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329:question:329--week_2_questions_comments-2020

You should do a total of 2-3 comments/questions/observations this week. You do not need to post to all areas. – Dr. McClurken

I. How does this movie work as a secondary source? What does the movie get right about history?

I do not believe the 1995 Disney film of Pocahontas would make a good secondary source. Especially after reading John Smith’s ‘True Relation of Such Occurrences’. I think it is extremely problematic and only has very shallow accuracies in its portrayal of relations between settlers and Native Americans. To its credit the roles of both men and women were well portrayed as the Native American women were seen harvesting while the men hunted. In an early scene we see that Powhatan’s tribe had been conflicting with another tribe on the river with whom they later allied with against Radcliffe, which was accurate, kind of. The Native Americans were dressed as described in the primary source reading as we saw beads, animal hides, and painted skin. I found a strange irony in the fact that Powhatan’s hide was adorned with raccoon tails while Meeko danced around Pocahontas. The settler’s intent was also accurate as they came for gold as Spain had. John Smith also did act as a sort of middleman between Native Americans and settlers, though it was probably not done so as nobly as portrayed. The revenge aspect also felt very real as the overall vibe seemed to be “an eye for an eye” when a Native American was killed by a colonizer or vice versa. The use of canoes and bows and arrows was also accurate. However, I do not feel there was enough accurate content to use this film as a secondary source. - Janis Shurtleff

Pocahontas can be used as a secondary source as this movie was created after the historically based events had already taken place. But, this does not mean this is a reliable source of information; as many things regarding the life of Pocahontas were incorrect or left out. The 1995 Disney movie did get a few things correct, for example, the time frame is correct, and the Europeans were searching for gold, which they did not successfully find. In addition to the clothing, the Native American characters donned was seemingly accurate. -Kaylee Williams

Pocahontas serves as a secondary source because it is a film made about a specific point and time in history through the lens of a later time period from people who were not eyewitnesses. The movie may be inaccurate in many of the specific events, however, it more or less gets the broad themes correct. The views that the settlers had towards the Natives were representative of how many settlers viewed Natives during the colonization go the New World. They were in search of gold and did not find any. To really go deep in the film, one could even see how the dog and raccoon represent both the Native side and the colonist's side. The raccoon is well adjusted to the New World while the dog is completely unprepared. This may be a stretch, but it is true to the extent that the colonists were vastly unprepared. Despite being incorrect in many of the specific details, overall, the themes are true for the most part. -Daniel Walker

Pocahontas can definitely be used as a secondary source for the events that transpired at Jamestown. It helps that the movie reflected the overall tone of hostility that was present in actuality between the Natives and colonists. It is a fictionalized tale and not a reliable source of information due to many inaccuracies within the film's context. There are a couple of things that the movie got right about history in which there seems to be a figure named Pocahontas that saved John Smith's life but she was only 11 at the time. It appears to show the correct timeframe with colonists from London going to the New World in Virginia naming it Jamestown. Along with giving the viewer a glimpse into the everyday lives of the Natives such as the dependence on agricultural practices of harvesting, hunting, and fishing. -Lauren Simpson

As a secondary source, this film works great as a starting point for children to be introduced to American history in an engaging way. Does it have inaccuracies, absolutely. However, having watched the movie for the first time as an adult, not just a kid, I realized this is one of the first times I watched something where Europeans were not just heroically creating a new nation, but actually seen as a villainous group that came to the new world to intentionally pillage and plunder. –Cat Kinde

This movie works as an excellent starting point for anyone not familiar with the history of Jamestown and the conflict that existed between the colonists and the Powhatan Indians. However, that does not mean it is accurate and should be taken as fact. While there are many historical inaccuracies, it does get some information right. Jamestown was established in the New World as an effort to make money. The Virginia Company of London wanted to establish a foothold in the New World so they could compete with other European powers who were settling the newly discovered continent, mainly Spain and France. They hoped to find valuable resources, not just gold, but others such as silver, copper, and even establish cash crops to bolster Britain’s economy. This was the age of mercantilism, which meant a stronger economy could help Britain establish a stronger military and stave off any attacks from her enemies. The movie also does justice in using historical figures, even if they are not all accurately portrayed. John Smith, Pocahontas, Chief Powhatan, and John Ratcliffe are all historical figures who are from this time period. These are all people who were actually there during the founding of Jamestown, which is surprising considering Disney’s history of focusing on fantasy stories. – Lyndsey Clark

The 1995 Disney Film Pocahontas serves as a suitable introduction to the story of the colonization of Jamestown, just as many historical films do. It takes real individuals and events and puts them into a context that appeals to a wide range of people, especially children. In the terms of it being a reliable secondary source, it is not. As mentioned before, it works as an introduction to material that a person would need to look at other sources to learn more about, similar to an encyclopedia entry. – Jordan Petty

