U.S. History in Film

Prof. McClurken’s HIST 329 — Fall 2008

Disney’s Pocahontas Discussion

Just for anyone reading that may not be in the class – we have a process of posting comments the day before a discussion. So…. NOW please enjoy what I would have posted last night if I weren’t an idiot who forgot to actually post all the thoughts/work I had to contribute (that was conveniently already typed up in word all ready to go):

In both Smith’s journal and in Pocahontas (movie), how do these two cultures magically find a way to communicate. Smith makes no mention of not understanding or struggling to get messages across. Maybe this is a sign of his overconfidence in his own abilities of assuming things about the culture. I like to think that in the movie it was love that allows Pocahontas and Smith to suddenly both speak English together.

Are prisoners granted messengers? Would Smith be considered a guest or prisoner in this case that he has described? This is a question not about the movie at all – I am a little lost in Smith’s account. And would this messenger be carrying a written English message… if so what did he write it on and what with? If it was a message relayed verbally, we have a communication problem yet again.

Also to continue the confusion with the primary source – Disney doesn’t really relay that there are competing tribes of Indians. Smith talks about divisions giving him gifts/food, which is more realistic.

Something they did get right is the culture barrier – the gender role differences, the civilization issue (English superiority), property ownership, etc. Though, it was a little strange that John Smith and Pocahontas immediately understand and can somewhat relate to each others cultural beliefs.

And now reflections on discussion:

I did enjoy this discussion, I am glad that we are all on the same page. We paid Disney its dues, but also picked it apart somewhat for its inaccuracies and blatant fabrications of events. Things that I particularly found interesting were…

Newport was the early leader who then left to go back to England, Ratcliffe wasn’t the richest of the rich in Jamestown and he did actually do some dirty work himself, which is how he died due to a poor communication with Pamunky (probably spelled wrong and I apologize for this profusely) Indians (he tried to negotiate for food and apparently not nicely).

I am sad to know that the Indian environmentalism is not necessarily true… as we talked about in class, they didn’t have many people to sustain, and they simply moved on to more land when they exhausted the resources. Sure it was in a different way than Europeans, but still not very environmentally minded.

Public displays of affection – didn’t really happen like that. John Smith and Pocahontas didn’t kiss in real life, and even if they did have a relationship, Pocahontas wouldn’t know to kiss (as that was not in our culture to out knowledge).

Disney’s depictions of women – my defense of Disney is and has always been “it’s written primarily for kids.” Why should kids need women (and men for that matter) to look so stereotypically beautiful? And beyond Pocahontas’s figure, John Smith is certainly not the way he is portrayed in the movie. Blond hair, tall, muscular, handsome – not so much.

Primary sources compared to movie depiction – interactions between the two groups were hostile, yes. But, they did trade and attempt to be peaceful for a great deal of time (according to Smith’s account) and did not go straight to weapons etc. Also – the end of the movie makes it seem that the settlers are going back and that they will be welcome whenever they wish to return… not quite true.

For future movies we are — keeping an eye on the outsider in historical American film (who may be civilized but not spoiled by culture that he is a part of.)

John Smith was not actually popular. People weren’t sad when he had his accident and was injured, having to return home.

Movie is a primary source of the 1990s. Racism/intolerance, consumerism, Western coming of age story (courage and love conquers).

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