Dirty Redskin Devils

I have a confession to make: I am addicted to Disney. I think it would be difficult to have been a child of my generation and not been, considering I spent all of my pre-adolescent years in the company’s “Renaissance” period. For every year of my childhood, from my toddler years well into my early teens, there is a Disney memory there. And like most people, especially women, and especially people of color, the relationship I have with Disney is… complicated. I don’t know how many of you have written hateful essays about Disney and contacted them about Song of the South, but– oh! Just me? Hahahahaha! Wacky. So maybe I’ve got a few issues with Disney. Maybe. I’ll try not to be too biased against them for not returning my calls. I think I’m pretty fair here.

My biggest bone to pick is with Pocahontas. My relationship with Pocahontas has been complicated as well, thanks to my childhood urge to inform clearly confused people, who I truly, truly believed, deep in my heart of hearts, had just made a mistake with their histories! Picture me, at six years old: “Do you wand me do dell you aboud da real Pocahondas?” (I was congested a lot as a kid.) Cue semi-informed speech that the audience tuned out halfway through. It’s like I was going door to door in a Girl Scout uniform without any cookies. Yet still, I maintained hope. LOL OPTIMISM!! That’s why my sisters and I have a long series of inside jokes that specifically reference this movie. “Wingapo, bitch!” I have a whole Thanksgiving Pocahontas skit.

Yeah, no.In any case, Pocahontas, released the summer of 1995, is Disney’s 33rd feature-length animated picture, and one of some significance when Disney’s handling of race is brought up. It’s, um, a… flawed movie. There’s several reasons for this, the least of which is that Mel Gibson’s casting as John Smith, is, in retrospect, a bit cringe-worthy. The big, main, monster issue– the elephant in the room– is that Pocahontas was a real person.

CliffNotes time! In the Disney version, Pocahontas, the adult daughter of the Chief of the Powhatan tribe, finds herself reunited with her absent father, due to be married to a man she does not love (Kocoum), and set to be tied down to a life she does not want. Then the Virginia Company shows up, and Captain John Smith and Pocahontas get to talking aided by, presumably, tree-spirit Grandmother Willow’s advice to Pocahontas to “listen to her heart,” which works out for them way better than Google Translate ever has for me. Just saying. Through the power of song and, giving credit where credit is due, some absolutely gorgeous animation, Pocahontas demonstrates to the very blond, white-toothed John Smith that cultural differences don’t have to be a pissing contest between SUPER SPIRITUAL and have-I-mentioned NATURE LOVING indigenous groups and the city-boy Brits.

Meanwhile, Governor Ratcliffe (one of the more subtly named Disney villains) and the British settlers, after declaring that everything they’re willing to build on top of is now called Jamestown, proceed to dig the shit out of everything looking for gold. While Smith was away, a Newsies-era Christian Bale (no, really– and this movie was actually released the same weekend as Batman Forever) accidentally shoots at some Powhatan scouts (no, really) who want to check out these funny hairy guys with the guns, and kills one of Kocoum’s comrades. The scouts retreat, and Ratcliffe plans an epic showdown.

Pocahontas gets back to her village just in time to sneak back out again when John Smith follows her home. Nakoma, her BFF, covers for her by lying to Kocoum even though she’s really worried about this whole interracial relationship thing. During the secret rendesvous, Pocahontas reveals “Gold? Um, we’ve got maize, I guess?” (oops) to John Smith before he and Pocahontas have to sneak back to their respective homes, only for reals this time. However, the Chief and Kocoum have been planning an epic showdown of their own, and in desperation, Pocahontas tries to convince her father to talk things out with the English. Which doesn’t work. And a suddenly self-righteous, holier-than-thou John Smith declares to Ratcliffe, “[b]ut this is their land!” …Which also doesn’t work. Um, spoiler alert?

Pocahontas sneaks out AGAIN, and meets John Smith, but both of them have been tailed by Kocoum (per Nakoma’s request) and Christian Bale (per Ratcliffe’s request), who shoots at Kocoum, but on purpose this time, and kills him. John Smith is captured and set to be executed ritualistically at sunrise, but Pocahontas meets him in the POW tent, where they declare their love for each other. The rest of the night is spent alternating between shots of the Native Americans and the English preparing for battle and both singing the (incredibly triggering) “Savages”. (Starting at the third song from the bottom. The one with the raccoon.)

