Disney’s animated Pocahontas movie may be thought of by many as one of the most controversial movies. The story, which portrays the life of a young Powhatan girl at the time of the invasion of Europeans, seems to take on its own version of history. Watching the movie without having an inclination to the true legend of Pocahontas, it seems innocent and truthful. However, after researching the true story, it is very obvious and understandable why the Native American communities and some others have been so infuriated by the release of Disney’s movie. If looked at from a neutral standpoint and knowing both sides of the controversy, it is clear that there are some definite pros and cons of the movie.
If Disney’s softened and beautified version of Pocahontas isn’t legitimate, what is the real life story of this world renowned child? The real Pocahontas was actually an eleven or twelve year old girl named Matoaka. Pocahontas was her nickname, which translates to “spoiled one” or “the naughty child.” According to the legend, it is true that young Pocahontas saved the European John Smith from being killed by her father, but there is no evidence of them having an intimate relationship as shown by the movie. Nor was the rest of Pocahontas’s life so peaceful. At the age of seventeen, she was captured by the English and held prisoner for a year at Jamestown. She was only released after agreeing to marry an Englishman by the name of John Rolfe. Her name was changed to Rebecca Rolfe and she and John had a child together. (Rankokus Indian Reservation) Several years later, on a family trip to England, “Rebecca” became ill with smallpox and died. (Spectrum Biographies – Pocahontas)
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Taking in consideration the actual legend, many reasons arise for people to be upset, especially for Native Americans. Native Americans of all denominations take great pride in their culture and history. For their history to be told in such an inaccurate fashion is very insulting to them. "This movie is exploiting the Indian people, the story they are showing is not true, and it is insulting to me and to my People" (Freedom Spirit Rising, Cherokee) For someone who have not been educated on the history of Pocahontas, the story the movie tells could very easily be accepted as being true. This means that there are people in this world who might actually believe that’s how the young Indian princess’s life was. That is sad and wrong. If Disney wasn’t going to accurately portray the history, than a statement should have been made on the film saying so. If Disney made a film about a United States historical event and distorted it in this way, there would be very upset Americans.
Still, not everything about this animated movie is negative; there are some pros that come along with it. Although the movie wasn’t one hundred percent accurate on telling the tale, it did manage to grab a wide majority of peoples’ attention and direct it towards Native American History. Native American History is a subject that is not normally taught in public schools, so many people; especially young children probably never even heard much about Pocahontas before the movie came out. It’s the movie, the toys, and clothing that at least directed the world’s attention towards a history of the Native’s. Some of the main aspects of the movie are correct also. The leader of the English was in fact racist, believing all Indians should be dead. (Native American Indian Resources) Walt Disney was not being rude or cruel about Indians; he was merely being honest about how they were treated. The setting of the movie, which was Jamestown, is also known to be accurate. (The Real Pocahontas) Pocahontas did in fact save John Smith’s life and that is the center of the story and the movie both. The biggest downside of the movie is the fact that it sugar coated the truth and turned it into a fairytale. But isn’t that what Disney movies are, children’s fairytales? The movie was directed towards an audience of children, the true history of Pocahontas would not have been appropriate for five year olds to watch.
Considering both sides, it isn’t easy to say whether this Disney movie is “right” or “wrong”. There are reason’s for Native’s to be upset by this movie, especially people from the Powhatan tribe because their background has been exposed in a fashion they don’t respect. On the other hand, sometimes we need to step back from all the political aspects and look at the beauty and harmlessness of things, especially this movie. It wasn’t created to be highly educational, it was meant to be fun. Some things could have been done differently in the movie to respect the feelings of some of its intended audience, but situations like this cannot be avoided in our day and time. Whether it is movies, novels, magazine articles, or video games, when different ethnicities are involved the merchandise becomes highly controversial, no matter how accurately made. There is no escaping this problem and there is no fair way to say who and what is right or wrong.
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