Pocahontas, albeit an enjoyable movie (more for nostalgic reasons on my end, being a child of the 90’s), is a nasty blemish on Disney’s already-shabby-landscape of WoC characters. I’m pretty sure I could compile an entire dissertation on the cultural appropriation, racism, sexism, and ignorance (among other things) that run wild in this film. There are sources, upon sources, upon sources, debunking the protrayal of Native Americans and Pocahontas in this film. Some common discussions include the inaccuracy of the story; i.e., Pocahontas (or Matoaka, which was her real name) is a grown woman in the Disney depiction while she was between the ages of 10 and 12 in real life. Disney distorted Pocahontas’ story beyond recognition. As I watched the film, I kept a pro + con list of happenings/subliminal messages.
- The moment John Smith and Pocahontas met, all romantic/mystic-like with a fountain and such, Smith POINTS A GUN AND PREPARES TO SHOOT HER BUT ONLY STOPS BECAUSE HE FINDS HER ATTRACTIVE. LIKE, TALK ABOUT MAKING LIGHT OF VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN AND ATTITUDES/ACTIONS/THINGS THAT REAL WOMEN ENCOUNTER EVERYDAY– AND HOW ATTRACTIVE THEY ARE DOESN’T SAVE THEM.
- The song “Savages” has issues from beginning to end. I really do believe Disney had good intentions when they wrote this song. HOWEVER it treats reverse racism as a real thing, which it is not. They try to level the playing field between the Native American people and the English settlers in terms of racism and violence. Let’s be real here, though. The playing field wasn’t level, it was never level, and it still is not level with our current state of white supremacy and patriarchy.
- Throughout the film, the Native American race was portrayed as uni-racial with no respect for the separate tribes and cultural diversity of First People.
- The female faces in Pocahontas were smooth and youthful while the male faces were drawn in great detail, hinting at wisdom and age. An exception to this rule was Thomas, a settler, but he was highly feminized in the movie and perceived as less manly by other male characters.
- Pocahontas, who claimed to want to be a free spirit and unattached to a man at the beginning of the film, ultimately fell for a white man instead of Kocoum. I have already explained why this is problematic in my post on Esmeralda.
- Governor Ratcliffe was a sissified villain (see my post on Disney Villains).
- The English settlers regularly referred to the Native Americans as “savages” and claimed the land as their own. The film did not discuss that this was a problematic attitude.
- The film attempts to teach lessons about being a man: “A man is not a man if he cannot shoot.”
- After Pocahontas and John Smith meet, there is what I call the “magical love wind” (which is supposedly Pocahontas’ mother’s spirit) and it broke the language barrier between Smith and Pocahontas. Which is cool, I guess, but I found the fact that Pocahontas defaulted to English, Smith’s language, instead of Smith learning hers, really upsetting. Why was it her language that had to be erased?
- The Native American men were all drawn with the same body type, facial structures, and hairstyles while the white men were highly varied — this perpetuates stereotypes.
- During a conversation, Smith refers to Pocahontas and her people as “savages” and, as she grew understandably upset at that description, proceeded to tell her how she should feel about it instead of listening to her as a PoC voice.
- In the beginning Pocahontas is strong and dreams big for herself and is not in the market for a man.
- “Colors of the Wind” is a really awesome song. I think we can learn some lessons from it, all of us.
- Pocahontas is the one that saves John Smith, instead of Smith saving her as would be expected considering Disney’s track record.
- The movie does teach some good lessons on how to be courageous in the face of adversity and promotes understanding (although the promotion is not perfect).
Feminist rating: 5/10
Passes Bechdel Test
Passes Racial Bechdel Test