Pocahontas

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.

Biggest Gripes

  • 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.

Cons

  • 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.

Pros

  • 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

 

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Disney’s Distortion of Awesome Princesses through Merchandise, Part 1

When you walk down the aisles of a toy store, it is fairly clear where boys and girls are expected to shop. Toy aisles are color-coded for an easy gender prescription. While most Disney princesses are the same old trope and conform easily into sexist merchandising, what happens to the princesses are a little more….untraditional? Turns out they are warped from their positions of individualism and power into the same cookie-cutter shape traditional princesses are in. Here are a few examples.

Merida

In case you missed it, when Disney released a makeover of their Princesses last May, quite a few people were upset with Merida’s makeover. Every body part — including her foot — were slimmed down. Her eyes got bigger and make up was applied. Her dress was lightened in color, made more feminine with golden etching and glitter. And, perhaps the worst offense of all, her weapon was removed from her grip.

Pocahontas

Pocahontas is one of the most problematic WoC in Disney. She is unfairly comandeered by white culture and morale with her tale with no respect for her ethnic background and Native American culture with preference to her tribe (essentially, her story woul be the same if she was replaced with a white woman). Still, Pocahontas persists as the strong princess that chose to stay with her people and her family rather than leave it all behind for the white boy she had met and had a fling with. Pocahontas’ merchandise is more damaging to Native American people than even her motion picture.

In the same makeover that had Disney fans stirring about the presentation of Merida as a Princess, Pocahontas was also redone.

You can see here that jewels were added to her buckskin getup. She was given earrings, her eyes got larger and more doe-like, her torso got thinner, and the necklace she got from her father was made shinier. Makeup was applied. She was all around glamourized with an appreance that looks like it belongs more on the Oscars’ red carpet rather than in the trees.

Disney’s marketing and merchandising strategy with Pocahontas also leads to cultural appropriation of Native American customs and way of life. This includes headdresses, Native American Halloween costumes, dream catchers, etc. Disney is literally cashing in on perpetuating racism.

Dissatisfied Princesses

This is a cute video created by YouTube user AVByte that criticizes Disney’s princess stereotype. The princesses featured in the video (Jasmine, Ariel, Aurora, Cinderella, Snow White, Belle) are lectured by Queen Elsa on their refusal to critically think about their story lines. Princesses such as Pocahontas, Mulan, and Merida are omitted, perhaps because their story line does not revolve around finding love but on other factors and AVByte’s criticism might not have held up.

This video exposes many of the problems that are prevalent within the older princess films. While progress has been made with films such as Frozen and Brave, old princess tropes are still prevalent and surround our young girls. Even though Snow White and Cinderella are older films, I grew up watching them and even though I am now in my twenties I still see young girls enjoying them. The presence of criticism such as this cutesy YouTube clip is uplifting, however, because videos such as this can spur discussion among mothers and their daughters about what being a girl and a woman means. And even newer Disney princess films such Tangled fall under this trope, with Rapunzel being saved from Mother Gothel by Flynn Rider and never given the chance to grow outside of someone else.

Girls need to recognize that they need to develop as themselves first, then worry about falling in love. Love is an incredible human emotion and should be experienced by everyone one way or another, either between siblings such as in Frozen, family such as in Brave, between friends,  or between those in a consensual relationship. Dialogue such as this video needs to exist to bring light to the fact that men are not the be all and end all. While these older stories may center around the woman character, the real story is about finding and keeping a man. So are the stereotypical Disney princess movies really about women? ‘Cause it really seems to revolve around men.