Pocahontas works as a secondary source because it gives viewers a sense of the period of time that it takes place in. It also gives viewers a starting look at the colony of Jamestown. While there were many aspects of the film that were historically inaccurate, there were a few things that were true. For example, the year that they left England, the British flag, and their main reason for going there, gold, all seemed to be historically accurate. – Audrey Schroeder

It’s a decent introduction for kids into the era of history it covers. The presentation in the very beginning of the movie of the women in the fields while the men are off at war is fairly accurate. There’s a scene of some native boys playing a lacrosse-esq game as well. On the colonist side, the desire of Ratcliffe and the Virginia Company is consistent with historical accounts. They expected to find the same wealth as the Spanish and Portuguese had earlier, hence their willingness to sponsor the voyage west.All that said, it cannot be your only exposure to the time period. —Madison Roberts

In my opinion, Disney’s Pocahontas is not a good secondary source for the events that happened around the formation of Jamestown. This is something that I have gone back and forth on because the filmmakers do a good job of translating ideas into images for people to see and understand. However, the ideas they are translating become lost in the “Disneyfication” of the story. While I see it as a starting point for children I also see it as a horrible one because of how fictionalized the story is. In my opinion, a movie like this could cause children to have a false sense of history that could stick with them for a long time. I’m not saying that people shouldn’t watch Disney’s Pocahontas because it's a great movie and can teach children great life lessons about being determined, independent, and courageous.

The facts that Disney gets right when telling this story is the timeframe of the Virginia Company leaving London and establishing Jamestown. Another thing they get right is the characters. They incorporate real people such as John Smith, Chief Powhatan, and Pocahontas. However, the “Disneyfication” of John Smith and Pocahontas’ relationship transforms this movie into an “animated tale of romance.” -Megan Williams

I think Disney got a few things correct, things like the tension between the natives and the colonists, John Smith being injured and sent back to England, the time frame of the colonists coming to the New World and their motivation behind doing so. They got certain details however they also changed some important ones such as the ages and the relationship of John and Pocahontas. With these facts in mind I think that the movie could be considered a decent secondary source as long as the researcher used supplemental sources to confirm the information they choose to make sure what they choose is the accurate parts and not the Disney parts.–Kimberly Sak

I would agree that this movie might serve as a good introductory secondary source for those who do not know about Jamestown, especially children, and would allow them to get to know some important figures. I would also agree that there are some issues with accuracy; and would remind people to proceed cautiously. I also think that Disney made the focus more about romance, and less about history. – Mariah Morton

The movie would be a poor choice for use as a secondary source as it tells its own independent story far removed from historical records. While it may take a few drops from history throughout its runtime it prefers to ignore the records and tell the story of misunderstandings, evil greed, and romance rather than the bland tales recorded in John Smith’s words. The movie does depict the intentions of the expedition rather well as the colonists were certainly tempted to embark to America with the temptation of gold. The native women were shown working the farms when we first see them and again later. As a source of history, it would leave its viewership with the wrong impressions and ideas of the time, but as a dose of history for kids it could work to garner future interest. – Robert Keitz

The movie can serve as a secondary source for an introduction to Jamestown and the beginning of the English colonies in North America for children, but outside of those circumstances, it is not an accurate secondary source. The movie introduces people who were present at and played a role in the foundation of the Jamestown settlement and does so in a way that would keep children engaged. The song “Savages” and the scenes played during its rendition in the movie does a great job of highlighting the fear both the Natives and Settlers experienced from the lack of understanding of the others’ cultural norms and practices. The way the Natives and the Settlers were dressed were accurate to the time period in which Jamestown was founded, and it produces a semi-accurate look into each culture. Disney also somewhat hints at John Smith’s very self-centered tendencies in some of his verbal responses throughout the movie. –Morgan Gilbert

There are a few things the film seemed to do somewhat well. For instance, some of the Material culture was surprisingly good. It showed corncribs, houses, hairstyles, and even anthropomorphic effigy poles that seem to be based off of evidence drawn from archeology, anthropology, and John White's detailed 16th Century watercolors of Algonquian material culture. Powhatan is also surprisingly wearing “Powhatan's Mantel”, given by the Werowance to Cristopher Newport around 1608 and thought by the English to be a cloak. The movie even got the triangular shape of James fort right before the 1996 discovery of the palisade! –Ethan Knick

At least in the earlier parts of the film, Disney did seem to make an effort to dismiss the oft-perpetrated stereotype that there were no “real” civilizations in Virginia prior to the arrival of the English. Rather than portraying the Powhatan as savages living in the dirt and scraping out an existence by primitive hunting, they are shown talking about politics, farming, and living a comfortable lifestyle in a clearly advanced civilization. It can be helpful to see Pre-Columbian America portrayed as a place were organized societies existed. However, this effect was later diminished by such occurrences as the spaghetti western-style “warwhooping”/ hollering, and other bits of the film that smacked of stereotyped 20th century portrayals of plains peoples. –Ethan Knick

Images: https://www.ashmolean.org/powhatans-mantle ; https://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/white_john_d_1593

