February 24, 2008

Sexy, superior Pocahontas

A Thing For Pocahontas

Sexy Native Imagery in Disney FilmI have seen Disney's easy-on-the-eye Pocahontas about a million times because I have children. As an Indigenous Australian and anti-colonial thinker I have a lot of problems with the text.

Among these is the lovely way the western "divine right of kings" ideology is mapped onto the Indigenous worldview. Pocahontas is royalty, and therefore naturally more intelligent and more in tune with the "nature" that makes ruling classes "naturally" superior. As she is more intelligent, of course she must question, "What's around the river bend" (great song!) and challenge the apparently narrow and parochial views of her apparently savage and unsophisticated peers.

Of course, she is now too good for a man of her own people, and almost qualifies to be with a white man instead (but not quite). John Smith is happy to oblige. Her native fiance is then depicted as violently overreacting to this, and ignorantly sparking conflict with the invaders.

2 comments:

Nina said...

Would a "true" Pocahontas story succeed?

If "The New World", a film I actually really enjoyed and thought was truly beautiful if not as accurate as I'd have liked, have been nearly as enjoyable if the false love story had been left out?

It's hard to say. The cartoon version is fun and dramatic because of the idea of a grown Pocahontas rebelling against her people and singing lovely songs.

"The New World" is a good watch because of the way it was shot (I'm a film student, bear with me) and the performances are quite good. Q'Orianka Kilcher truly impressed me, especially considering she was only fourteen at the time.

HOWEVER.

The idea that a Pocahontas story can only be watched and enjoyed if there is an invented romance between Pocahontas and John Smith is just absurd! If given the chance, I would tell a much truer story of the settlers. The dramatic focus would be on the Native Americans' loss of their land and rights and on the struggles of the colonists to survive, not some sappy romance!

For heaven's sake. Are we all so easily entertained (and easily bored) as a society that we cannot get through a two-hour history lesson, whether in cartoon form or in the form of a lovely PG-13?

Rob said...

Disney movies don't have to be romances to succeed. Consider The Emperor's New Groove, Brother Bear, or Lilo and Stitch, for instance. That argues for doing an unromantic version of Pocahontas.

Despite the made-up romantic elements, I enjoyed The New World. The cinematography was gorgeous. I gave it an 8.0 of 10 overall.

The problem with Pocahontas movies is that her story isn't that compelling. A girl saves one man, marries another, and dies. After allegedly rescuing Smith, the rest of her life is anticlimactic. It would be better to invent a story about a fictional Indian maiden than to keep retelling this glum tale.

Here's an idea for storytellers. Tell us what would've happened if Pocahontas had lived. Would she have gone on to become a great Indian leader? Or would her people have turned on her because she sold out to the English? Inquiring minds want to know.