February 07, 2010

Movies teach "racist assumptions"

Do Disney Movies Misrepresent Native Americans?

By Shawndrea CorbinDisney is one of the world's most beloved crafters of classic fairy tales, but is it possible for "harmless" children's stories to cause irreparable damage to an entire people?

According to Kevin Gover, director of the National Museum of the American Indian Smithsonian Institute, the answer is 'yes.'

In his lecture "Will the White Man's Indian Ever Die?" Thursday evening at ASU's Tempe campus, Gover discussed how centuries of distorted Native American images in art, cinema and advertising have left majority of Americans with a highly misconstrued image of American Indians.

According to Gover, Disney's portrayals of Native Americans in films such as "Pocahontas" and "Peter Pan" have greatly harmed the Native American image by feeding inaccurate stereotypes to young children.

Gover said that although these Disney films weren't made with intentional malice, young children who view them have no available source to put into context for them that the Native American images they see in films, such as "Peter Pan," aren't true.

"Images are memorable, powerful and very hard to shake," Gover said.

Gover said that even the most adored American Indian characters such as Pocahontas represent inaccurate stereotypes. He stated that Pocahontas represents the theme of the "self-sacrificing Indian" who is willing to give up her life for the "better ways of the White civilization."

Gover elaborated on the transition of the Native American image through popular American culture. The themes of Native American images presented by Gover ranged from the noble and somber "Indian Chief," the "violent savage" and the "disappearing Indian" leading up to today's "mystical Indian."

To demonstrate the popular concept of the "mystical Indian," Gover showed images from the popular film "Twilight: New Moon," in which Native Americans belonging to the Quileute tribe have the ability to transform into wolves. According to Gover, this romanticized "magical" concept of Native Americans can also be seen in the primitive blue creatures of the mythical planet Pandora in the recent film "Avatar."

"These images are teaching us all racist assumptions about Native Americans," Gover said.
Comment:  Thanks to Gover for saying what's obvious to some of us. Namely, that Avatar and New Moon aren't the remedy for Pocahontas and Peter Pan. That all these films fill impressionable children with half-truths or lies. That movies are a primary source for the Native stereotypes in our culture.

For more on the subject, see Modern Indians Anger Museum Goers and The Best Indian Movies.

Below:  "Rescue me from my primitive magical life, noble white man!"

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