Sources: Stephen Potter, 1993. Commoners, Tribute, and Chiefs – the Development of Algonquian Culture in the Potomac Valley: Chapter 5. Charlottesville and London: University Press of Virginia Helen Roundtree. Powhatan Indian Women: The People Captain John Smith Barely Saw. Ethnohistory, Vol. 45, No. 1 (Winter, 1998), pp. 1-29

The 1995 Disney's Pocahontas would not serve as a very accurate secondary source for the history of Jamestown and relations between the colonists and the Native American groups in the area, nor do I think it intends to. It takes liberties with important factors such as Pocahontas's age and depicting a fairly unimportant person in John Smith's diaries (Governor Radcliffe) as the villain while the other settlers are depicted as fairly easily swayed between war and peace. While I don't think it would serve as a reliable or accurate secondary source, it is still valuable to explore as it provides a visual depiction of the different cultures and does make an effort to reflect the major themes such as the motivations of the first explorers and colonists into Jamestown and the ethnocentrism that both sides encountered and presented, using John Smith and Pocahontas's relationship as a smaller-scale representation of these difficulties. It can be a useful intro to the topic for children in schools to provide some initial exploration into the topic and to help them spot some of the major themes in this period but only if paired with other sources on the subject to combat the inaccuracies of the film. - Ashley Dimino

II. Problems with historical accuracy? Errors in fact?

Being a Disney movie, I felt that the judgment of accuracy was never that important of a factor in its creation. John Smith hardly talked about Pocahontas in his ‘True Relation of Such Occurrences’, and certainly not in a romantic light. The film exploited a child and made her into a woman of a man’s desire. Of course, this was probably done to make viewers see a colonizer and indigenous woman fall in love and have the trope of “look racism and differences don’t exist, they are in love”. Pocahontas, as we discussed in class never did save John Smith and the entire four-day ritual of John Smith becoming a werowance was absent from the film. There are also problems with how the settler’s village was portrayed as the issue of food and illness which was one of the initial reasons contact was formed with the Native Americans (though there is a single ear of corn given to John). Most of the characters, at least the main ones, were real people as Kocoum was the husband of Pocahontas, though the film only portrays him as an admirer. -Janis Shurtleff

Pocahontas did get some historical aspects correct, but the majority of the movie was not the most reliable. For example, in the movie, Pocahontas appears to be about twenty years old, but in real life, she was only eleven or twelve when she first interacted with the Europeans. Disney also fabricated the romantic relationship between John Smith and Pocahontas, as this was never a real relationship. -Kaylee Williams

The film takes major liberties when it comes to the actual characters within the story. The most obvious of these are Pocahontas' age, as in real life she was an 11 year old child, as well as her relationship with John Smith as the two in reality barely had contact with one another, much less a romantic relationship. The film also takes artistic liberties due to it being a children-oriented, animated Disney musical, so there of course are no talking trees or magic or anything of the sort in reality. The story has definitely been twisted around and edited, and the story portrayed in the film may have specific historical background details accurate, but the story itself is simply fiction based on a true story. – AJ DeGeorge

Pocahontas does a great job at appealing to a young audience for entertainment purposes, though there are several historical inaccuracies that we can point out. Other than the age difference, the movie also shows Pocahontas as being the chief's only daughter, though we know that Pocahontas had several siblings. She was well-liked by her father, though she was not his only child. After some more research, John Smith also was not displayed as well as he could have been. The movie shows him as a blonde, tall, handsome man, though according to Love and Hate in Jamestown: John Smith, Pocahontas, and the Heart of a New Nation by David A. Price, Smith was described as a stocky, burly, brunette man. Overall, there were more differences in the movie, but these are just a few to point out that caught my eye. –Tara Scroggins

The main problem I had with historical accuracy has to do with Pocahontas herself. As we are all aware, “Pocahontas” was actually a nickname for the Native American girl known as Amonute Matoaka. It is also important to note that Pocahontas was a child when the colonists arrived while John Smith was a grown man in his thirties. Furthermore, John Smith recorded his journal of the events that happened where Pocahontas is mentioned, but plays a minor role. Furthermore, the scene in the movie where Pocahontas and John Smith meet for the first time had me laughing at the absurd notion that Pocahontas could suddenly speak fluid English instead of her native Algonquin. That was most likely born from the love story told in the movie, and was a magic gift from the talking tree “Grandmother Willow”. Still, though! The love story as a whole is inaccurate, because of the age differences between the two. Furthermore, Pocahontas did marry the Englishman John Rolfe, but only after being held as a political hostage by the colonists so they could demand supplies from the Powhatans. I also found it ironic that in the movie tensions eased after Smith left Jamestown, when in reality Smith helped establish peaceful relations with the Powhatans that quickly deteriorated after he was injured and returned to England in 1609 (https://historicjamestowne.org/history/pocahontas/john-smith/, https://www.loc.gov/collections/thomas-jefferson-papers/articles-and-essays/virginia-records-timeline-1553-to-1743/1600-to-1609/). – Lyndsey Clark