Meeko stares on, aghast, at the changes made to the 'Have it Your Way!' campaign.Come morning, Pocahontas throws herself in front of a bound John Smith just as her father is about to deliver the killing blow, convincing him to free John Smith. The settlers are actually pretty cool with this plan, except for Ratcliffe, who has decided to shoot Chief Powhatan anyway. Smith jumps out and takes a bullet for the Chief and Ratcliffe is sort-of arrested by the other settlers, and everybody present learns a Lesson about Differences. John Smith goes back to London, along with the chained up Ratcliffe and some cargo that I think might be slapping the whole “stealing resources from Native peoples is wrong” message right in the face. Pocahontas says she will always be with John Smith in her heart and watches the ship sail away.

…Until 1998, when Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World was released (direct to VHS!), and Pocahontas and John Rolfe (who OMG hate each other! due to being a crappy romantic plotline where they are SO ALIKE and LEARN TO RESPECT EACH OTHER, etc.) meet up when she stows away on his ship to be an ambassador to England, since King James is going to send out an a war armada otherwise. She dresses up in English clothes and makeup, and meets the King, who thinks she’s the bee’s-knees until she criticizes his hobby of bear-baiting. She and her bodyguard are arrested on Ratcliffe’s recommendation, then busted out of jail by Rolfe and… presumed-dead John Smith! Awkwaaaard. Pocahontas goes before the Queen and explains that Ratcliffe is a lying liar who lies, then goes with Bodyguard, Smith, and Rolfe to crash some English ships together, have a swordfight, and get Ratcliffe arrested again.

Everybody has to choose to stay in England (Pocahontas’s bodyguard, for some reason) or leave England (everybody else), but Pocahontas also has to choose between John Smith and worldwide travel and adventure, and politician John Rolfe. She picks Rolfe, who wasn’t around for that news, I guess, but reveals he’s snuck aboard Pocahontas’s ship sailing back for America! Sort of a ballsy move if you didn’t know she wouldn’t be going with Smith, huh? According to Wikipedia, they proceeded to “kiss as the ship sail[ed] into the sunset.” Blech.

Okay. Now for some music-devoid facts. It’s been a long time since I read a book about Matoaka, the real name of the child called Pocahontas, so I’ve refreshed my memory with Wikipedia and a response to the film that was issued by the Powhatan Renape Nation.

What a charmer!Not-Captain John Smith, mercenary, one-time slave, colonist, and kind of shitty settler (yeah, they did actually NEED that corn) would have been in his late twenties to early thirties when he came to America, and apparently was such a dick that if the Actual-Captain Christopher Newport had gotten his way, John Smith wouldn’t have gotten any older. Also, when John Smith went back to England from getting shot? It was because a spark from his own gun landed in his powder keg. John Smith accidentally shot himself. This is the man we’re talking about. Pocahontas (a nickname essentially meaning “brat”) would have been around 12 years old in the winter of 1607, when John Smith & Co. met the Powhatans. Smith’s writings are the major source of information on Pocahontas, and she’s definitely mentioned as “a child of tenne years old” who apparently hung around Jamestown a lot to play with the kids there and bring the starving settlers all manner of tasty goodies. What’s that? Kids, you say? Yes, when a country is being colonized, you bring the women and children with you, because you’re moving in. Didn’t you know that?

Some more different English settlers and some Patawomecks kidnapped Matoaka a few years later around 1611 and held her for ransom. Chief Powhatan didn’t pay up to the English settlers’ liking, so they kept Pocahontas until 1614– when she had been converted to Christianity, taken on a Christian name (Rebecca), and allegedly told Powhatan off for not paying up in full, saying she was going to stay with the English. Presumably this is because she met John Rolfe, tobacco man. He is said to have loved her very much, despite his “agoniz[ing] over the potential moral repercussions of marrying a heathen,” though Rebecca-formerly-Matoaka’s feelings are unknown, and she may have done it to form a political alliance; in 1615, the same year her son, Thomas, was born, Ralph Hamor wrote that there were no further troubles with the Powhatans since the marriage of John and Rebecca Rolfe. In favor of this logic is the evidence that she had not only turned her back on her father and tribe, but also on her own family— a husband, Kocoum, who she married in 1610, and potentially (though it is unknown) children from that first marriage, to live with the people who kidnapped her. That, or Stockholm Syndrome.

