U.S. History in Film

Prof. McClurken’s HIST 329 — Fall 2008

And so the Disney version of Pocahontas was destroyed.

I think that in today’s class discussion on the historical accuracy of Disney’s “Pocahontas,” we actually covered a lot and really learned what this semester is going to be like.  It seemd like a vast majority of the class (and I think Dr. M’s “overview” at the end of class summed this general opinion up quite well) is that the portrayal of Pocahontas via Disney is not really that accurate at all.  I mentioned on the class wiki that once again, Dr. M was right and that determining this accuracy was indeed like “shooting fish in a barrel.”  Personally, I believe Disney should be given some credit since they did consult a wide range of sources that did know about the culture that the movie was trying to convey.  I believe that there was a bit that Disney did get correct and unfortunately, I think the bad outweighs the good with this movie.  Although the creators got (most of) the trip to the New World accurate and although the creators did get the idea of cultural superiority correct, I think the fact that the entire movie was based on a love story between two figures who barely knew each other and were separated in age by about 20 years makes it a little difficult to identify what it was that Disney got right.  I believe that it is an excellent movie for kids and that it is a wonderful way to introduce the idea of Native Americans and their interaction with the colonists.  However, if they wanted the entire thing based on a love story, they should not have used Pocahontas.  If the entire 90 minute movie were based on fictional characters and a fictional story line, I don’t think historians would have as much of a problem with it as they do.  But to learn that this is a movie that kids first see in a classroom and to learn that this is how they’re taught about Pocahontas and John Smith is just plain scary.  

I’m hoping that this is the worst of the bunch and that the movies slowly get more and more accurate as the weeks go on.  Historical filmmakers have to have some sense of dignity, right?  I don’t know how well I can handle ripping movies to shreds every week.  Maybe it’s not Disney and it’s just Mel Gibson.  (And if that’s the case I guess we should be ready to bash ”The Patriot” in a few weeks.)

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