While it portrays actual people and events, it severely dramatizes its subject matter and sacrifices historical accuracy. Some obvious examples would be Pocahontas' age. She was only ten when she encountered the colonists, but was older in the movie with the intent of having her form a relationship with John Smith, which also did not happen. In the film, John Smith was shown to be more sympathetic towards the natives as the film progresses, most likely to further solidify the fictional romance between him and Pocahontas, and John Ratcliffe was the merciless antagonist. In actuality, this was somewhat in reverse. Ratcliffe was 1) the second governor of Jamestown, not the first, and 2) known to be more sympathetic and generous towards the natives when dealing with them, and Smith did not agree with his generosity (https://lakotachildren.org/2015/09/reservations-about-films-disneys-pocahontas/), (http://www.pocahontas.morenus.org/). – Jordan Petty

One of the main issues I had with the historical accuracy in the film was the scenery. In the film, it shows the British colonists landing and settling in a wooded area with almost crystal blue water. The land also looked like it was fertile. However, in reality, the colonists settled in swampland. – Audrey Schroeder

The presentation of the size of Pocahontas’s home is very small compared to how it is described in Smith’s journal. He talks about going from village to village along the rivers, meeting with the various “presidents” as he calls them. However, in the movie, there only seems to be dozens of natives rather than hundreds. There are plenty of other inaccuracies such as the romance between the two main characters, the talking willow tree, Pocahontas’s age and position in the community, etc. But the size of that community really stood out to me when I watched the movie after reading Smith’s journal. —Madison Roberts

The movie was really just a work of fiction that used a historical setting and the names of historical figures. In John Smith's accounts, Pocahontas is described as a ten-year-old child. As well, the movie leaves out much of the important parts of the colonist's relationship with the Native Americans, such as the fact that when sickness and famine swept over Jamestown, Native Americans helped feed them in exchange for small goods. The relationship between the colonists and the Native Americans was overly simplified and left out much of the historical context while creating a story that did not even occur in real life. -Helen Dhue

According to John Smith's journal, it seems as though Smith had a better relationship with the Native Americans than the movie portrayed. The natives seemed to take good care of him, and he seemed appreciative.They also seemed to be more interested in the things that the colonists had to offer than what is shown in the movie. The movie portrays their relationship as one that is negative, or almost nonexistent, until the very end. – Mariah Morton

The depiction of John Smith as a young, charismatic, blond gentleman was a rather extreme reinterpretation of him. His whole existence and character seemed counter to the actual man in his journaled experiences. Rather than rigid and intense exploration the journal mainly focused on the dozens of tribes in the area that he traded with for food to maintain the starving colony. The meeting of Pocahontas was presented in the visual medium as this destined beautiful event while Smith’s report merely mentioned her as an emissary of her father, sent to negotiate the release of some held natives. The distance held between the two groups in the film stands in firm opposition to the trade negotiations mentioned in Smith’s report. The movie presented them as distant strangers while Smith wrote of his many days spent trading for food with the various tribes. Overall, the film has little in which it derives from history. – Robert Keitz

One of the biggest errors in historical accuracy is the romance between John Smith, who was in his 30s at the time, and Pocahantas, who would have been 11 or 12. There was no mention of the relationship between Smith and Pocahontas in his “A True Relation of Occurrences..” at Jamestown. Pocahontas’ real name was actually Amonute and she wasn’t a Princess despite what Disney loosely suggests. The idea that Pocahantas saves John Smith is likely an error in his own self-centered interpretation of events. –Morgan Gilbert

The responses to this category are too many to mention. To start, I feel like John Smith would have liked how he was portrayed in much of the film: as respected by his crew, as a hero solely responsible for the survival of the British Atlantic, and as the always-level-headed-yet-charming adventurer with the face of Tome Cruise and the muscles of Arnold Schwarzenegger. In other words, Smith is - needless to say- romanticized. The film also incorrectly portrayed the English as completely accepting Virginia Indian society and acknowledging their own bias end the end. I'm sure some English folks did this on a personal level, but later writings, including Smith's own 1624 book, “A Generall Historie of Virginia,” show that cultural tensions heightened in the decades following the initial English arrival in Virginia.

