Pocahontas is a problematic film for many reasons: It is accurate allowing people to believe everything in the film is fact, yet the movie changes parts of history, while at the same time being filled with subliminal negative messages, which has a large impact on how Natives view themselves and how the general public views Native Americans. Part of what makes this film so dangerous is by how accurate it appears at the surface. This is the first film by Disney that was done based not on fairytale or myths, but history. This meant that the producer and the director had to try to be more accurate in the way it portrayed its characters.
The development of the Phaeton tribe was widely researched and fairly accurate in gender roles, the culture, the town and attire. The film does a good job accurately portraying the gender roles of tribe members. Throughout the movie the women can be seen collecting edible plants such as corn, squash and beats, farming, preparing food such as grinding grains and cooking, as well as raising children and making their houses. Women can be seen starting to build the structure for a house as well as starting to create the walls. At the same time the men’s roles are also accurately represented.
The men can be seen fishing as well as hunting, which were typical community roles. There is also a scene where younger boys are playing lacrosse. According to “The Phaeton Indian World” by Sarah J Stabbing this is a good description of parts each gender was expected to fulfill. Towards the beginning several men are returning from what we later learn was some sort of fight. Not all of the men traveled on these journeys. Some stayed home to alp the tribe. While Disney is known for creating unrealistic expectations for characters, specifically its princesses, Pocahontas was praised for being one of Disney’s most realistic characters.
In The Making of Pocahontas, the viewer discovers that Pocahontas was based off of Irene Beaded, an Inupiat Eskimo and French Canadian/Cree. Disney hired American Indians to voice all of the characters in the Phaeton tribe in the movie. The voice actors described being able to really understand the background of the character they were trying to portray which gave the movie a more realistic feel. It would have en easy for the producers to hire well known celebrities to voice the characters, but by hiring Native Americans a certain depth and character development was brought to the film.
While it would have been easy for movie makers to portray the Phaeton as “tradition Hollywood Indians” the filmmakers paid attention to detail when drawing the characters. The real Phaeton men had their hair shaved on the right side, but the left was kept longer; the reason being that it allowed men to be able to use a bow and arrow without their hair getting caught in the apparatus. The men also wore war trophies and feathers in their hair. In the movie this is kept true. Instead of wearing headdresses typically associated with Hollywood Indians, the men in this movie had only a feather at most.
The culture of the tribe also seems to be preserved throughout the movie. The film opens up with the song “Steady as the beating Drum” and when compared to the song from Phaeton Rename Nation, an American Indian Festival the intro song seems fairly accurate. The rhythms of the drum beats in both songs are comparable and the overall tone of both pieces seems to be the same. Often Hollywood changes traditional Native American songs and glass them up. They turn music into a brassy war chant, but Pocahontas appears to be more accurate.
The tone and spirit of the music seems to somewhat parallel to songs from the Potato Rename Nation, American Indian Festival. There are also scenes of children playing lacrosse and gathered around sharing stories. In only the length of the song “Steady as the Beating Drum” the overall vibe of the movie has been established as a respectful accurate depiction of the Phaeton people. Hollywood has the tendency to alter the general publics opinion on Native American culture. It would have been much simpler for the filmmaker! O have the tribe act as Planes Indians, yet they took a respectful and more accurate approach.
Even the town itself was carefully researched. The Phaeton relied heavily on their river based community. They would bathe daily and fish in the intricate system Of rivers. According to Stabbing this all seems to be accurate with perhaps a few exceptions; one would not expect etc see the great cliffs and waterfalls that Pocahontas dives off of in the movie. When the film first exposes the town, The Phaeton’s can be seen farming and fishing in the river as most of the men return from a long trip by canoe. Russell Means, voice of Chief Phaeton in the film was a consultant to some of the animators. L mentioned that all the dwellings face east, so they all face in one direction. So if you’ll notice in the script the dwellings all do face in one direction. They re not all Hodge-podgy”. The Phaeton lived in Haskins mad from saplings which were then covered in woven mats that formed a barrel shape. When viewing the film these descriptions seem to be true. It is apparent that the producers put in a great deal of effort in order to remain accurate to the portrayal of the Phaeton tribe. Where the film seems to bobble with its accuracies in tribal depiction comes to clothing. From Christine Y.
