Since I was a child the idea of watching Disney films was something that was expected amongst little girls my age. We were expected to simply sit down and take in everything that happened in these movies and films without questioning them. When I first watched Pocahontas as a child I was content that there was finally a Disney princess who somewhat looked like me, I however never understood why they were referred to her and her people as “savages”. I’ve decided to revisit the movie as an adult and to be able to better understand not only the racial part but also the way women’s bodies and femininity are portrayed. The movie starts off by introducing a scene in which the strongest men of the village are departing to find the “new world” and on the process they expect to fight off the ‘savages’. The scene shows the wives of the warriors staying behind crying and taking care of the children, overall highlighting the stereotypical role of the woman.
In this specific scene not all the male characters are able to leave, some stay behind along with the mothers, I found this extremely interesting so I decided to look further into this scene. I began to compare the males who stood behind versus those males who were embarking to go to war; this is when I realized how different their body types were. The males that were going to war were much larger, had muscles, and most of them appeared to have an angry and courageous attitude. Those who were staying behind had no muscles and most of them were shown to be crying along with the women. This demonstrated the comparison between femininity versus masculinity and how those who were “masculine” enough were able to go and fight, while the others had to stay behind placing their masculinity in question.
This idea of male warriors does not only happen in the side of the Europeans, it is also shown in Pocahontas’ clan. All the males that show up are muscular and this immediately allows them to gain a good social standing amongst their clan. Being a warrior also immediate respect from the clan, while being a woman you have to be born into privilege (being the daughter of the clan leader, marrying a strong warrior, or being an elderly woman with knowledge). The clan has traditions which Pocahontas often times does not want to fulfill such as marrying the warrior her father wants her to marry. With the arrival of the Europeans Pocahontas falls in love, here is when she is seen truly happy. Her goals are unable to pass that; her love towards nature no longer compares to the love has for this man. So what does this teach little girls? The overall message that gets portrayed to little girls is that one does not know true love until you have fallen in love with a man.
The idea of the feminine touch is not seen until the very end, when Pocahontas’ father is about to kill the love of her life, she comes running and protects him with her body. Although in my opinion this should have been seen as an act of bravery it sends more of a message of her taking on the stereotypical protector role of a woman. This is the first time in the whole movie where she sends a message of wanting to stand up for what she believe in, unfortunately in this moment she is not standing up for herself but she is standing up for a ‘brave’ man who needs her help. Although she is putting herself at risk his masculinity is never questioned, he is still portrayed as a strong soldier who endured this for love, so his ‘bravery’ always remains with him.
Overall, the film was supposed to be about the role of a woman, it turned out to be a male dominated film both in actions and in numbers. Pocahontas appeared but her role always contributed to a man. The fact that the main character role is overshadowed by male dominance is problematic. We need to think about the audience that this film is targeting, children specially little girls. Children absorb interactions at an extremely fast pace and when these types of interactions are the ones being presented it becomes an issue. Overall this film is extremely derogatory to women and Native Americans, the fact that people are referred to as savages because “they look different than us” really sets a tone of who is the targeted audience, young white girls. I believe that Disney should really look into their films and really acknowledge the pain, discomfort, and developmental issues films like this can cause upon a child. All this movie does is romanticize the interactions between Native Americans and Europeans, over all disregarding what really took place; a genocide.