On the other hand, Disney also downplays the commercial opportunity that Powhatan Werowances saw with the arrival of the English as well as attempts on the part of the colonist to establish a peaceful trade with locals. Of course, this mutual desire for co-beneficial commerce soon fell apart. – Ethan Knick

Sources Seth Mallios, 2006. The Deadly Politics of Giving: Exchange and Violence at Ajacan, Roanoke, and Jamestown. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press

Roundtree, 1998

Smith, 1624

There are many obvious inaccuracies that we could point out first like the romantic relationship between Pocahontas and John Smith or the portrayal that the natives had never seen colonizers before. However; there was something I noticed towards the beginning of the movie that I am not sure if it is historically accurate or was just some filler content. In the scene Pocahontas is given her mothers necklace and is told by her father, “your mother wore this at our wedding, her dream was to see you wear it at your own”. It seems like the sentiment is echoed today with people wearing their mothers wedding dresses and rings etc. I was wondering is this something commonly found in western culture and therefore it was put in the movie so the audience could relate or if it was common in Native American culture as well. Also I know they had to do this because it was a movie for an English audience but it was humorous to see how fast that language barrier broke down. - Dan Dilks

III. How does the film’s overall interpretation(s) deviate from scholarly historical sources?

Compared to the class reading, the film deviated from the relations between Native Americans and settlers by reducing violent tensions to a ten-year-old girl and forty-year-old man falling in love. There was relatively no historical context to the actual story itself as there were only five or six colonizers named (John, Radcliffe, Thomas, and the Scottish guys?). The true story had much more violence as John Smith was the only one of his group of three to survive the initial encounter with Natives, according to his journal. The concept of Pocahontas crying over John Smith leaving (due to his injures from putting his own life at risk for the chief) was also very different than the true history of Pocahontas being told he had died. There were also many more tribes present at the time than film portrays, only mentioning that there had been conflict with another tribe in the beginning scenes. - Janis Shurtleff

I did not think Governor Ratcliffe was an actual human being, (the name just seemed like something Disney would make up, like Frozen’s Duke Weselton) so seeing his name in John Smith’s journal was quite the surprise. Overall though, it seems like John Smith had a fairly good experience with Native Americans in this journal, trading with different tribes and using them as guides on their journey as well. At one point, Smith gets shot with an arrow, but is released in good faith as long as he puts down his weapons, which he does. In Pocahontas the action between the two groups is much more intense, with the two groups at odds until the very end of the movie. –Cat Kinde

Besides the obvious age differences for each of the characters/historical figures, the first thing that caught my attention was the portrayal of the relationship between the colonists and the Powhatans. According to John Smith’s journal, there were pretty favorable relations between the two groups, something which is not touched upon until the very end of the animated movie (http://web.archive.org/web/20050413081941/http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/etcbin/toccer-new2?id=J1007.xml&images=images/modeng&data=/texts/english/modeng/parsed&tag=public&part=all). While it is true a sort of peace agreement existed between the early colonists and the Powhatans, it was rocky at best. The cultural differences between the two groups would prove to be an unshakeable barrier, resulting in unstable relations that would lead to violence. One historical inaccuracy that I’d like to point out has to do with the fate of John Ratcliffe. While it is true Ratcliffe made the journey to Jamestown with the colonists, he was not originally the one in charge of the colony. The colonists were given sealed instructions that were only opened once they set foot in the New World. They were to elect a president to rule the colony, and a man named Edward Maria Wingfield was the first to be elected in May, 1607. John Ratcliffe replaced Wingfield in September of that same year (https://www.loc.gov/collections/thomas-jefferson-papers/articles-and-essays/virginia-records-timeline-1553-to-1743/1600-to-1609/). It was around that same time that food supplies started to dwindle, during which time John Smith led the expedition to seek out the Powhatan natives for supplies. John Smith actually replaced John Ratcliffe as president the following year. The movie implies John Ratcliffe was taken back to England, but he was actually killed by the Powhatan Indians after attempting to bargain with them for food supplies at the Pamunkey River in September, 1609 (https://www.loc.gov/collections/thomas-jefferson-papers/articles-and-essays/virginia-records-timeline-1553-to-1743/1600-to-1609/). – Lyndsey Clark

The time frame of the movie of course leaves a lot to be desired. It’s set up to show the animosity between the natives and the white men starts as soon as the ships land. But Smith’s journal (which covers at least the span of several months) shows that any disagreements between the two groups happened gradually. The idea Pocahontas presents, that these people were enemies from the very start, is detrimental to understanding the relationships and interactions the settlers had with the American natives. You essentially have to unlearn the misconceptions the movie leaves you with as a child. —Madison Roberts

One main deviation from scholarly sources was the representation of Pocahontas herself. In the movie, Pocahontas was shown as older, much more sexualized, and played a greater role in the relationship between the colonists and the Native Americans. In Smith’s journal, Pocahontas was around 10 years old, there was no romance between the two, and she often did what her tribe wanted her to do; she didn’t try to go against the tribe’s wishes or negotiate peace of her on volition. Another deviation is the relationship between the two groups, the movie showed the two groups immediately antagonized each other and resorted to violent until Pocahontas and Smith stepped in. However, it’s clear from John Smith’s journal that the colonists and Native Americans didn’t hate each other right away, they got along at worse and the relationship between the two slowly worsened. -Purnaja Podduturi

