Pocahontas: What Makes Her Different From Other Princesses

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The Walt Disney movie “Pocahontas” is based on a true life story that tells how the English colonists fight Native Americans for land and eventually creating temporary peace between the two races, while showing nonfictional portrayals how colonialism took place. Within “Pocahontas” there are many views that challenge, limit or transform views regarding race, class and historical events. Disney had revised the story by making it a romanticizing love story, hiding the violent history. Savage had stated that “It’s a story that balanced the white European and Native American narratives in a romance” (Savage, pg. 8PLL) However, Disney did stay true to Pocahontas’s playful nature; they do, misconceive perceptions of how John Smith (John Rolfe) and Pocahontas actually encountered each other. According to, Dundes “Pocahontas has modeled a stereotypical and unrealistically fluid transformation from self-indulgence to altruism for hundreds of thousands of young women” (Dundes, Pg. 363).

Starting at the end of the film, Pocahontas tells John Smith with much emotion that “she is needed at home” (Gabriel, Goldberg) it portrays sadness, giving the feeling she is staying out of obligation and commitment to her tribe. “Although she wishes to stay with the man she loves which also would allow her to pursue further adventures, she instead fulfills her obligation to stay with the villagers who “need” her.”(Dundes, Pg. 354) Dundes determined that Pocahontas could have given a stronger feminist perception if Pocahontas had chosen differently. Dundes had argued that if Pocahontas had been shown she was staying at home out of choice, possibly to take on a leadership role in the tribe or accomplish her personal goals, Pocahontas would have appeared less limited or confined to her “role”. “Her dreams of becoming a representative of sorts overseas (like the real Pocahontas) are substituted with the gender stereotyped role of the woman as chief nurturer who sacrifices to ensure the welfare of others, regardless of her own needs and ambition.”(Dundes Pg. 355) Dundes also found some conflicting messages about gender in many ways throughout the movie. “She laments how society sends girls changing messages about what should be valued” (Dundes, Pg. 357). Pocahontas is observed as a free-spirited, waterfall jumping, open minded, strong female character, Savage had suggested they were “setting out the difference between Pocahontas and the rest of her people: where they are violent, she is peaceful; where they are hostile, she is welcoming” (Savage, Pg. 8PLL) However, throughout the film, she challenges female gender roles.

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There many factors that can illustrate the way subtle gender and ethnic stereotypes are conveyed. Within the reading by Dominique Padurano, they conducted a study using images to teach gender and ethnic diversity. “Through guided questioning, students ascertain that the Disney animators depict Pocahontas as a gentle part of the natural world(surrounded by a raccoon, hummingbird, and water), beautiful(with long, flowing hair), and even sexual (her body shape is accentuated by tight-fitting, skimpy garments)” (Padurano, pg.195) After viewing the Disney animated photo of Pocahontas, students then viewed a photo of Pocahontas based on an engraving created by Simon Van de Passé in 1616, students reactions were noted by the fact they were shocked that the last photo they had characterized has now been de-feminized and masculinized, they had then identified several traits, such as the stiff hat that hid her long locks, the high collar and armor like dress, as the three most de-feminizing traits. Many students exclaimed “Isn’t that a dude?” (Padurano, Pg.195), due to the shocking change of visual traits. We have a visual culture, so many of our conceptions about gender, ethnicity, and race stem from visual cues. Thus Disney’s portrayal of Pocahontas has veiled our culture from viewing the historically accurate Pocahontas in the correct visual depiction.

In the beginning of the movie “Pocahontas”, the song that is being sang by sailors while arriving to shore, after spotting land, some of the song lyrics such as “They’re savages! Savages! Barely even human Savages! Savages!”(Gabriel, Goldberg) illustrates the stereotype of “barbarian”, “red skinned”, and “savage”. The song being offensive and lacking cultural sensitivity to Native Americans, the movie sets the stage and portrays racism forming opinions for the viewers against Native Americans. However, the song “Virginia Company” while the sailors were leaving England on their voyage to the New World wasn’t so far from the truth, as well as describing John Smith as a well experienced explorer that has traveled around the world. “At first his bravery is driven by his lust for adventure; shooting Indians is considered a sport. Smith becomes introspective, realizing that imperialism and discrimination are wrong.”(Dundes Pg. 356) Within the movie, and within the scene “Colors of the Wind”, with the help of Pocahontas, Smith realizes his faults of his thinking and perceiving of certain ideas compared to Pocahontas and her way of living and her unselfish persona. This shows true within the scene in the movie when Smith jumps in front of the chief, Pocahontas’s father, when Radcliffe tries to shoot him.

Although within the movie Pocahontas there can be some positive interpretations, Pocahontas does differ from other well-known Disney princess movies by empowering young women to make their own decisions with whom to love and marry rather than just submitting to whoever rescues or loves her. “Pocahontas clearly is attracted to John Smith, but she initially resists his efforts to kiss her–interestingly, breaking away from his embrace when she hears her village’s drums signaling trouble. In other words, she begins her transition from giving in to passion to suppressing it when her help may be needed.” (Dundes, Pg.359) This idea is also enforced in the movie scene where the chief, Pocahontas’s father, is trying to powerfully convince Pocahontas to marry Kokoum, rather than the standard Disney princess submitting, Pocahontas challenges her father and refuses to marry him. 


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