Pocahontas

Pocahontasposter

Pocahontas
Rating: G
Released: 1995
Run Time: 81 minutes
Directed By: Mike Gabriel, Eric Goldberg

Cultural ratingpawpaw

Overall, this film tries to engage with a marginalized identity (Native Americans) that is rarely depicted in mainstream media in a positive or uplifting manner; however, the film lacks the historical context necessary to situate the audience as far as the detrimental effects of colonization are concerned and also makes broad generalizations about Native American groups. Also, while Pocahontas challenges traditional gender roles regarding femininity in a number of ways, the film does little to engage with other marginalized cultural identities.

Summary

The daughter of Chief Powhatan, Pocahontas, is expected to marry an Algonquin suitor. However, despite the pressures from her father, Pocahontas resists the marriage and falls in love with Englishman John Smith.


Ratings

Language: poopoopoo

  • Pejorative language in association with race/ethnicity- “injun,” “savage,” “filthy heathens”
  • Demeaning and threatening language- “idiot,” threat to “hang”

Violence: poopoo

  • Character deaths
  • Violent threats- e.g. threat to bludgeon a person to death with a club
  • Combat fighting
  • Weapons-guns, bow and arrows, canons, knives

Sex: poo

  • Kissing
  • Hand holding

Drugs and Alcohol: poo

  • Governor Ratcliffe drinks wine

Cultural Analysis

 Pros:

Gender

  • Pocahontas challenges traditional gender roles regarding femininity. For example, Pocahontas resists male authority by refusing the potential suitor chosen by her father. Thus, she refuses to give up her agency. Also, Pocahontas is depicted as active as she dives off cliffs, rows a boat, is and generally adventurous. In addition, Pocahontas saves John Smith from death.
  • Grandmother Willow, who is implied to be a woman, is powerful, respected, and wise.

Race

  • The film depicts a non-white, Western culture that is regularly either ignored or stereotyped in the media.
  • The film attempts to give a voice to a Native American culture. See “Colors of the Wind” lyrics.

Sexual Orientation– N/A

Disability

  • A man with an eye patch is briefly shown, but his moral character is not implied.

Body– N/A

Cons:

Gender

  • The male gaze is present throughout the film. For example, John Smith refrains from killing Pocahontas only because she is beautiful.
  • Pocahontas is sexualized compared to other female Algonquin Indians. For example, Pocahontas has a very small waist, large breasts, full lips, and long flowing hair while her friend, Nakoma, does not maintain such exaggerated features.
  • The film perpetuates gender stereotypes regarding masculinity. For example, John Smith is traditionally masculine and attractive as he is white, Western, muscular, and has a high pain tolerance. Therefore, John Smith is depicted as the most desirable male in the film. In addition, other situations throughout the film reinforce traditional masculinity such as when Governor Ratcliffe says, “a man’s not a man unless he knows how to shoot” a gun and when Kocoum is deemed a good husband because he is physically strong and can therefore protect Pocahontas.

Race

  • In the film, generalizations are made about Native American culture. Also, while Disney attempts to counteract some negative discourse surrounding Native Americans during colonization with the song “Savages,” pejorative discourse is still present in the number. For example, the song notes that the Indians are “filthy little heathens” and that their “skins are hellish red.”

Sexual Orientation

Disability

  • No major characters are depicted as having a disability.

Body

  • Governor Ratcliffe, who is fat-bodied, is depicted as evil, greedy, and gluttonous. This is problematic because fat-bodies are often an indicator of immoral behavior in the media.

Suggested talking points

  • The song, “Mine, Mine Mine,” perpetuates the cultural myth of manifest destiny.
  • The film romanticizes relations between Native Americans and white, Western Europeans. Disney only attempts to depict a small instance of the bloody and tumultuous relationship between Native Americans and White Europeans throughout history.
  • The song “Savages” attempts to show that both the Native Americans and the White Europeans are equally wrong about one another. However, the term “savage” is a historically pejorative term for Native Americans and reinforces the “us” (colonizers) versus “them” (colonized) mentality similarly present in Orientalism. Thus, the term “savage” was historically used as a justification for colonization.
  • The story of Pocahontas as depicted by Disney is historically inaccurate.

Image: Wikimedia.org

Keywords: Disney, pocahontas, animated, family, musical, movie, review, 2 paws, two paws, race, ethnicity, gender