House’s website Pocahontas, From Fiction to Fact: Using Disney Film to Teach the True Story we can gain some knowledge about typical attire: “Sketches made by early English explorers show the Phaeton and other Virginia Indians wearing very little clothing except in colder weather. Men wore a fringed, buckskin broadcloth and women, a fringed buckskin apron and strings of shell beads or fresh water pearls. Both sexes wore leggings and moccasins when they went into the woods and buckskin mantles or match coats for warmth in winter. The biggest problem is the inconsistency of attire.
Some men are seen wearing nothing but a loin cloth while others are dressed in leggings and match coats. Typically the woman would have worn very little. In the film with the focus audience being children the film animators had to make the film appropriate enough, and nudity generally is not accepted. The women are covered up but the movie makes it a point to make their dresses more sexually appealing. Pocahontas supports a one strapped form fitting dress. If the idea was to protect the innocence of children by having the characters wear clothes, the promiscuity of the harassers attire defeats the purpose.
Even with the attention to detail that the directors had with the film, and the fact that Pocahontas was meant to showcase Native Americans in a positive light, the film suffered problems and did not accomplish everything that the producers had in mind. Dry. Jacqueline Slapstick, an expert on Native American film wrote “Instead of progress in depicting Native Americans, this film takes a step backwards – a very dangerous step because it is so carefully glossed as ‘authentic’ and ‘respectful’ “(Slapstick 150). Often times the films intentions mask the problems associated with the movie.
Some problems are more obviously seen, just as the filmmakers admit to changing history to create the story they wanted to tell. History is completely rewritten and while it was one of the first movies to allow Native Americans to be seen “as real people” instead of an extinct or emotionless race, it is over romanticizes. One of the biggest events in the movie is when Pocahontas saves John Smith’s life. While historians debate whether this actually happened, the filmmakers took the liberty of adding it to the story.
Another inaccuracy with the film is the relationship between Pocahontas and John Smith. When the two met, John Smith was twenty seven while Pocahontas was only ten or eleven. The two were never romantically involved, but were friends. The film makes John Smith younger and Pocahontas older, which discredits the friendship that was able to exist in real life despite such a large age gap. The Phaeton’s had a much looser definition of marriage, seeing it only as a contract lasting a year and meant more as an agreement to bear children. Love was not a requirement for marriage, yet it was received. In 1610, Pocahontas married Cocoon, whom Englishman William Strachey described as a ‘private captain. Cocoon was not a chief or a counselor, though mention of his being a ‘private captain’ implies he had command over some men. The fact that he was not a chief, and thus not high in status, suggests that Pocahontas may have married for love” (Pocahontas her life and legend). In the movie Pocahontas is disgusted by the thought of Cocoon. He is seen as a hard warrior type, and instead she falls for John Smith. The amount of history changed in order to tell a more appealing love story is ludicrous.
What makes this so dangerous is that so much factual knowledge was compromised in order to create the film. Also making this film a problem is that most accept the movie to be fact. Where the problem lies with Disney changing history is not in the story line itself. Facts are often changed in order to make something more appealing but with the history behind the story of Pocahontas it is hard to distinguish what is fact and what is fiction. We can easily differentiate a talking animal as something created for the sake of a story, but when it comes to dissecting the facts in Pocahontas it becomes much more difficult. The cute, fuzzy little animals in the film arena realistic, and no one cares about that… The visual ends to be more accessible, and since few people will ever read about Pocahontas, this film’s pseudo-history will exist as ‘fact’ in the minds of generations” (Slapstick 151). There are books filled with information about Pocahontas, but it is much easier to draw information from the movie. With so much of the film’s depictions of Native life being accurate, it is easy to assume that the plot would like-wise be just as accurate.