OMG Becky you're sooooo prettyThe children might have been erased because Virginia Colony sponsors decided Pocahontas would be a great mascot for their tourism department and a nice way to hook new investors to boot. She was paraded around England from 1616-1617, meeting the King and Queen and generally being the good-PR poster girl the English wanted her to be. In 1617, the Rolfes boarded a ship to return to Virginia, but the ship didn’t even make it beyond the Thames before Matoaka-now-Rebecca grew sick and died.

Additionally, the whole “saved John Smith from being clubbed to death” incident wasn’t brought up at all until John Smith wrote a letter to Queen Anne asking her to be nice to “Rebecca” when she visited. Some historians theorize that Smith just hadn’t written anything about how “at the minute of [Smith’s] execution, she hazarded the beating out of her own brains to save [his]; and not only that, but so prevailed with her father, that [he] was safely conducted to Jamestown” before because it was irrelevant, while others theorize that Smith was generally full of shit, but at least he might have been trying to help a sister out. Also, it was pretty convenient to make the “Civilized Savage” look that much more awesome to English people at the same time as promoting your book. Smith met with Pocahontas once more in the last few months before she died.

Defenders of the Disney Pocahontas films (including Russell Means, who starred in it as Powhatan, and Irene Bedard, Pocahontas) say they are stories for children. Their argument is that the world is ugly and harsh enough as it is, and telling children a romantic story where the characters do what is right and good is harmless, and actually beneficial to children’s morality. While I can understand the mindset of wanting to preserve a child’s ignorance (which has been placed on a pedestal as “innocence,” and is a whole other issue)– and even understand the viewpoint, for Means and Bedard in particular, that they need to keep their employers happy– I do not empathize with it, nor do I agree with it. Showing a child a story set in the real world that does not reflect the real world is deliberately misinforming them and blinding them to a reality that they have to live in and deal with every day, just like everybody else does. The only thing is, a child doesn’t have a frame of reference for the world around them like an adult does– they don’t have experiences to draw on.

Pictured: History?Not to mention that the history of marginalized peoples was hardly brought up that often in the history/social studies classes I attended when I went through K-12. I can’t speak for what’s being taught now, but as of this time 4 years ago, I went to a high school history class where the students were being taught the Civil War wasn’t actually fought over slavery. I’ve only once heard Pocahontas referenced in a history class, or even as a real, historical figure, when it wasn’t me bringing her up. What children are told and shown may well be what they believe, and when they can’t separate reality from fiction because they’re not dealing with fiction, you end up with a generation of children whose only experience with Native American history is Pocahontas until they’re old enough for Dances With Wolves.

What about my reality? What about being the only kid in your class who doesn’t want to be part of the Thanksgiving play? What about having to watch Peter Pan over and over and over again at friends’ houses, or at school? What about my great-grandfather, who went through Indian school? What about my grandmother, on terrorist watch lists for her involvement in the American Indian Movement? What about getting tired of drums and chanting and recycling (and drinking and gambling) every time a Native character or storyline is introduced in any popular media?

Or how every other girl in pigtail braids is a little “Pocahontas”? What about knowing your own history, and knowing not only will it never be acknowledged in school, but knowing it’s possible no one you know will ever be told by the adults whose job it is to tell them? What about growing up listening to non-Native people claim partial “Indian princess” heritage– and enforcing their legal rights to do so and still remain “white”?? All when my family can’t even get CDIBs.

Is my reality too tough for you to handle? Am I too real for you?

Roy Disney himself said, at the same link as the above Means quote, “We went and did our research,” adding, “[t]his is our version, our interpretation of what we see to be the really important points about what this legend told.” (Emphasis mine.)