This film definitely is a major improvement from Disney's portrayal of Native Americans in Peter Pan, however it does continue the trend of creating a romance where none was. Pocahontas was 10, according to John Smith's diaries and John Smith was in his 40s; he also still doesn't seem to consider her that important in his diaries, yet in the film, she shatters his whole world-view, even before she saves his life. The writers and animators apply a strange “Romeo and Juliette-esque” love story between these two figures and use it as a tool to create a story around compassion and communication. They also, through this route, give John Smith a major change in perspective as he suddenly denies them as savages after learning from Pocahontas and immediately creating a dichotomy between the colonists and the Powhatan Nation despite that John Smith discusses early negotiation and trade efforts that preceeded Pocahontas's intervention. It magnifies Ratcliffe's role although he also is not talked about with much importance in Smith's journal and uses the character to embody the “bad” views of the white men while the others can have a change of heart. Additionally, they change Smith's injury from an accident with explosives (what actually happened) to having him heroically get shot protecting Powhatan - whom in his diaries, he clearly did not like. John Smith as a whole is created into this idyllic hero who was notable even before getting to Jamestown and looked up to by all the men, and also quick to change his racist and ethnocentric ways in the face of Pocahontas. There are many other inaccuracies, but these were the most notable to me. Source for John Smith's Journals - Ashley Dimino

IV. How does this movie work as a primary source about the 1990s, cartoons or Disney?

The film can say a lot about Disney and their portrayal of certain groups in their films up until this point. The last time Native Americans were featured in a Disney animated musical, it was in Peter Pan, where the Natives were portrayed as backward savages and given horribly offensive character design and voices to make them look and act as ridiculous as possible. This film takes a much more realistic and respectful approach to its portrayal of Natives, and I think it said a lot about how Disney wanted to change their image in the 90s.– AJ DeGeorge

The film is a good source for the 1990's and how Americans viewed the time period surrounding the settlers and Jamestown. By itself, the existence of a movie centered around Native Americans that mainly portrays them in a positive light demonstrates the advancement of Americans views of them. As many know, earlier on in American history, the common American likely would have viewed Natives much more negatively and seen their human portrayal in this film as unrealistic. The film's attempt to break the stereotype of Natives being savages and almost non-human even further shows how far America came in the 1990's towards viewing them with respect and equality. -Daniel Walker

This film can be a good primary source about Disney in which they take a historical event that is a bit complex to explain to younger children and turn it into something simpler that they can retain and better comprehend. This approach gives filmmakers some liberties to change the accuracy of the film's content within the realms of its historical context. This lets Disney change the message within the movie's story of settlers coming to America for the first time. Younger children are able to connect with the story in the movie and give them a better understanding and appreciation of history. -Lauren Simpson

As a primary source for a Disney film in the 1990s, it is excellent. Like Natalie Davis said in Slaves on Screen,it is not only the plot, but also the many techniques (sound, lighting, space) that makes a film worthwhile (pg. 7.) Pocahontas was one of the films made during the Disney Renaissance era, which is when Disney really hit their stride (Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame are some examples.) Pocahontas won two academy awards, Best Musical and Best Original Song. (https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0114148/awards) Interestingly, it seems like during the research phase of filmmaking, the writers were aware that historically, Pocahontas was an actual child, but ultimately decided a romance between Pocahontas and John Smith would be more entertaining. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pocahontas_(1995_film)#Writing) In terms of visuals, it is a beautiful movie. Content wise…it’s questionable. –Cat Kinde

This movie is a great resource for primary sources to describe the 1990s and Disney. One could compare Disney's depiction of historical content from the 1990s until present-day. One could also use Pocahontas as a primary source to compare the design improvements over time as well. Overall, the Disney movie is a great primary source for its entertainment, though not a great source for history. –Tara Scroggins

I think the movie works as an excellent primary source that shows Disney’s effort in portraying characters of different ethnicities. Pocahontas is one of many films from the 1990s with the main characters being a person of color. Pocahontas was the first Native American character to become a Disney Princess, and was the second woman of color to lead a Disney film after Jasmine in the 1992 film Aladdin. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pocahontas_(1995_film)). There are also many other films that have non-white leads, such as Mulan (1997), Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), and Cool Runnings (1993) (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Walt_Disney_Pictures_films#1990s). I think this film helped Disney take a step forward in showing acceptance, trying to ease racial tensions by showing a love story between a Native American woman and a white man. – Lyndsey Clark

The movie is a classic example of a 1990s Disney Film. It takes a story (in this case, a historical story) and turns it into a musical princess story that appeals to younger audiences. This was the formula for animated Disney films at the time, just as with The Little Mermaid,The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Beauty and the Beast. In terms of its animation, it is at the top among the other films mentioned. It was beautifully made, which makes for a more appealing movie. It works very well as a primary source for Disney films, and 1990s animation in general, but the information being presented in the film must be taken with a massive grain of salt. – Jordan Petty

he only other native-centered animated movie I can think of off the top of my head would be Dreamworks The Road to El Dorado. I can’t speak to the historical accuracy of it, but I know that the natives there are presented as more gullible, with the main villain being an evil native shaman. I’ve always appreciated how Disney broke away from the mold the tiniest bit by making a white man the villain and growing from their previous interpretations of natives (see the racism of Peter Pan), but the insistence on Pocahontas being a princess and having a romantic relationship with a chiseled, blond man just stuck with everything else Disney produced in this era. This abandonment of historical accuracy in favor of what makes a good story is repeated in other movies like Mulan or Aladdin. —Madison Roberts

