Monday, May 23, 2011

Alice Nuttall on Pocahontas

Last Monday Alice discussed the depiction of Native Americans in a film for children which touts an overt anti-racist message: Disney's Pocahontas (1995). Despite the direct engagement with issues of race, racism, and cross-cultural interaction in Pocahontas—which Alice reads as in part an apology for previous Disney characters such as Tiger Lily in the 1953 Peter Pan—the film holds some problematic subtexts beneath its worthy surface message of tolerance and anti-colonialism. Elements of the production, such as Pocahontas' signature costume (a skimpy buckskin mini-dress) and the division between 'good Indians' (those who assimilate to European culture) and 'bad Indians' (those who fight it), make free use of prevalent stereotypes of Native American culture. When the important character Grandmother Willow, a spirit guide, encourages Pocahontas to learn English, the film even seems to tacitly suggest divine approval of colonialism. Alice also discussed 'Savages', the controversial song which appeared toward the end of the original version of the film (it was cut upon video release). The song depicts Native and European parties calling each other savages, ostensibly to show that both sides hold erroneous conceptions about race, and can be violent and hate-filled. However, racist slurs incorporated in the song were on occasion used to taunt Native children after the film's release—despite the diegetic emphasis on the wrongheadedness of such language and behaviour.

CLYCC wishes Alice all the best for her upcoming field research.

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