Analysis of Pocahontas as a Film

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Metonymously heralded as Hollywood, the cinematic features of the United States film industry continues to represent American history, and the subsequent scathing experiences brought about by colonialism. With movies produced during these early times, they aptly illuminate humanity’s past, erroneous decisions, and even historical inaccuracies that if carefully studied in the contemporary, gives the 21st-century man new ideologies and concepts about what was ‘previously thought,’ ‘what could have been’ and what needs to be changed. To that end, Pocahontas is a 1995 animation created by Walt Disney Pictures as its 33rd animation feature and was directed by Mike Gabriel and Eric Goldberg[1].  The film details the first historical encounter between Englishmen and Native Americans as represented by the characters Pocahontas and Smith respectively. This essay will analyze the film Pocahontas within its historical confines. Elements of historical accuracy, perspectives and it importance is outlined herein.  

The animation plotline

It was in 1607, and Susan Constant leads an expedition to the new world. She is carrying white settlers from London, and on board is the handsome captain Smith and Governor Ratcliffe who is in a quest to find gold for status and wealth. Historically and following literature, the arrival of Englishmen in native states signified the arrival of wealth hungry individuals willing to create cutthroat situations out of extortion, exploitation, and manipulation. This is no different with colonialists who colonized Africa to obtain cheap labor through slavery while also accruing large pieces of land at the expense of local communities who had never seen or heard anything like a gunshot. While the film is accurate in narrating the zealous need for the white man to invade Virginia, its gold mining activity as the movie describes is historically inaccurate since the earliest record of gold mining activities in Virginia can be dated back to 1804 (cite). Perhaps this is another of the ingenious ways movie producers try to fit historical events to match up with historical facts without looking or seeming like a shrewd money hungry entertainers.  Because for one, in the 16th century, Native Americans did not possess technical contraptions to help them mine gold. Even so, if they did have handmade tools, the importance of gold to such a native community, dependent on agriculture would be so negligible that they it would take them years to finally mine the gold under large-scale motives[2]. Two, if the Englishmen (Smith and his team) were the first to explore these virgin and possibly lucrative lands as narrated by the film, they would not have known the existence of such important minerals unless they had a communicating device, for example, the telephone that they would communicate with native Americans. In fact, history indicates that before the different world cultures could interact due to colonialism, none knew the other existed as they were separated by physical landforms such as oceans, rivers and mountains making prior interaction almost impossible before the advent of the ship.

A Folk-Lore History

While Pocahontas has been depicted as a movie, its origins are embedded in the Pocahontas folklore. As a Native American woman born in 1595, Pocahontas was the daughter to the Chief Powhatan; a powerful ruler ascribed to the Powhatan tribes.  Her real name was ‘Mataoka’and ‘Pocahontas’ is merely a nickname which means ‘playful one’ as depicted in anecdotes. Perhaps her personality came to play when the Englishmen first arrived at the present day the state of Virginia which was referred to as Jamestown in 1607. The story goes, Pocahontas was 11 years old when the English men arrived in Jamestown which housed around 25,000 Algonquian speaking tribes. Upon their arrival and as expected of any foreigner, they began interacting with the Native Americans living there. After some time the chief’s brother captured Captain John Smith which birthed the Disney film ‘Pocahontas’ in 1995. Smith narrates how Pocahontas saved him from an imminent execution by placing her head on his so that she could be clubbed to death instead[3].  A historical debate exists as to whether Smith was to be executed as he claims or rather it was a ceremony which, through a foreigner’s failure to understand a different culture, viewed in a negative light. Here a conceivable historical inaccuracy stems as there is no evidence to support the claims through the main character Pocahontas. It is understandably common that oral narrations are prone to bias and this is, could be no exception.  

According to Roger Ebert, the film deviates from history implying that Pocahontas only serves as a simplified symbol in this film instead of the fascinating lives conceivable. Ebert also mentions that “Pocahontas” is founded on a myth and not history. It deviates from actual history since, in real life, Pocahontas was only 11 or 12 years when she met John Smith[4]. She then married John Rolfe an Englishman and went to England and feted as a princess. Pocahontas then died at the age of 21. However, her son would become one of the wealthiest among the early American settlers. The descendants of this family still thrive. Although most films are based on historical events, it is prudent to make additional aspects to make it enticing. It is worth noting that authors and artists tend to share whatever is happening to the society or their personal lives through writing. However, converting the writing into films requires some level of exaggeration to make it more appealing to the audience. In this case, the filmmakers introduced some elements to draw more meaning from the movie.