There is a fundamental difference between reinterpreting a legend, a fairy tale, or a myth to suit you, and reinterpreting history, because you’re reinterpreting people. You erase their existence to replace it with one that you prefer. You edit and cut and trim the celluloid, and pretend it’s a real life and a true story. This is an issue with most historical movies, it’s true. But for 12 years of public school education, American children have the state-approved “truth” shoved at them, too, and as they say, history is written by the winners. When a group of people is systematically pushed out of the history books, treated as a “campy”/”kitschy” cultural phenomenon, and regarded collectively as something for consumption, that can be bought and sold and used to play dress-up— and that same group, historically, has rarely even been portrayed by themselves in the mainstream media– there’s something wrong with pretending everything worked out okay in a “historical” film. There’s something wrong with that if anyone does it, but especially a company like Disney, the trusted, go-to name for quality children’s entertainment. That’s not okay. It undermines history, it undermines the people involved, and it undermines the real messages and stories that these people have by presenting a backdrop of falsehoods that looks too much like what people have been trained to think is “real” for them to tell the wolf from the sheep.

It’s not okay.


  1. says

    Aaaaand everybody welcome Gena, our most recent new writer! :)

    “[t]his is our version, our interpretation of what we see to be the really important points about what this legend told.” (Emphasis mine.)

    Read: “This is what a bunch of white dudes found interesting about the story. God made people of color to entertain us, and we think this is pretty damned entertaining.”

    I marvel that Disney hasn’t yet made the compelling story of Joan of Arc, in which Joan dresses up as a boy to join the army, takes over, but falls madly in love with a fellow soldier and can’t tell him she’s really a girl and angsts and angsts until she gets really sloppy and the silly bitch gets herself burned at the stake while singing a highly original song called “I Burn For You” about her all-consuming passion for this dude, whoever he is.

    This is a great breakdown of both the movie and the history, much of which I certainly didn’t know. Thanks, Gena!

  2. Anne says


    Hah, this essay really gets into why I say “Uh, I can’t stand Disney” and then people are like “Wah?” And I do love some Disney–but they are so full of problems! The the anti-feminist themes in Mulan, which make it worse because it’s parading as feminism.

    But as you say here, Pocahantas is a special case–they were real people. And NO ONE knows her real story. At my school we had “Indian days” where we “dressed up” as American Indians and like, went outside (I’m a small town mountain girl with a Bison ranch across the street from my elementary school, so we weren’t on playground or anything, which almost makes it worse). So basically we were taught that indigenous americans like, lived outside and stuff. Gah. It wasn’t until later I realized just how much BS I was taught and had to relearn everything. Taking an United States History until 1800 class at uni from an indigenous american (who, unlike my high school teachers, did not start “American History” at the time of Columbus) was amazing.

    Thank you so much for this essay! I am among those who have written angry essays about Disney–my Honors Thesis was dismantling the images and actions of the Renaissance Disney female protagonists, and going into how they are awful role models for young girls. For the sake of time (it was 85 pages) I couldn’t go into some things, but I want to get back to it and one thing I need to expand upon is how race is portrayed, like this and how “good guys” in Aladdin are lighter-skinned, and that Jasmine is even moreso.

    Anyway, love love love this, and I may save this and read it at Thanksgiving to my family.

    • says

      Aww, thanks!

      Yeah, and I covered the Mulan patriotism-to-paternalism shift, and the light-skinned/white-normative beauty standards vs dark-skinned/ethnic-stereotypical portrayal of villains, too! Except I was 15, so my paper was, like… 20 pages? And a little bit scatterbrained, LOL.

  3. Gategrrl says

    Excellent article. I’ve always hated the Disney version of Pocahontas. Even *minimal* research on the net (well, okay, more than minimal, but enough time on a an extended coffee break) will get you a hint of the real story. I’d rather Pocahontas was NOT reduced to “fairy tale” level.

    More, please?

    • says

      Thank you!!

      Ummm. More how? More history, or more stories? Because later this month I plan on sucking it up and watching the Colin Farrel/Q’Orianka Kilcher Pocahontas movie…

      • Anne says

        Oooooh yes more! Please review [i]The new World[/i]. It has….it’s own fair share of issues. I liked it–more because of Terrence Malick’s filmic style than anything else (I’m a film grad, what can I say)(though Q’Orianka Kilcher is amazing, and she was like, 14 at the time).

        But it’s still got an abundance of inaccuracies, and “exotic other”-type portrayals. (And Christian Bale. Again.)

        So hearing your take on that as well would be awesome!

        • says

          Christian Bale’s resume has got to be getting whiplash, I swear!

