The Problematic Princess
“If you walk the footsteps of a stranger, you’ll learn things you never knew you never knew.” While this may seem like a simple silly saying suggesting a person to consider the way other people live, this sentence can be identified as lyrics from “Colors of the Wind”, a song from one of Disney’s more popular movies, Pocahontas. When English settlers come to the “New World” they are greeted by the whimsical Barbie-like Indian princess Pocahontas. Pocahontas meets a Ken-like counterpart, John Smith and together they try to develop a peaceful resolution to their dispute over land, while trying to learn more about the cultures from which the both originate. While the movie is meant to support interracial friendship, and inform viewers of racial intolerance there is more to the movie than first meets the eye. 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 fairytales 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 Powhatan 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 Powhatan Indian World” by Sarah J Stebbins 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 travelled on these journeys. Some stayed home to help 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 Bedard, an Inupiat Eskim and French Canadian/Cree. Disney hired American Indians to voice all of the characters in the Powhatan 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 been 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 Powhatan as “tradition Hollywood Indians” the filmmakers paid attention to detail when drawing the characters. The real Powhatan 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...
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