POCAHONTAS (1995)

Filmic Context:  Print -- Video -- Online

Print Resources

Bataille, Gretchen M., and Bob Hicks.  “American Indians in Popular Films.”  Beyond the Stars.  Vol. 1.  Eds. Paul Loukides and Linda Fuller.  Bowling Green: Bowling Green State UP, 1990.

Bataille and Hicks discuss the racial stereotypes about Native Americans that have been present in Hollywood since the start of the Western movie.  As time has passed the stereotypes have changed, and movies have become more sympathetic towards the Indian.  Since the article was written before 1995, Bataille and Hicks do not talk about the Disney version of Pocahontas.  They do, however, mention that “although Pocahontas married John Rolfe and went to England, her brief life as a proper English woman is usually overlooked.  Schoolbook versions of the myth have focused on the Pocahontas and John Smith story, and filmmakers have perpetuated the image of the selfless devotion of Indian women to their white heroes” (11).  It almost seems as if the article is a premonition of what kind of film Disney was about to make about Pocahontas.

Buescher, Derek T., and Kent A. Ono.  “Civilized Colonialism: Pocahontas as Neocolonial Rhetoric.”  Women’s Studies in Communication 19.2 (1996): 127-53.

This essay immediately starts off by asking the question: “Disney makes history fun—or does Disney make fun of History?” (128).  The authors contend that “Pocahontas rewrites the quincentennial story of Columbus and other colonizers’ conquering of the Americas, and in its place tells the tale of a relatively peaceful, romantic encounter between colonizers and Native Americans” (128).  They make the distinction between colonialism and neocolonialism, whereas Pocahontas is a neocolonialist film because it “masks present-day colonialist relationships inherited from the past and appropriates contemporary social issues” (129).  Lastly, they describe the film’s narrative and feel that the film’s construction of characters are “symbolic figures with neocolonialist narratives” (129).

d’Entremont, John.  “Pocahontas.” Journal of American History 82.3 (1995): 1302-5.

D’Entremont really knocks Disney’s Pocahontas.  He feels that the historical inaccuracies take away from the film.  The focus is mainly on the names of the characters, the latter part of Pocahontas’ life, the language barrier, and that there really was a Ratcliffe, Kokoum, John Smith, and Pocahontas.  He also points out that Ratcliffe, deemed “Governor” Ratcliffe in the movie, had a minuscule role in history, and that Powhatan is the title of the chief, whereas Wahunsonacock is his actual name.  He also adds that Pocahontas was married to the real Kokoum when she was captured in 1613.  D’Entremont mentions that Pocahontas is most revered in history for her acts after her encounter with John Smith, even though the movie does not address any of her later accomplishments.  The other criticism is about the language barrier, or lack thereof, that exists in the movie.  Suddenly Pocahontas can understand John Smith and the Indians can also speak English.  Overall, the movie, according to d’Entremont, failed with respect to history and with respect to folklore.

Edgerton, Gary, and Kathy Merlock Jackson.  “Redesigning Pocahontas.”  Journal of Popular Film and Television 24.2 (1996): 90-98.

“Redesigning Pocahontas” is based around the intentions of Disney to promote racial tolerance and the views that the public and the Native American people had on the actual movie.  Edgerton and Jackson discuss the historical inaccuracies that the movie contains, and they show Disney’s point of view of never intending to pass off Pocahontas as a historical movie.  The movie is “fundamentally about racism and tolerance… [and] about having respect for each other’s cultures” (90).  Disney also said that “Pocahontas is a story that appealed to us because it was basically a story about people getting along together" (91).  Part of the article seems to favor Disney, but Edgerton and Jackson manage to fit in all the criticism of the movie as well.  They thoroughly present both sides of many of the issues objectively.

Rollins, Peter C., and John E. O’Connor.  Hollywood’s Indian: The Portrayal of the Native American in Film.  Lexington: U of Kentucky P, 1998.

Chapter twelve by Pauline Turner Strong is entitled “Playing Indian in the Nineties: Pocahontas and The Indian in the Cupboard."  Strong’s chapter compares how the two films present the Native Americans, and she feels that the real message in Disney’s film is found in the lyrics of “Color of the Wind” and other songs that were present in Pocahontas.

Tilton, Robert S.  Pocahontas: The Evolution of an American Narrative. Cambridge:  Cambridge UP, 1994.

This is the key source for understanding the construction of Pocahontas.  Tilton traces the use of Pocahontas narratives throughout history till the Civil War period.  In his different chapters he shows her different image in the Colonial and Federalist period, Post-Revolutionary America, the Era of the Romantic Indian, Chapman’s mural of her Baptism, and finally her figure as seen in Sectionalist Propaganda.

Wasowicz, Laura.  “The Children’s Pocahontas: From Gentle Child of the Wild to All-American Heroine.”  American Antiquarian Society 105.2 (1995): 377-415.

Wasowicz seems to question why Pocahontas has become an American Heroine.  She believes that it wasn’t until the 1850’s that Pocahontas gained her own personal historical mark.  Wasowicz notes that Pocahontas started out as a children’s book character until historians began to look at the Christian and maternal aspects of her life.  She was now noticed as an American heroine since she represented the roles of a “virtuous daughter, white man’s wife, and natural noblewoman” (378).

See also:

Aidman, Amy.  "Disney's Pocahontas: Conversations with native American and Euro-American Girls."  Growing Up Girls: Popular Culture and the Construction of Identity.  Ed. Sharon R. Mazzareall and Norma Odom Pecora.  New York: Peter Lang, 1999.  132-58.

