If you haven’t noticed Disney and I do this weird little dance sometimes. There’s plenty of Disney films that I love, not just because of the fact that I watched them as a kid, but because they really are timeless. Then there’s some of their racism. The trouble is, people barely took all it that seriously then (given how huge they are now), and now a days people see criticism of Disney as just being a ‘hater’ because Disney is popular. I’m not going to reiterate why criticism of something even if it’s good is important since I’ve covered that before, however I will use today to talk about Disney’s relationship with Native Americans by way of Peter Pan and Pocahontas.
This isn’t going to be crazy in depth, but I hope it get’s at least one person thinking about these movies differently. Peter Pan, no matter what you do with it is going to be the more obvious of the two in terms of offensive levels. The original animated film literally has a song titled “What Makes the Red Man Red” and it’s about as bad as it sounds. Now, I personally don’t like Peter Pan as a character or an overall story, but my bias aside, if you don’t find this to be racist than I don’t really know what to tell you. Even one of the supervising animators for the film acknowledged that their portrayal of natives was problematic. Yet to this day people still don’t really call out or put a lot of emphasis on that fact.
With Pocahontas the problem has a lot to do with the fact that she was a real person who had a very tragic life due to white colonialists and Disney chose to make her story ‘lighter’ for popular consumption. It’s the equivalent of people saying things like Martin Luther King Jr. died young, when he was actually murdered or saying Rosa Parks wasn’t a smart activist she was just merely tired. Sugar coating history does way more harm than good. If you don’t know the real story of Pocahontas I recommend looking it up, and honestly not just taking my word for it because it’s nothing like what you think it is. The sequel is even worse. Natives for the most part do not like this film for good reason. Aside from the distortion of Pocahontas actual story it also fails to really hit home that white colonialists came and stole native land. The song Savages would have you believe that the problem was a misunderstanding between two parties on equal footing not that all of the white men on the ‘expedition’ not just the ‘bad guy’ are equally responsible for the atrocities that followed.
It’s a small thing to be sure, but aside from spreading around more accurate information, when I see Disney photosets or merchandise I actively avoid it if Pocahontas is one it. Some people see her as Native representation and think that they are being inclusive when they include her, but I’ve heard enough native voices and done enough research to know that she was not a well thought out character on Disney’s part.
I’ve mentioned other problems I’ve had with Disney and race in the past, but those have been rather jumbled at times, so maybe I’ll revisit those at some point. Today however I felt the need to cover this because I saw something about Pocahontas on tumblr and I don’t think I should have to wait until November to talk about Native issues. They are still alive and working hard in this country, fighting all kinds of battles new and old. Two cool women I’ve been following on twitter are Ruth Hopkins and Dr. Adrienne Keene. Of course I’m always looking to expand my circle of information (as should we all) so I’m not going to stop with them. I’m actually making it a mission of my to read works by Native authors and include them more in my conversations about diversity (something I’ve been slacking on).
As always stay informed and I’ll see you tomorrow ✌🏽