Disney’s Pocahontas works perfectly as an example of a primary source about Disney during the 1990s. Especially because it occurred during the “Disney Renaissance,” which occurred between 1989 to 1999. The reason this period is known as Disney’s Renaissance is that during this decade Disney produced its most critically and commercially successful animated films. Pocahontas is a great example of how successful Disney was during this time period because this film won two Academy Awards and its Box Office was $345.1 million. While this doesn’t compare to Frozen II box office of $1.5 billion it fits in nicely with the other Disney animated films that came out in the 1990s. (Sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_highest-grossing_animated_films_of_the_1990s & https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disney_Renaissance)-Megan Williams

The film is an excellent source for Disney and their flaws. The first major flaw falls in line with because she is wearing “native” clothing, however it is done so that her dress is very short and very lowcut and she has literal cleavage drawn. She has conventionally attractive features which are more prominent than that of the other female characters such as Nakoma. Apart from her physical representation she is failed by her character development as many Disney princesses are. Her initial introduction is as an independent woman who does not wish to marry the strongest warrior because she has her own path, unfortunately that path happens to be nothing more than another man. Disney has tried to change this in recent years with the princess finding their own strengths such as Elsa in Frozen or Moana who goes on a great adventure to save her native land. Pocahontas was made before this trend of princess heroines and so she ultimately cannot be the independent, strong woman that finds herself because John Smith is the only thing she can see as her future. The true path Pocahontas should have had was helping her tribe and mending tensions between the colonizers. I don’t want to bash the film too hard because at least it did not end with John Smith carrying her away to a happily ever after, but it still falls short of being progressive. The film could also be studied for Disney’s problematic stereotyping and representation of indigenous people. For a children’s film there was incredibly racist terminology used such as Radcliffe saying, or rather singing, “Their whole disgusting race is like a curse. Their skin's a hellish red. They're only good when dead.” And the only two characters who get injured or die are Native Americans which shows a lack of empathy for people who are not white. This is getting into my own personal opinions, but a study of Disney’s stand on race and gender are present in this film. - Janis Shurtleff

I think Pocahontas shows Disney's very mislead take on trying to portray Native American people in a good light. I felt in some ways the film had good intentions with providing a more diverse cast than in previous films. The film tries to make Native American's look docile and free-spirited through the character Pocahontas, which could be seen as a good thing but also perpetuates stereotypes about indigenous people that make colonizing look less harsh than it was in reality. Another large issue with the film is it makes it look like Powhatan and his tribe are prejudiced against the white foreigners in the song “Savages”, and leaves out much of the background for why Powhatan would have been angry and fearful for his tribe. The movie shows that at the time of its creation Disney was trying to shed more light onto Native American history, but still trying to justify and fetishize colonization. - Helen Dhue

I think this is probably a great source for what Disney was doing in the 90's, it displays the stage of animation the company was in as well as having a historical and focused subject, as most films in the 90's did, they had a very specific story and setting based around a certain group of characters and a handful of them were based in a historical topic, such as Hercules in '97 based in Ancient Greece, or Mulan in '98 based in early China. I think it was another attempt by Disney to bring diverse cultures to their films (Mulan and Aladdin being a few others) which seemed to be a goal Disney in the 90's.–Kimberly Sak

I think that this film is a good example of Disney's views of men and women, race/ethnicity, and history. I think that it shows their opinions about how men and women should look and behave. With Pocahontas being seen as a woman who's main focus is love and the attention and affection of John Smith. It also shows John Smith as being a tough, valiant man who is willing to stop at nothing to protect Pocahontas and the people around him. It also starts off as showing Native Americans in a negative light, but seems to change some during the film. I think that it was a positive step in them bringing more people of diversity on screen, which would continue into today. I also think that it was a step in the right direction to show children more historically-based films and content. – Mariah Morton

This movie serves as a great primary source for Disney’s ways of altering historical events or stories to make the most financial gain. It also serves as a marker in the historical revolution of historical interpretation as it displays the villainous of the English setters which was not always displayed; they are just as heinous as they accused the Natives of being. It is also a sample of technological tendencies and advances in the animation industry. Pocahontas, like many other films for Disney during this time period, has many songs and musical components that add to the story. This serves as not only an example of what was popular for movies and musicals during the 1990s, but also as an example of what children at the time grow up expecting movies to be and look like. –Morgan Gilbert

