Disney Debate: Pocahontas

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Over the next 11 weeks, we’ll discuss each of the “official” Disney princesses. Read the information and question below and then use the comments section to join the debate. Engage with people’s comments by replying to them, and add your own points by creating a new comment. Comments must be civil to be included.


Pocahontas’ decision not to return to England with John Smith at the end of the film is often held up by feminists as an excellent example of a female protagonist proving she doesn’t need a man. “I’m needed here,” Pocahontas explains when Smith asks her to leave with him.

Does Pocahontas’ decision to stay with her tribe make her a strong, empowered woman? Or is she giving up on the love of her life unnecessarily?

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12 thoughts on “Disney Debate: Pocahontas

  1. I’d say it’s just adherence to history (relatively speaking, anyway). In the sequel she finds her heart lies with John Rolfe–her real-life husband.

    In fact, a case could be made that the first film is NOT a “love story” at all–more an arc about close friendship transcending the prejudice of both cultures.

    (Yes, BOTH cultures. Observe the “Savages” song at the climax, where both sides are shouting it at each other.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know it’s “based on a true story” but it’s so far from the real events that I think any change can legitimately be made to the plot and it would be okay. And I really think that, within the story they told, it doesn’t make sense for her to stay behind. He’s the love of her life. He’s literally the thing she’s been dreaming about the whole movie (her dream of the spinning arrow turned out to be John’s compass).


  2. Aside from the historical elements, I think it shows a woman who is willing to sacrifice to do what she needs to do. So if we applied this example to the movie Brave, she would have sacrificed her emotional happiness to do what was necessary to save her clan and ensure its success. I don’t think Pocahontas is necessarily a feminist, I think she just wisely chose not to go to a new world and abandon her people. Maybe it was wise, maybe not, but I think there is something to be said about not abandoning your duties.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m with you that people shouldn’t abandon their duties, but what were Pocahontas’ duties? What was so important that she had to do in her tribe? She wasn’t going to be the next leader. The movie doesn’t show us anything that she has to do there that someone else couldn’t do.


  3. I actually think this has less to do with an attempt to push a feminist ideal and more to do with an attempt to make the story fit within the rubric of history. Don’t get me wrong — the narrative itself isn’t remotely historic — but I think they set out to tell that narrative within a preset structure.

    Something like: “Hey, you can do whatever you want with this story, but it has to star ~this~ way and end ~that~ way.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think there’s probably some truth to that but they still needed to tell a story that makes internal sense. If she *has* to stay behind, then they needed to make it impossible for her to leave — like there is some really important job she needs to do that will ensure the safety of humanity or something — and they didn’t show that at all. She could have left and nothing would have been different. It’s bad storytelling.


    2. I guess I think it’s both. The studio was definitely thinking about feminism at the time, the filmmakers discuss Pocahontas as a feminist heroine in interviews about the film. So I think they saw the actual historical truth (that she didn’t go with him) as an opportunity for a feminist narrative.


  4. LOL. Disney couldn’t have allowed Pocahontas to return to England with Smith if they’d wanted to. I don’t see it as a feminist statement at all. It’s completely the fact that it isn’t historically accurate. Sure, neither is the romance, but there’s a bit more room for speculation there. It’s a fact that she didn’t go to England until later and then she married John Rolfe. If Disney had really been trying to promote feminism with Pocahontas, they wouldn’t have dared make that sequel!


  5. I’d agree with the other comments that they just kept her from going after John Smith in order to match up with history, if it weren’t for the fact that they already bulldozed most historical stuff just to make the movie (for goodness sakes, in real life, Pocahontas was actually a ten year old, and there’s little evidence she and John Smith were even friends, let alone lovers. In other words, they did to Pocahontas, what Arthur Miller did to Abigail Williams in The Crucible.). Not to mention the entire movie came across as being a bit too “Howard Zinn” material for my taste (ironic, since Zinn wouldn’t enter public consensus until two year later with Good Will Hunting where the titular character explicitly references Zinn’s POT textbook “Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of America” and inferred that was a “real” history book, and it resulting in schools adopting that textbook), even having John Ratcliffe basically being demonized for trying to find a Gold Mine in Virginia, and this was despite the fact that the real Ratcliffe, while not the best settler of Norfolk, never had any designs for Gold at all. And considering this was the same movie that effectively praised Pocahontas for technically committing adultery against her arranged husband, not to mention significantly aged Pocahontas up (my own cousin, who is no stranger to liberalism or feminism, was actually disgusted with this change to Pocahontas’s character), not to mention the interviews given, I’d say she DEFINITELY was meant to be a feminist. Oh yeah, and it implies John Smith converted to Animism, even though he most likely didn’t.


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