such movie is to be taken into classrooms, an anti-bias perspective that differs from what is presented in the movie should be acknowledged by teachers.
  • The movie endorses the idea of the good/bad Indian. It also underscores the notion of Native Americans as “savages”. Additionally, the happy and joyful ending of the film twist the history of killings and oppression of Native Americans.
  • At certain points, the movie makes Native Americans and English settlers equal offenders when in reality the aggressors were the English colonists.

  • Pocahontas image highlights American standard norms of beauty. According to Dr. Cornel Pewewardy, Pocahontas disnified image is entirely the product of Western colonialism. He goes further and argues that the Indian princess stereotype is rooted in the legend of Pocahontas and is typically expressed through characters who are maidenly, demure and deeply committed to some White man.


Analysis of "Savages"


     The lyrics of the song Savages are extremely offensive. They lack cultural sensitivity and are incredibly detrimental to Natives Americans, especially, Native American children who attend mainstream public school in US. These lyrics first portray Native Americans as unpredictable individuals who are governed by their emotions and uncontrollable desires. Also, some lyrics term deliberately insult Native Americans for their lack of acknowledgment of the Christian God. Once again, Disney highlights the American standard form in religious views and portrays as deviant all that which differs from it. The lyrics condemn the mixing of races. Race is a social construct with no biological basis. Thus, I wondered what does the mixing of races mean. Would individuals born from ethnically diverse parents be less human, weaker, or abnormal? The implications of such phrase in the music lyrics have many questionable points.


     Likewise, the term savages just perpetuates the idea that Native Americans are not civilized, normal, and educated people. Consequently, the theme of trust is introduced in the music lyrics. All those who are like you deserve trust but does who are different from you should be rejected. Such phrase appears to support the segregation of individuals in a world where every human being is unique and part of a whole. The fact that the “Indians” in the movie sing the song that is offensive to them appears paradoxical. To make matters worst, the “savages” also refer to the English settlers with offensive words like demon and paleface as if to make such less aggressive towards both parties.


Video with the Lyrics of "Savages"




"Savages" Lyrics


-Part 1-


Ratcliffe: What can you expect. From filthy little heathens?. Here's what you get when races are diverse (That's right). Their skin's a hellish red. They're only good when dead. They're vermin, as I said. And worse.

English Settlers: They're savages! Savages! Ratcliffe: Barely even human. English Settlers: Savages! Savages!Ratcliffe: Drive them from our shore! They're not like you and me. Which means they must be evil. We must sound the drums of war!Ratcliffe & English Settlers: They're savages! Savages! Dirty redskin devils! Now we sound the drums of war! Powhatan: This is what we feared. The paleface is a demon. The only thing they feel at all is greed. Kekata: Beneath that milky hide. There's emptiness inside. Native American: I wonder if they even bleed. Native Americans: They're savages! Savages! Barely even human. Savages! Savages! Powhatan: Killers at the core.Kekata:They're different from us. Which means they can't be trusted. Powhatan: We must sound the drums of war. Native Americans:They're savages! Savages! First we deal with this one. Then we sound the drums of war. English Settlers: Savages! Savages! Ben: Let's go kill a few, men!Native Americans: Savages! Savages! Ratcliffe: Now it's up to you, men!All: Savages! Savages!Barely even human!Now we sound the drums of war!



Part 2-

Pocahontas: Is there nothing I can do? Will this really be the end? Is it only death that waits. Just around the riverbend? Ratcliffe: This will be the day ...(Let's go men!)Powhatan:This will be the morning ... (Bring out the prisoner). English Settlers and Native Americans:  We will see them dying in the dust. Pocahontas:  I don't know what I can do. Still, I know I've got to try. English Settlers:  Now we make 'em pay. Pocahontas: Eagle, help my feet to fly. Native Americans: Now without a warning... Pocahontas: Mountain, help my heart be great. English Settlers and Native Americans: Now we leave 'em blood and bone and rust. Pocahontas: Spirits of the earth and sky ... English Settlers and Native Americans: It's them or us. Pocahontas: Please don't let it be to late...English Settlers and Native Americans: They're just a bunch of filthy, stinking. English Settlers: Savages! Native Americans: Savages! English SettlersDemons! Native Americans Devils!Ratcliffe:  Kill them! Native Americans: Savages! English Settlers: Savages! Ratcliffe+English Settlers: What are we waiting for? All: Destroy their evil race. Until there's not a trace left. Pocahontas: How loud are the drums of war. English Settlers and Native Americans: We will sound the drums of war (Savages! Savages!). Now, we sound the drums of war(Savages! Savages!) Ratcliffe: Now we see what comes Of trying to be chums. Native Americans: Now we sound the drums ... of ... war!English Settlers: Of course it means the drums ... of ... war! Pocahontas: Is the death of all I love. Carried in the drumming of war?


1. The Association for Preservation of Virginia Antiquities. http://lcweb4.loc.gov/learn/start/cite/index.html). (Accessed March 11 2009)

2. ST Lyrics. http://www.stlyrics.com/p/pocahontas.htm (Accessed March 21 2009)

3. The Pocahonta Myth. http://www.powhatan.org/pocc.html (Accessed March 21 2009)

4. The Pocahontas Paradox: A Cautionary Tale for Educators. http://www.hanksville.org/storytellers/pewe/writing/Pocahontas.html (Accessed May 2 2009)

5. Variety. http://www.variety.com/review/VE1117904160.html?categoryid=31&cs=1 (Accessed May 2 2009)

6. Lee, Menkart, Okazawa-Rey: Beyond  Heroes and Holidays: A Practical Guide to K-12 Anti-Racist,  Multicultural Education and Staff Development. (Teaching for Change: Washingtong, DC 2008), 132-136


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