Henke, Jill Birnie, Diane Zimmerman Umble, and Nancy J. Smith.  “Construction of the Female Self: Feminist Readings of the Disney Heroine.” Women’s Studies in Communication 19.2 (1996): 229-49.

Video Resources

Pocahontas: Ambassador of the New World.  A Perpetual Motions Production, A&E Television Network, 1995.

The A&E special about Pocahontas tries to tell the true story about Pocahontas and John Smith.  Some experts who spoke on the video include Stephen Bankler-Jukes, author and historian; Shirley Custalow McCowan, Mattaponi Indian Reservation Representative; Dr. Tom Davidson, Sr. Curator, Jamestown Settlement; and William Rasmussen, Virginia Historical Society.  The video begins with the first arrival of the English at Jamestown, and it ends after the death of Pocahontas and the adulthood of her son Thomas Rolfe.  A&E seems to question whether or not the rescue of John Smith was a legitimate rescue, or part of a larger plan from Powhatan.  The execution style seems untypical of how the Powhatans perform executions and more typical of a ceremony.  The video also focuses on the life that Pocahontas had in England and the friendship that was formed between Pocahontas and John Smith.  The video is very helpful and informative about the factual events of her life.

Pocahontas: The Legend.  Dir. Danielle J. Suissa.  Protocol Entertainment, 1994.

Unseen Canadian feature film.

Young Pocahontas.  UAV,1994.

Hour-length cartoon version.

Online Resources

The Baptism of Pocahontas
http://www.lehigh.edu/~sat4/poca/pocahontas.htm

Stephen Tompkins, a graduate student at Lehigh University, created this web page about Pocahontas.  It is primarily a research paper about John Gadsby Chapman, a Virginia artist who painted one of the murals in the Rotunda of the Capital building in Washington DC that is famous for its depiction of Pocahontas -- “The Baptism of Pocahontas.”  The web site is filled with historical facts and paintings that depict the life of Pocahontas and also contains a lot of helpful sources in the Works Cited section.

Disney’s Homepage
http://www.disney.com

The Disney homepage allows the browser to explore all the different aspects that Disney has to offer.  The main menu has options that include: shopping, vacation, chat studio, Disney A-Z, club blast, movies, TV shows, pets & animals, and fun for families. Depending on what information about Pocahontas is being requested, many of the choices may be applicable.  It does take a while to narrow your search since Disney has so many different aspects to its company.  Important for the study of the film, the press kit is also available over the Disney homepage.

Disney’s "Politically Correct" Pocahontas
http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/MRC/Pocahontas.html

This small site under the University of California at Berkeley is seemingly also affiliated with Cineaste, a film-related magazine.  A movie review by Jacquelyn Kilpatrick is displayed entitled “Disney's 'Politically Correct' Pocahontas (Race in Contemporary American Cinema: Part 5).”  Kilpatrick believes that Disney did a poor job of depicting Native Americans, and she felt that the movie was not “respectful.”  She also related some historical facts about the actual encounter between John Smith and Pocahontas.

H-Net Movie Review: Pocahontas
http://h-net2.msu.edu/~wciv/archives/logs/july95/0007.html

Floyd D. Barrows really seems to stick up for the movie and answers most of the criticism that has been aimed at the film.  He reveals the risks that Disney underwent to make Pocahontas and praises the good qualities that the movie possesses.

Indian Opinions about Pocahontas
http://indy4.fdl.cc.mn.us/~isk/poca/pocind.html

This site claims to portray the “Indian opinions” about Pocahontas.  They range from Indian youth who express their opinions about the film to the opinions of Indian adults, including Indian parents.  There are links to people who provide other sources of criticism and other Native American sources that might also prove helpful.

The Pocahontas Archive
http://www.lehigh.edu/~ejg1/pocahontas/poca-title.html

A chronological listing of over 700 items relating to the study of Pocahontas.  Helpful first-stop for research projects.  

Pocahontas: Evidence and Conjecture, A Research Project
http://www.wwnorton.com/college/history/tindall/resrchnf/pocahont.htm

This site by the WW Norton publishing company is extremely helpful.  It combines history with the issues that were raised, or equally those issues that were not raised, in the Disney version of Pocahontas.  The site includes research essays, reviews, and other scholarly material about all topics that relate to the legend of Pocahontas and John Smith.  It is complete with a time line and a reference section that is currently under construction.  It also contains many helpful links.

Pocahontas, Half-Raced and Fully Sexed: The Almost Empty Signifier and American Icongraphy
http://xroads.virginia.edu/~CAP/POCA/POC_race.html

The sub-titles for the web page include “Interpretive Strategies: Race, Sex, Other," “Precursors: Columbus and the Captivity Narrative," “Pocahontas and Sectionalism," “The Malleability of Race, or Monster of Miscegenation?”, “Divide and Conquer: The 'Indian Experiment' at Hampton Institute," and “Battles in Red, White, and Black: The Racial Integrity Act.”

The Real Pocahontas
http://geocities.com/Broadway/1001/poca.html

David Morenus’s web page is titled “The Real Pocahontas.”  It is a wonderful site that tries to divide the fact from the fiction in the Disney version of Pocahontas.  Morenus’s site is filled with easy-to-read historical facts.  His format is very easy to follow and is divided by the characters from the movie and the real people from history.
 
 

Copyright (c) 1999 by Jennifer Lori Lackner, Undergraduate at Lehigh University.

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