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Emily Booth
Mr. Phillips
Cultural Media Literacy Honors
22 May 2016
Pocahontas Research Essay
Disneys cartoon film Pocahontas negatively reinforces
American Indian stereotypes and white privilege. The directors, Eric
Goldberg and Mike Gabriel, used language, songs, and harsh
commentary to portray these stereotypes.
Throughout the film, the American Indian characters were often
referred to with stereotypical names and degraded by the white
explorers. Rita Kempleys negative review quite bluntly states that all
Disney has really done in its disappointing 33rd animated feature is
revive the stereotype of the Noble Savage. The Noble Savage
stereotype is a peaceful and wildlife-loving American Indian
character (Authentic History Center). This particular stereotype is
frequently shown by connecting the Native Americans with nature.
Janet Maslin may think that she is giving a positive review of this
film by saying: In its own decorative way, the film does show how this
young American Indian woman played an important role as
peacemaker, but, by the use of the word decorative, Pocahontas
loses her power and meaning as a peacemaker. Once again, the film
dehumanizes the American Indians and, in this case, lowers them to

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the stature of a decorative object. Audrey Rock-Richardson says that
the film Pocahontas belittles the true historical figure of
Pocahontas by reducing her to the status of sexy Native American
Barbie. Many critics have referred to Pocahontas as decorative,
sexy, or beautiful. Although these are not horrible traits, they
become problematic because they take away from the deep history of
Pocahontas and are degrading to American Indian women.
The language used by the white people in the film Pocahontas
proves their feeling of superiority over the American Indians. The
American Indians are described in terms such as savages,
heathens, pagans, devils, and primitive. These terms connote
something wild, primitive, and inferior. They imply a value judgement
of white superiority, (Pewewardy). A common topic that keeps arising
from these negative stereotypes is the white superiority that is felt by
the English. By adhering to a we vs. they format, the film
promotes othering, (Pewewardy). Othering is defined as The process
of perceiving or portraying someone or something as fundamentally
different or alien, (Wordnik). By coming into a new land, claiming it as
their own, referring to the native people as uncivilized and unfit to own
their land, and basically kicking them out of it, the white folk are
screaming White Privilege!
The songs characters sing in Pocahontas are heavy with
racism. Veronica Nunez agrees, saying the lyrics of the song

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Savages are extremely offensive. They lack cultural sensitivity and
are incredibly detrimental to Natives Americans. The song Savages
doesnt even try to hide the racism; it is out in plain sight. The lyrics
arent clever and dont have to be deeply analyzed to reveal the white
peoples harsh point. The first couple lines of the song are: 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, theyre savages! Savages! Barely
even human. Just in this section of the song, the white people have
called American Indians heathens who are of a disgusting race, they
have made fun of their skin color, said they would be better off dead,
and then refer to them as another stereotypical name: savages. The
dictionary defines a heathen as
an irreligious, uncultured, or uncivilized person, (Dictionary.com).
This word relates to the uncivilized view white people have of American
Indians. The amount of racism present in this song is horrifying.
An excerpt from Roger Eberts review reads: Pocahontas is the
best-looking of the modern Disney animated features, and one of the
more thoughtful: It is about real issues, even if it treats them with
nave idealism. In its view, Native Americans lived in peaceful harmony
with nature until European settlers came, bringing guns and ecological
destruction. The Europeans, puffed up with their notions of civilization,
did not realize how much they had to learn from the Indians. This is

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one of the few positive reviews of Pocahontas. Nave idealism is
defined as a way of thinking characterized by solutions and beliefs
that are very optimistic and positive but not realistic or well thought
out, (Alleydog). While Ebert recognizes the problems the film faces, he
believes that the film-makers attempted to create a thoughtful,
informative film and just went about it in the wrong way.
Eric Goldberg and Mike Gabriel created a beautiful and
entertaining film, but it doesnt take a sharp eye to find the flaws. The
racism that the stereotypical language gives off is offensive and
degrading to the American Indian culture.
Works Cited
"FILM REVIEW; History as Buckskin-Clad Fairy Tale." The New York
Times. 11 June 1995. Web. 21 May 2016.
Merriam-Webster (Bigot). Merriam-Webster. Web. 21 May 2016.
"Naive Idealism." Definition. Web. 21 May 2016.
"Native Americans: The Noble Savage: The Brave." Native Americans:
The Noble Savage: The Brave. Web. 21 May 2016.
Pewewardy, Cornel. "The Pocahontas Paradox: A Cautionary Tale for
Educators." School of Education University of Kansas. 1996. Web.
21 May 2016.
"Pocahontas Movie Review & Film Summary (1995) | Roger Ebert." All
Content. Web. 21 May 2016.

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"Pocahontas - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes." Pocahontas - Movie
Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes. Web. 21 May 2016.
"Wordnik." Web. 21 May 2016.
"1 Pocahontas." Disney Movies and Racism /. Web. 21 May 2016.