The trailer released as a promotion for the film advertised Pocahontas as “The tale of an American legend, brought to life’. It is easy to assume that based on a true story would mean a true story. Issues also exist in the underlying tone of the movie. The general impression of the movie is positive, with the biggest take away being racial acceptance. The subliminal messages behind the film represent anything but racial acceptance; Stereotypes are exemplified, a race is objectified and there are a surprising number of unacknowledged racial slurs.
Even though Pocahontas is portrayed as a strong, loving curious Native American, the film exemplifies Stereotypes. In Are there subliminal messages in Disney movies by Naomi Blackman, she explains some of the problems with a particular section of the vie: “There is a scene in which John Smith, the European hero, calls Pocahontas and her people ‘uncivilized’… She explains that her peoples’ culture is not barbaric, but just different in comparison to European cultural norms. Still, this portrays Native Americans as peaceful environmentalists, a common stereotype”.
While being known as peaceful or spiritual is not necessarily a bad stereotype, it is the idea that the film is based off of elementary typecasts about a particular race. The film also subliminally objectifies the Photostats. Instead of treating the film as an opportunity to inform viewers on the life of the Phaeton, the film objectifies the tribe: “The Walt Disney Company released an animated version of Pocahontas, a story perpetuation the view of ‘Indians’ as obstacles to British explorers arrived to civilize the ‘New World (Screamer Encyclopedia of Film 211).
Even with the comradely established with the tribe, there is a lack of hope for the future of this group. Not even the love story plot line cannot disguise the ultimate exemplification of the race. Even at the end when things remain peaceful and it appears that a solution has been reached, a good portion of the men stay Enid to settle the ‘New World’. While the understanding of the movie is ultimately trying to paint the British as the villain, it is unsuccessful and instead creates a race as a hindrance in another races goal. For a film glorified as a movie about acceptance the movie is cluttered with a surprising number of racial slurs.
While it is understanding that in the sixteen hundreds most people were not too concerned on being politically correct, for a movie that is trying not to offend anyone there is a wide use of colorful language. The word savage is used a total of forty two times throughout the film while Indian is used only ten and Native is only said once. “The movie won an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for the song ‘Colors of the Wind. ‘ Pocahontas was widely touted as positively representing American Indians, despite its many references to American Indians as ‘heathens,’ ‘savages,’ ‘devils,’ ‘primitive,’ and ‘uncivilized. (You don’t look like an Indian 2). With wording so blunt it is impressive that it the script is often ignored and the movie is praised as being an accurate depiction of Native Americans. When we look at the Natives side, there is very little said about the invaders. They re said to be dangerous but that is really the extent of the negativity that the white men face. It is these subtle clues of racism that make this movie an unforeseen problem. The problems associated with Pocahontas extend beyond hidden racism and rewriting history.
Even seen as a positive movie, it has gone on to affect the self-esteem of Native Americans and falls victim to social representation which then limits how the general public understands Native American culture and ultimately classifies the race as non-existent or stuck in the past. Several studies have been conducted to see how images such as Pocahontas effect Native American’s self-esteem. One Of the first studies conducted by a group of physiologist exposed a group of high school students on a reservation to an image of Pocahontas. Afterwards they were asked to describe the image.
Several people worked on classifying the words described by the students, and it was found that the image of Pocahontas brought mostly positive words back. Where this became a problem was not how the princess was thought of, but the effects that it had on the Native Americans viewing the picture. “Studies 2 and 3 suggest that salient social representations of American Indians undermine positive feelings of worth, whether the focus is on the individual self or the communal self” (Of Warrior Chiefs and Indian Princesses 214). It is not the image of Pocahontas herself that is the problem.
