A detailed interpretation and analysis of the historical accuracies and inaccuracies in Disney’s Pocahontas
In Camilla Townsend’s book, Pocahontas and the Powhatan Dilemma, Townsend points out that there are many historical inaccuracies and myths that are associated with the story of Pocahontas. Using historical evidence to support the story of Pocahontas, Townsend attempted to create an accurate timeline bringing the past to the present. At the same time, the Disney film Pocahontas attempted to depict Algonquian culture accurately, however, according to history, much of the material presented in the film is full of misconceptions and is historically imprecise. In fact, Disney’s Pocahontas epitomizes John Smith and Pocahontas as heroes who prevented a war between the Algonquian Native American tribes and the colonists who were living in Jamestown. However, historical evidence proves that at the time John Smith came into contact with Powhatan, Pocahontas was only a young child around the age of ten and, thus had very little influence over her father. Additionally, the film depicts John Smith as a leader who was looked up to by the other colonists, while historical records prove that he “had made many enemies by the time he had left Jamestown.”1 Disney inaccurately portrayed particular pieces of the Native American experience with the European colonists, specifically regarding Pocahontas, yet, it is important to consider the audience that this part of history was being presented to. One of the biggest historical inaccuracies presented in the Disney film Pocahontas is the love story between John Smith and Pocahontas. The film exhibited John Smith and Pocahontas as falling madly in love at first sight. This love is represented in the film through the “colors of the wind” which can often be seen circling Smith or Pocahontas. In the book, Townsend provides evidence of a relationship between the two that included only friendship, laughter, and education, but not love. A demonstration of this relationship would be when Pocahontas “participated in a class of mutual language instruction with John Smith.”2 In fact, it is from these lessons that Smith was able to write down the only full Powhatan sentences to ever be recorded. While there was no love between Smith and Pocahontas, historical evidence has shown that Smith thought about Pocahontas in sexual ways. Actually, “council investigation openly acknowledged that he made lewd comments about her – or having even done things to her – in jokes, or in moments of sexual arousal.”3 The true love story in Pocahontas occurred between John Rolfe and Pocahontas at the Jamestown settlement a few years after Smith had made contact with the Algonquian tribe. Unfortunately, Rolfe was not even represented in the first Pocahontas film. Another historical inaccuracy that can be seen in the Disney film is the physical depiction of both John Smith and Pocahontas. The film portrays Smith as a young, tall, blonde-haired, blue-eyed colonist who is charming and interested in protecting the Native Americans after coming into contact with Pocahontas. In contrast, historical evidence mentions that he was interested in control, and his intent was to subjugate the Native Americans so that “they could be made to work for their conquerors.”4 Smith was particularly interested in power and control over the Native Americans to further the cause in the New World for the English, which “unfortunately had passed the English by for at least a century.”5 Interestingly, Smith is portrayed in the film as being a young adult, of similar age to Pocahontas; however, in reality he was a middle-aged man with a large beard, and much older than Pocahontas.6 Smith is not the only person who was represented inaccurately by Disney in the film. Pocahontas is portrayed in the film as being a tall, beautiful, young adult who is free-spirited and passionate about nature. The most serious inaccuracy regarding...
Cited: Townsend, Camilla. Pocahontas and the Powhatan Dilemma. New York: Hill and Wang, 2004.
Pocahontas. Dir. Mike Gabriel. 1995. DVD.
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