As I’ve previously written in the first installment of this series-long ‘editorial’ (if you will), the following posts are created to air out more or less, ‘adult’ grievances and flush out underlying (as well as obvious) themes that I’ve found while watching these childhood movies over again. *Please Note: I do not ‘blame’ Disney for any of my findings, as these are films based on very old fairy tales, however, as Disney animated them I will continue to say ‘Disney’ as a reference. **Also, not all cartoons animations of childhood fairy tales were the brain child of Disney, so I will attribute the production companies accordingly.* This month’s installment of my return to my head scratching questions and off the wall theories tackles the EVER racist movie Pocahontas.
First things first: I know it’s pretty inherent how RACIST this movie was, but I’m going to mention it anyway. If you guys are unaware of Pocahontas, she was the chieftain’s daughter of a Native American tribe on the East Coast that got in good when the white man came in, took over and basically said “move over redskins, this is our land.” In some ways, Pocahontas was a traitor to her people, but in other ways she help founded this nation in all its racist pride. However you want to look at it, look at it that way. Anyway, I definitely had a couple problems with this flick. For one, this story is GROSSLY exaggerated and deeply racist (did I say it was racist?), but I’ll talk about that during my lessons section. But I had a BIG PROBLEMO with Pocahontas. She passed on a fine male specimen in the form of Kocoum. Yeah, he may not have been the most talkative of the bunch, but he was strong. And I guarantee you, he would’ve been kind AND boy knew about Pocahontas and her wild-woman-diving-off-cliff ways and probably wouldn’t have changed her (like the English tried to do in Pocahontas II, but I’m not getting into that now). You messed up, Pocahontas! YOU DONE MESSED UP!
Not only does she pass him up for the white guy (who ultimately takes the blame for killing Kocoum), but the white guy she passes him up for leaves her (yes, OK, he got shot — big deal) and DOESN’T come back like he said he would! Hmm … you sure know how to pick ’em Po-Po. And was it me, but didn’t it look like Pocahontas’s bff Nakoma wanted Kocoum? Think about it … she was always telling Pocahontas that she’s got a good thing going AND she was the one who ran to Kocoum (not anyone else in the tribe) when Pocahontas was doing the sneaky-sneak with John Smith. Am I the only person who thought that Nakoma was hoping that Kocoum would see Pocahontas and get all like “forget that ho” and then date her?
Hmm, I smell a home wrecker…
Another thing: what was with all the unattractive British dudes? The only ones worth baggin’ were John and Thomas. AND they gave poor Tom a hard-ass time for not knowing how to shoot. That’s why this damn country is so trigger happy. There were other questionable things in this film, like what the hell were these Indians SMOKIN’?! Think about it: Pocahontas’s best friend was a raccoon, a hummingbird and a talking tree bark. A TALKING TREE BARK. I mean, I feel like there was some hallucinogenics in those pretty leaves that were always circling Pocahontas, no? I mean, how else did she learn to speak English so damn quick — Rosetta Stone? Well, it’s about that time that we get into the thematic lesson portion of this here post, so here we go:
Theme One: America Was Built on Trigger-Happy Racism
Yeah. I had to go there. And we know this is a universal FACT. From the moment that we’re introduced to John Smith in this movie in all his dashing, blonde-headed glory, this dude is boasting about all the ships he’s sailed and all the natives he’s killed. And when he comes to America, the first thing any of these fools do is pull out a gun on some “shoot now, ask questions later” nonsense. Pocahontas sang it best:
You think I’m an ignorant savage And you’ve been so many places I guess it must be so But still I cannot see If the savage one is me How can there be so much that you don’t know?
For real, like how to forage food, learn the layout of the land, or ask the natives for help. Really John, really! And despite them “getting along” at the end, they really didn’t. The white man came back, treated the Natives like shit, ran them off their land, went to Africa, brought slaves over and still acted like they owned the land.
You think you own whatever land you land on… …You think the only people who are people Are the people who look and think like you
Sang it girl. Sang it!
And if you think I’m being a little over the top, look at the lyrics to the (albeit beautiful) song “Savages” :
What can you expect From filthy little heathens? Their whole disgusting race is like a curse Their skin’s a hellish red They’re only good when dead They’re vermin, as I said And worse They’re savages! Savages! Barely even human Savages! Savages! Drive them from our shore! They’re not like you and me Which means they must be evil We must sound the drums of war! They’re savages! Savages! Dirty redskin devils! Now we sound the drums of war!
You know what that is?
And that sad part? This mentality is VERY much alive today. Thank you Disney for preparing people of color for the real world.
Theme Two: Interracial Relationships Are a Risky Business
Don’t get me wrong now — I’m all about loving who you want to love. But let’s be real — this movie showcased how truly difficult being in an interracial relationship could be. First there was the language barrier (until they smoked some of the good stuff from Mother Willow’s bark) and then there was the whole cultural thing. I mean, just look at the faces of everyone who saw Pocahontas and John Smith Kissing…
Having an interracial relationship is a a tough business, especially if you come from two cultures that are literally worlds apart. However, you have to learn to remain strong and make necessary (and fair) sacrifices to make the relationship work. Stay true to yourself and the one you love, forget the haters and things will work out … hopefully better than they did for Po-Po and John.
Theme Three: ALWAYS Break Off Old Relationships Before Entering New Ones
Tale as old as father-freaking time yo. I ALWAYS blamed Kocoum’s death on Pocahontas AND Nakoma, but mainly Pocahontas. Why? Homegirl knew she was engaged to be married to that fine bear claw tattooed mofo. And instead of keeping it real and saying “Hey Kocoum, I don’t think this whole marriage thing is going to work out for me,” she just sneaks off to see John Smith. And what happened?
