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Disney's Pocahontas and the Real Pocahontas

According to an article written by Gary Edgerton and Cathy Jackson published in the Journal of Popular Film and Television, the creators of the movie Pocahontas intended to downplay "issues of racism, colonialism, alienation and environmentalism by focusing on the romance between the main characters Pocahontas and John Smith." The authors add that the film succeeded in "enhancing public interest in Native Americans" as evidenced in the increase of tourists in Indian settlements." Even if true, the film could be roundly criticized for its historical accuracy and sexual stereotypes.

The authors suggest that Disney executives and animators had a real sense when they developed the storyline and scripted this film that their goal would be political correctness. The authors note that Disney hired a number of local Native American consultants to advise the production team, and that Native American performers were cast to provide voices and characterizations for the main American Indian roles. Apparently, Disney's goal was to avoid a stereotypical characterization of American Indians in some of its previous films as either "noble anachronisms" or "savage reactionaries." Unfortunately, many people believe that this film failed to achieve this objective to the extent that the story was developed around another historical stereotype involving Native Americans. This one involves Native American women being maidenly and demure "Indian princesses." This was not simply a plot element, it was in reality the pivotal plot element. This film manages to send mixed messages. It underscores the limits of reconstructing the role of Native Americans in film.

This film was described by the authors as either "progressive or escapist, enlightened or racist, and feminist or retrograde - depending on the critic." In this article, Edgerton and Jackson chose not to comment on the following statement by Roy Disney:


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