I believe this film could act as a fairly strong primary source on Disney and the 1990’s. Pocahontas follows a similar pattern that other Disney princess films tend to follow where a girl feels like she doesn’t fit into traditional societal rules, and she goes on a journey to find her destiny while defeating some sort of evil. This represents the general themes Disney tries to exhibit which revolve around being true to yourself and doing what’s right. This also can act as a primary source to 1990’s culture because Disney tends to make movies which reflect the time period’s values and you can see that in the way Pocahontas is drawn and written. If Pocahontas was made now, I do think that, at least in terms of appearance, Pocahontas would be more historically accurate. -Purnaja Podduturi

I do feel like this movie is a product of it's time and is an interesting look into the 1990's mindset about colonization. It's interesting to note why Disney deviated from the real tale and created a fictional love story around John Smith and Pocahontas; I believe it's an attempt to redeem European colonizers from their wrongdoings. Disney was clearly pushing their own narrative that European colonists were't always the bad guys, and while at points they did have mutually beneficial relationships with native tribes, the movie did gloss over most of the terrible things colonists did to Native peoples and instead decided to depict a made up story to advance this narrative. If this movie were made today it would probably be more of a tragedy than a love story, and if this same movie was released today I think it would face a lot of backlash due to the blatant colonial apologist message. -Wilson LeCount

This movie is a perfect example of how films tend to romanticize history. I feel like up until the last decade or so our country hasn't be honest with ourselves about the treatment of the Native Americans throughout our history. We were so content with the stories like that of the Indian Princess who fell in love with the explorer and the first Thanksgiving that we ignored a gruesome past. If this movie was made today one would think that it would try to tell the real story. However; one issue is that Disney is programed to have happy endings so, the true story would likely deviate from that. - Dan Dilks

V. The "So, what?" question

This isn’t really a “So, what? question but does Pocahontas have a place among Disney's venture to remake its classics into live-action stories? Would Disney try to accurately tell the story this time around?-Megan Williams

In my opinion there isn't really a definitive answer to the “so what” of this topic, but it does bring the question of why Disney chose this topic. They must have known they were going to have to go off book, and this wasn't taking a fairy tale and making it their own such as Cinderella or Robin Hood, this was actually twisting history. So why did they choose to do it? –Kimberly Sak

The “so, what” question can refer to why the movie was important. It is important because Disney has a huge platform. When a movie like Pocahontas is released, even when people know it may largely be untrue, they still remember it. In the absence of knowledge proving the film to be wrong, they may subconsciously accept it as truth. People who do not know the real story of Jamestown, Pocahontas, and John Smith, remember the Disney telling of it. That is why it is important. The film was inaccurate in much of its history, but some of the general themes were true. A viewer who sees the peaceful coexistence in how the settlers and Natives lived in the end of the film may have a more humane vision of Natives as a result. In a country that has mistreated Natives for centuries, this consequence is important. This film matters because it reached a large audience and had the opportunity to alter many viewers opinions toward Natives. –Daniel Walker

I view the “so, what” question in a few different ways. The first, why would looking at Disney’s interpretation of this historical event matter? It matters because it is what an entire generation of children grew up thinking Jamestown was like for the early years of their lives. And while children obviously learn later in their lives that this “Disneyfied” interpretation of the past is not totally correct, they will always have a slightly idealized view of the English Settlers and the Natives relationship in the back of their minds. Why does it matter that Disney deliberately altered the story of Jamestown to make it more child-friendly? Why did they choose this story? Disney could have chosen from a wide variety of historical events, but they chose to create an animated musical about Pocahontas. Their interpretation will forever at least slightly alter the view of those children who watched it. Why would looking at the film as a primary source matter? The 1990s Disney team thought telling the story of Pocahantas would make Disney money, otherwise they would not have made the film. Therefore, the 1990s society had to have been at least somewhat interested in connecting to the early English settlers on some level. It also serves as a great marker in technological advancements in the animation industry over time. –Morgan Gilbert

Ditto. This movie has definitely been vary influential in American society. Even if most people realize that it is absurd fantastic, powerful childhood influence can have a striking influence on an individual's subconscious. –Ethan Knick

The study of the animated film Pocahontas is important because for many it is the only interaction that they will get with the historical period. The film might just be the source they use to base their understanding of the Jamestown colony. Films and pop culture are far more widespread and consumed in greater quantities than historical texts. The general populace may be unaware of the vast detour that the film takes from the historical record. Therefore, I believe our studying of this film allows us to understand the divide between the profession and popular culture and better understand the evolution of history overall. – Robert Keitz

The question as to why Disney made the movie in the first place is interesting since they had to change so much of the story to make a more child-friendly version of colonization. If the goal was to introduce more diversity to the Disney franchise then they probably should've chosen a different story rather than creating an idealistic image of John Smith and others. The choice to tell the story of Pocahontas is cool, but it wasn't done in a great way and has impacted how Americans have viewed European colonization. If this is the only exposure people get to this story than it really does more harm than good in my opinion, and makes the job of historians who want to tell the real story of Pocahontas much harder. - Wilson LeCount

329/question/329--week_2_questions_comments-2020.txt · Last modified: 2020/09/01 13:24 by jmcclurken