Kocoum died … he DIED!
Sigh. If it’s one thing you can take from this movie, it’s that if you are in a relationship (forced into it or not) and you no longer want to be with the person, sneaking around is the worst way to get out of it. It’s better to just make a clean break before anyone gets anymore hurt than they need to be. Yes, Kocoum would’ve been upset and his pride would’ve been low. But how much you want to BET if Pocahontas had just broke it up, Nakoma would’ve been there to pick up the pieces? Please redirect your eyes several photos above, and search your feelings. You know it to be true.
Theme Four: Men Need to Learn How to Ask For Help Or Directions
So, this Ratcliffe fellow, gets on a ship, lands in the Americas, calls his settlement in Virginia “Jamestown” and swears up and down the place is filled to the brim with gold. However, because of his pompous and prideful attitude, not only was there no gold, but he ended up shooting someone and getting in trouble.
Men NEVER like to ask for directions, and this is a prime example of what happens when you don’t. You see, Ratcliffe could’ve just told the Natives “take me to your shiny yellow thing” and they would’ve shown him the only gold they had was corn. OR they could’ve shown him some semi-precious jewels which Ratcliffe could’ve brought back to England. But noooo. He just had to be all “I know what I’m doing!” And where did that get him? Bound, gagged, and on a boat waiting to be tried in England.
Theme Five: Racially-Motivated Deaths Have Escaped Justice For Centuries
OK, so Kocoum comes to Pocahontas’s defense (as he’s told she’s in trouble) and attacks John Smith. They fight and it looks like Kocoum is about to win, but Pocahontas joins in to break it up. When Thomas sees the throw down, instead of helping Kocoum off John, he pulls out a gun and shoots Kocoum dead.
John Smith takes the blame, but guess what? He gets off when Po-Po stops her daddy from killing him (in that Old Testament way of eye for an eye, mind you). To add insult to injury, Thomas — the one who KILLS Kocoum — gets to go back to England and everyone’s like “let’s stop the fighting and be friends.” Meanwhile, when John Smith gets shot (and SURVIVES), they lock up Ratcliffe, gag him and get ready to send his ass to prison when they get back to England. Kocoum dies, and everyone’s like “aww, let’s move on.”
This, ladies and gentleman, is the moment that I realized that I was being taught racially-motivated hate crimes have gone unpunished for forever, and we can expect this saddening trend to continue to go on until we demand justice for ALL our fallen brethren. #NeverForgetKocoum
Theme Six : Sometimes It’s Best to Be Single
Pocahontas single handedly got two men shot, one of whom died. Real talk, who needs all that stress in your life? One guy likes you, but he’s just not your type. Then another guy likes you, but his people won’t accept you as his woman. What’s a girl to do? That’s when you learn that sometimes it’s best to just walk away from all these men and wait until you can get what you deserve (though personally, Po-Po had a great thing with Kocoum, but eh, she wasn’t feeling the dude).
And in the end, that’s what happened. John Smith went off to England with the “promise” of returning (but never did), Kocoum’s death faded in the background and all Po-Po had left was Meeko (the raccoon), Flit (the hummingbird), Mother Willow and her earth-spirit “herbs.” *Of course, until Pocahontas II, where she meets John Rolfe, but we won’t get into that now.*
Theme Seven: Animals Are The Only Things That Truly Know How to Adapt
I had to give a quick shout out to the animals in this film, because as a person fond of pets, I found that the only things that learned how to adapt to their given situations, were the animals. I mean, Meeko saw (well, smelled) John Smith coming and did what he had to do to get food. He even accepted John with the quickness, though Flit took some time. Now Percy, Ratcliffe’s dog, took a little time to adjust. But unlike John Smith (who probably could’ve been healed with Native American holistic remedies instead of traveling on a ship for MONTHS (which could’ve killed him) for “medical attention”) Percy stayed. Why? Because he adapted.
Lesson learned: animals are a million times more accepting AND resilient than humans. BOOM.
Theme Eight: Exaggerating History Makes it Better to Swallow
So for many of you who watched Pocahontas, going “oh, that’s so sad, why didn’t she go to England,” blah-di-blah, just remember that this film was a highly exaggerated version of the truth. In fact, Po-Po was a young girl when she met John Smith, that whole “Daddy don’t kill him” thing was possibly a stunt and/or ritual (if it even happened at all). Then, when her people and the settlers started squabbling AGAIN, they kidnapped her. Yes. They held Po-Po ransom! And when her people couldn’t meet the settlers’ demands, they kept her. And NO she didn’t go to England like she did in Pocahontas II with John Rolfe and decide “I love my Native American ways.” Instead, she adopted Christianity, changed her name to Rebecca, got married to Rolfe, had a baby and then went to England where she was dubbed a princess of her tribe (though they probably didn’t care) before dying on her journey back home. Of course that’s “too deep” for a Disney film, so you know do what you must to get it out there: throw in some music, boost her age up, and make it all a lesson in racial (in)equality and you’ve got yourself a hit! Sometimes hearing the truth is a hard pill to swallow. And maybe many people wouldn’t have felt inclined to like Pocahontas as much if they told what really happen. So we get a mix of history and fun with Pocahontas being the brave, strong-willed, beautiful, red-skinned chieftain’s daughter who helped disillusioned traveler John Smith paint with the colors of the wind.
I agree with everything. Pocahontas was one of the most racist Disney movies ever. And the sad thing is its made palatable for children but the subtle themes, all of which you just exposed, is troubling.
When I was in the 7th grade, we studied Pocahontas in my Global Studies class. This movie had come out the summer before I entered 7th grade so I was excited to learn about her but so disappointed when I realized that it was a revisionist story
Bravo for your unflinching insight.