The bigger picture portrayed in the film implies that Pocahontas, who is raised in in empathy with nature has the ability to assist John Smith to free himself from the decent restraint of European civilization. For instance, she mentions, “You can't step in the same river twice,” and “listen with your heart, and you will realize.” John Smith was able to listen and comprehend these lessons because they came from a beautiful lady[5]. Although the film may not be historically accurate, it entices viewers due to the natural aspects entailed in it. For example, the artistry entailed in this animation makes it quite enticing, i.e., sparkling trees, rugged cliffs, and towering forests all beautify the land.

Historical Importance

Historically, the movie is quite significant, especially when it comes to depicting African Americans. When the film was released, much criticism was based on the historical rights involving Pocahontas’s age as well as the relationship with John Smith[6]. As such, all these criticisms outshined the fact that for once Disney focused entirely on an adult woman who was also black. Previously, Disney had not produced any film, which concentrated on adult females or even African Americans[7]. The movie, therefore, plays a significant historical role in portraying this aspect. Moreover, Disney had not produced a movie that is based on a real person. Most of the films had invented storylines just to appeal to the viewers. Nonetheless, Pocahontas was founded on a real individual making it even more enticing. The film may have fabricated some realities to allow for a captivating romantic tale. However, it had an advanced attitude during historical interpretation portraying the English colonizers as pillagers looking for non-extant gold and who were determined to murder the “savages” they met in their course.

Moreover, the film strives to illustrate environmental-friendliness as Pocahontas shows Smith the illogicality of persistently drawing things from Earth without understanding its potential. It is a fundamental tale regarding female empathy and agency camouflaged as a somewhat sentimental romance. Amid the debates, which emanated from the film due to the subject, most of the movie’s finest qualities have been overlooked. Nonetheless, years later, the historical impacts are evident in the current trend of animated Disney movies such as Frozen and Brave. Most of these current animations draw success from Pocahontas.

The Societal Importance

The Walt Disney Corporation, Pocahontas, is categorized among the highly influential media production firms within North America. The media productions generated range from diverse radio to TV programs, animated movies, as well as cartoons, are of high influence on diverse populations. A good percentage of the media inventions directly target the American populations and more particularly the children. Following their media-based creations, the related animated movies have entirely transformed into multibillion Profit Corporation ever since its foundation.

Clearly, Pocahontas depicts diverse gender stereotypes regarding role distinctions between male and their female counterparts. Gender stereotypes are pervasive and regularly portrayed through media channels within American society and even at a global scale. Gender defines socially assigned labels or status which align to qualities that are either considered masculine or feminine[8]. Pocahontas influences children into conforming to the displayed stereotypical images of men and women. By watching the movie, young girls slowly learn what womanhood defines because ladies are entirely portrayed as being sensible, weak and emotional. Contrarily, men are depicted to be strong, powerful and courageous humans. However, despite portraying various stereotypes on the role of women in the society, Pocahontas gives an inaccurate account for actual life happenings.

Being a cultural icon within the western world, Pocahontas is eligible for cultural critique. Questioning about precarious issues alerts generations on the need to portray appropriate sexual and racial behaviors for all. It is also an appropriate avenue for parents to defuse the effects of such stereotypical messages. The movie contains both gender and multicultural role content which has the capacity to influence the minority groups’ perceptions. The messages, therefore, highlight the importance of focusing on promoting consumerism and accepting stereotypical images. Elicit critical analysis generates effective critical thinking skills among children which is essential expertise for societal development.

The protagonist, Pocahontas, is wise, adventurous and a potential future leader for her generation. However, she does not suit the stereotypical images that Disney depicts of the feminine group. Nevertheless, by defending her love life and entitling her life in danger, Pocahontas was not an adult woman. Pocahontas can be employed as a teaching tool for students and their teachers. It contains the capacity to initiate meaningful conversations between students and educators regarding the actual life of the Native Americans[9]. The movie equally endorses the concept of good and evil Indian which relatively underscores the Native Americans notion of savages. The highly celebrated and joyful ending depicted towards the film ending twists the killings and oppression that Native Americans were subjected to.

Such movies should seek to challenge society members on the importance of unity for all, and the need to focus beyond ethnical differences and embrace the diversity exhibited. Pocahontas image high spots standard beauty norms among Americans. For instance, the myth of the feminine populace exiting their own culture to become Europeans highlights a supporting force to the dominance of White patriarchal whites. After marrying John Smith, she ignores all family and cultural aspects behind which is a move that equally perpetuated Euro-American supremacy[10]. The move of acceptance within the Pocahontas film could be utilized as an important tool in children’s education. Nevertheless, Disney still provides storylines that continually upholds the demeaning gender roles that even the current living societies upholds on a daily basis.

