March 01, 2012

Umatilla model portrays Pocahontas

Pendleton resident Mariah Watchman competes on 'America's Next Top Model'

By Rob OwenFor one of her first competitions in the new cycle of "America's Next Top Model," former Pendleton resident Mariah Watchman, who grew up on the Umatilla Indian Reservation, had to don the costume of an American icon.

Producers chose for her to portray Pocahontas.

"As soon as I heard what the competition was, I knew that's who I would be," Watchman said from Miami, where she recently bought a home. "I was completely fine with it. There's no one else I'd want more to portray. It's someone everybody knows."

Though only 20, Watchman has been modeling since she was 15 and is accustomed to the famous historical figure coming up when she models internationally.

"Most people don't know about natives and how we live," she said. "When they ask what I am, they always assume I'm Latina. I have to let them know I'm Native American and will say, 'As in Pocahontas.' I always have to refer to her anyway."

Adrienne Keene tells us what's wrong with this in her Native Appropriations blog:

Oh ANTM, where do I even start?: Mariah Watchman and the Pocahontas controversyThe premise of this season of ANTM is a competition between British models and American models (they're scraping the bottom of the barrel after 18 seasons to keep it interesting, I guess), and on the first episode, the models were paired in what was termed a "Culture Clash"--one model from the US and one from the UK, each representing an "iconic figure from [their] individual country." Ok, fair enough.

So here were the pairings:

George Washington vs. Queen Elizabeth
Janet Jackson vs. Scary Spice
Madonna vs. Elton John
Michelle Obama vs. Margaret Thatcher
Andy Warhol vs. Amy Winehouse
Jackie O vs. Princess Diana

and, finally...

Pocahontas vs. John Lennon
And:The choice of the producers to have her portray "Pocahontas" is straight up offensive too. Let's pigeonhole the only Native contestant by forcing her to don an extremely stereotypical outfit and be an Indian. The thing that stood out to me was that Mariah was cast into a race-based role, while the other pairings had plenty of (relatively progressive) race-bending. George Washington, Elton John, Jackie O, and John Lennon (all white) were portrayed by models of color, which I thought was kinda cool. But, because Mariah's heritage is her "exotic" selling point for the show, the producers felt the need to exploit it.

Then the outfit they put on her. Oh the outfit. It looks like they bought it straight off the Pocahottie Halloween page--fake buckskin, primary colored feathers, plains-style beading and designs, braids in her hair. And, the kicker, a tomahawk. Yes, a tomahawk. History lesson, ANTM: Pocahontas was from Virginia, and none of those stereotypes apply to her people. So basically they did what everyone seems to do when they want to "honor" Indians--drew upon every Hollywood Indian stereotype without any regard for historical accuracy, regionality, or how effing racist it is to make the only Native girl basically dress up in blackface.

Comment:  So the Native model's advice to Native women is: People know Pocahontas and think you're Pocahontas, so you might as well dress like Pocahontas. Nice.

I can just imagine Watchman acting out the scene in the photo: ‎"Me hit white man with tomahawk! Me savage Indian warrior! But still sexy Indian maiden!"

I might've expected an Umatilla woman to dress as Pocahontas--a figure from a different culture 3,000 miles away--in the early 20th century. You know, for the ignorant tourists who visited an Oregon reservation seeking teepees, chiefs, and Sitting Bull.

But in 2012, on national TV? No way. This is why everyone expects Native women to be sexy, uh, sex objects. And why they use and abuse these women for their own gratification.

Actually, I might've expected an Umatilla woman with integrity to turn down the stereotypical "princess" role. But I guess that's asking too much of a model hungering for attention.

For more on women dressing up as Pocahontas, see Romney Woman as Indian Maiden and Duke's "Pilgrims and Indians" Party.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Only one problem: Pocahontas wasn't even 13.