Romanticizing the Native American Indian: Pocahontas

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Back in 1995, as a 20 year old woman, I was, absolutely, still in love with everything Disney. I was still very much enamored with the romance and fairy tale aspects of all their stories and movies. So when the Walt Disney Company released the animated feature “Pocahontas” in the summer of my 20th year, I had to see it. At the time, I thought I had hit the jackpot with this movie. “An American legend comes to life” is the tagline to get viewers interested in this movie. [1] A heroin, whom was a beautiful Indian and a love story, who could ask for more from a Disney movie, I thought to myself. Now, being ignorant of the true facts about the Indian woman Pocahontas and even about Indian culture and history itself, I took this story more factually than I ever even realized. Now, coming to the present day and currently enrolled in a class on Native Indian history, a subject that has always fascinated me, I am discovering how foolish I was back then and how unbelievably deceiving that movie really was. After reading the information gathered about Pocahontas during this class, I pondered hard over the following questions: Does the Walt Disney Company version of Pocahontas even remotely portray the story of Pocahontas and the settling of Jamestown accurately? Does Disney have the right to take the facts about a person’s real life story and fictionalize it just for the sake of entertainment? Does this romanticism and fictionalization adversely affect those who hear or watch these stories? There are times during the movie that the Disney version does indeed portray small situations truthfully and other times that are completely false and it is these falsehoods that directly impact the viewers and listeners of these stories. The stories or parts of the Disney version that are most impactful and harmful to viewers are about the physical portrayal of Pocahontas, her life story, the meeting and saving of John Smith and the interactions between her and John Smith’s two nations. “Pocahontas has been the subject of paintings, movies and legends” [2] In The Walt Disney Company's 1995 animated feature Pocahontas a love affair between young Native Indian Princess, Pocahontas, and British Soldier, Captain John Smith, ensues. Even though Pocohontas’ father, Chief Powhatan, claims that her destiny and betrothal is with one of Powhatan’s greatest warrior Kocoum. Pocahontas disagrees with her fathers desires because she is a free-spirited young woman whom finds Kocoum to be too serious. Pocahontas has also seen a vision of a spinning arrow and believes that the vision means that change is coming. She then meets John Smith, falls in love with him and continues a relationship with him even though her father, Chief Powhatan, forbade it. Now as the Disney version of this story unfolds, John Smith arrives on the Virginia shore, accompanied by greedy Governor Ratcliffe and a group of bullying and greedy sailors. Governor Ratcliffe is hoping to follow in the footsteps of the Spanish conquerors in search of gold and finds only corn, a major disappointment. Convinced that these "savages", a term used by both sides to describe their enemy, are hiding the gold he expected to be plentiful, Ratcliff plots and plans to get his hands on the gold. Chief Powhatan believes these strangers will destroy their land. So it now comes to Pocahontas and Smith having a difficult time preventing all-out war, and saving their love for each other. “Two different worlds. One true love.” [3] This aforementioned summary of the Disney movie tells a beautiful tale but lets you down in the end because it is not the typical Disney Fare of “happily ever after” .The true story of Pocahontas dispels many myths and fictionalizations about this Native Indian woman, especially her physical appearance. In the Disney version, it is love at first sight for Smith and Pocahontas. He's a tall, handsome and ruggedly blond late-twenty-something, resembling a Ken doll. Pocahontas is an...
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