Overall, the film is heralded in representing American history as well as the ensuing experiences brought about by colonialism. Pocahontas has both historical and societal significances, which are instrumental to both the past and current generation. For one, the film portrayed the society at that time and provided a bedrock for preceding movies. While most films invent stories, Pocahontas founded its story on a real individual. Nonetheless, it was intertwined with several inconsistencies such as Pocahontas age and relationship with John Smith, just like any other movie that seeks to draw a wider audience. In this case, Disney focused entirely on an adult woman who was also black; thus, playing a noteworthy historical role in depicting this aspect. In the social aspect, Pocahontas can be utilized as an educational tool since it contains the capacity to initiate meaningful conversations between students and educators regarding the actual life of the Native Americans.

Bibliography

Corbett, Joseph Francis. 2013. "Captain John Smith And American Identity: Evolutions Of Constructed Narratives And Myths In The 20th And 21st Centuries." 1-98. http://etd.fcla.edu/CF/CFE0004666/Captain_John_Smith_and_American_Identity_Evolutions_of_Constructed_Narratives_and_Myths_in_the_20th_and_21st_Centuries.pdf.

Davis, Amy Michele. 1999. "Disney's Women: Changes in Depictions of Femininity In Walt Disney's Animated Feature Films, 1937-1999." 1-298. http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/1382007/1/391559.pdf.

Dundes, Lauren. 2001. "Disney’s modern heroine Pocahontas: revealing age-old gender stereotypes and role discontinuity under a fac¸ade of liberation." The Social Science Journal 38: 353-365. https://www.joycerain.com/uploads/2/3/2/0/23207256/disneys_pocahontas_and_gender_stereotypes.pdf.

Ebert, Roger. 1995. Pocahontas. June 16. Accessed November 14, 2018. https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/pocahontas-1995.

John, Burkowski, and Xose, Manuel, Alvarino. n.d. "Teaching Social Studies Through Film." 1-29. https://www.educationfund.org/file_download/inline/9e86c18a-59e5-4925-a92e-fb69ec7ec02a.

[1]

Davis, Amy Michele. 1999. "Disney's Women: Changes in Depictions of Femininity In Walt Disney's Animated Feature Films, 1937-1999." 1-298. http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/1382007/1/391559.pdf.

[2]

Corbett, Joseph Francis. 2013. "Captain John Smith And American Identity: Evolutions Of Constructed Narratives And Myths In The 20th And 21st Centuries." 1-98. http://etd.fcla.edu/CF/CFE0004666/Captain_John_Smith_and_American_Identity_Evolutions_of_Constructed_Narratives_and_Myths_in_the_20th_and_21st_Centuries.pdf.

[3]

Davis, Amy Michele. 1999. "Disney's Women: Changes in Depictions of Femininity In Walt Disney's Animated Feature Films, 1937-1999." 1-298. http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/1382007/1/391559.pdf.

[4]

Ebert, Roger. 1995. Pocahontas. June 16. Accessed November 14, 2018. https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/pocahontas-1995.

[5]

Ebert, Roger. 1995. Pocahontas. June 16. Accessed November 14, 2018. https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/pocahontas-1995.

[6]

Dundes, Lauren. 2001. "Disney’s modern heroine Pocahontas: revealing age-old gender stereotypes and role discontinuity under a fac¸ade of liberation." The Social Science Journal 38: 353-365. https://www.joycerain.com/uploads/2/3/2/0/23207256/disneys_pocahontas_and_gender_stereotypes.pdf.

[7] Corbett, Joseph Francis. 2013. "Captain John Smith And American Identity: Evolutions Of Constructed Narratives And Myths In The 20th And 21st Centuries." 1-98. http://etd.fcla.edu/CF/CFE0004666/Captain_John_Smith_and_American_Identity_Evolutions_of_Constructed_Narratives_and_Myths_in_the_20th_and_21st_Centuries.pdf.

[8] John, Burkowski, and Xose, Manuel, Alvarino. n.d. "Teaching Social Studies Through Film." 1-29. https://www.educationfund.org/file_download/inline/9e86c18a-59e5-4925-a92e-fb69ec7ec02a.

[9]

John, Burkowski, and Xose, Manuel, Alvarino. n.d. "Teaching Social Studies Through Film." 1-29. https://www.educationfund.org/file_download/inline/9e86c18a-59e5-4925-a92e-fb69ec7ec02a.

[10] John, Burkowski, and Xose, Manuel, Alvarino. n.d. "Teaching Social Studies Through Film." 1-29. https://www.educationfund.org/file_download/inline/9e86c18a-59e5-4925-a92e-fb69ec7ec02a.

September 25, 2023
Category:

History

Number of pages

9

Number of words

2463

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44

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