It is the association and the expectation that is brought from her image that is the problem. There is an unrealistic expectation that makes individuals and communities question their value. “Activating these stereotypic social representations restricts the range of possible selves that can be easily brought to mind, or competes with selves held prior to the priming. Research has shown that a wide or diverse range of possible selves s related to high self-esteem and, conversely, that a limited range of possible selves is related to lower self-esteem” (Really?
You don’t look like an American Indian 39). With the lack of available depictions of Native Americans in media, an individual is restricted on the variety of social roles it can easily recall. This then subjects them to feeling unsatisfied if they are not similar to the characters they associate themselves with. While it would be easy to think that by creating a character like Pocahontas it would increase the “selves” that are able to be recalled, but Pocahontas is not a unique character.
She fits into preexisting pigeonholes. The reason behind this is the struggle surrounding social representation. “Social representation theory suggests that even if American Indian mascots are viewed positively, these representation are likely to have negative consequences because they underscore the constrained variability of American Indian representations, constraining individual potential and limiting what American Indians see as possible for themselves in the future” (Of warrior chiefs and Indian princesses 210).
With only a limited number of Native American characters existing in media, the capabilities of an individual are limited to only what they see as acceptable. In the movie Smoke Signals the main character Victor describes that you have to act like an Indian to his friend Thomas. Thomas responds “but am an Indian”. It is the idea that with so few famous Natives easily accessible to look up to, Native American’s feel like they have to fit into the typecast that media has labeled them. This limitation of Native American’s in the media not only affects Indians, but it also limits knowledge of the general public.
Just as Indians are unable to identify themselves, the knowledge of most Americans bout Indians is limited to their portrayal in the media. “Psychologists and educators have long recognized the powerful influence of movies, television, and literature on the shaping Of minds, young and Old. For many Americans (and American Indians, too), Pocahontas and other major motion pictures have been their primary sources of information about American Indians (Prewar, 1 995}’ (You don’t look like an Indian 2).
With little information existing about Native Americans, the films in existence are the defining pieces that help inform the public. Even though Pocahontas is seen as a positive film, t is still filled with subtle racism and allows Native Americans to be placed into preexisting stereotypes. Instead of using the movie as an opportunity to expand viewer’s knowledge of a minority race, it takes a dangerous step backwards in the oppression of Indians.
Unfortunately this limited availability of main stream or modern Native Americans also solidifies the general publics knowledge of them in the past. With little information taught in the American education system about Native Americans and with little exposure to the modern day Indian, “For many Nan-Indians, an Indian must assemble a historical image, one frozen in the past and in historical archives– the noble, proud warrior dancing about and worshipping nature’s mysteries. For still others an Indian is only an Indian if he or she is a full blood.
Thus an Indian in the twentieth century is surely distinctive: a victim of colonization, battered about by the state and federal government agencies, and subjugated to hardship status by a system that still does not fully understand how the Indian has managed to survive” (Tremble, 1987, p. 214). While Pocahontas was beneficial in helping to educate the general public, and hoecakes a tribe other than a group from the Great Plains, it froze Native Americans as part of the past. The movie takes place in the early sixteen hundreds. While it receives credit for depicting a historically accurate tribe the film places the Photostats in the past.
The problem continues with Pocahontas in that the movie intersects the English and Native Americans. It continues to support the idea that Native Americans did not fully exist before European contact. Gary Edgerton and Kathy Merlot Jackson write “The dominant view of Native Americans has always originated with Euro-American ultra, reflecting Anglicizes attitudes and preferences and ultimately pushing native perspectives to the margins of society, if not entirely out of view. ” The movie contain uses to support European and Native American relationships.
While it is understood that Disney continually creates stories based off of romance, it would have been more refreshing and beneficial if the love story had taken place outside of interactions with a Caucasian character. Pocahontas is a film associated with many problems: It is accurate enough allowing people to believe everything in the film is fact, yet the movie grants itself the ability to rewrite history, while creating subliminal negative messages ultimately having a larger effect impacting how Native Americans view themselves and altering the way the general public views Native Americans.