          I’ve been reeeeeally hesitant to watch that movie, because even though I like Farrell, and Kilcher seems super cool, it’s another Pocahontas story. Her being underage and John Smith being grown just made me feel really twitchy because of all the arguments for Pocahontas being a survivor of child rape.

          Native Fairy Princess for the lulz might help!

      • Gategrrl says

        More good stuff like you’ve written today. :-)

        History and its deliberate mis/interpretation is fascinating. Goes to the victor and all that; but it’s so much more complex than that, and people we think of as icons had real lives.

        • says

          Will do!

          I’ve always loved historical fiction, but it struck me as odd that accuracy only mattered sometimes. Even with trends toward realism, what’s cleaned up, what perceptions DON’T change, etc. are fascinating to examine.

  4. I. Scott says

    Your rendition of the facts here is rather more interesting than I found that film. Just following the links builds a much more complicated picture, almost like Disney just wanted to wrap a “real life” skin on a fairly run of the mill love story.

    • says

      Thank you!

      Yeah, Disney has a tendency to favor stereotypical “romantic” cliches, especially in their derivative work. Sadly, the story focuses so strongly on the COLONIAL cultural clash for the plot to work that when removed from the real-life framework, to story ceases to work (despite thematically being “related” to stuff like Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story, which at least portray both sides of the story as flawed and fully “human”).

  5. says

    Thank you for posting this. I’ve seen others try to break down everything that’s wrong with Pocahontas but none have done it as well or as thoroughly as you have.

    • says

      Wow, thanks!

      Yeah, I tried to touch on everything– I’ve basically had something like this in the works for the past 11 years, since I was allowed out of the children’s section of the library, and I checked out a biography on Pocahontas. It’s really been a labor of love, fuelled by suppressed rage sustained over half a lifetime. So, um, yay?

  6. Patrick McGraw says

    Excellent article!

    I was ten when the Disney Renaissance started, and in high school when Pocahontas came out, so my Pocahontas-related rants generally got a response of “Aren’t you a little old to get worked up over a cartoon?”

      • Anne says

        The saddest thing is how much that happens when people criticize the media that plays a part in shaping the youth. Because no, no it’s not just a cartoon, it’s a precedent being set into the minds of children, and it’s something we have to unlearn when we’re older.

    • says

      Thanks very much!

      It’s okay, I’ve gotten “Aren’t you a little young…?”, the condescending “knowing” grin and nod (“Oh, how charming and precious! She’ll grow out of that.”), and now I’m getting the “Aren’t you a little old?” and “Chill, it’s just a cartoon” responses.

      At state History Day when I presented my GOD AWFUL Racism & Sexism in Disney Animation paper, the judges were like, “Aren’t you BLAMING Disney? What about their perspective? Why is it bad that so many children worldwide watch Disney movies, aren’t MOST American movies shown worldwide?” And I was all, “Do you know how long it took me to find that deleted Fantasia footage?! LOOK AT MY BIBLIOGRAPHY!” ARRRRGH. They just seemed dimly impressed that I’d seen Song of the South and tried to email Disney reps. I mean, the paper sucked, but “blaming Disney” wasn’t a weakness, IMO. *still bitter*

      • SunlessNick says

        What about their perspective?

        What about the “perspective” that historical events are legends that can be rewritten rather than facts?

        • says

          I think they just wanted a more balanced paper, or an acknowledgment that Disney wasn’t evil, just, like… irresponsible, lazy, shiftless bastards, or something. I guess.

          But I really did not have it within myself to put those sentences together. I was just all, “RARRRGH ARE WE LOOKING AT THE SAME MOVIES?!” *froth, twitching* “DO YOU SEE THE FUCKING ILLITERATE ATLANTEANS?”

  7. Casey says

    A little OT: This reminds me of the Disney-brand Pocahontas nightgown I had when I was 5~6, it long sleeves and they were dark-skinned colored (with even the arm-tattoo she had in the movie)…*douche-chills* >_<VV

    • says

      Oh, man! I remember those. Yeah, I think in like 199…8? For my elementary school’s Winter Holiday musical concert, these two older (10 or 11) girls did a duet of “If I Never Knew You” while wearing those, and even then I was like: >8| “YOU ARE WHITE WHAT ARE YOU DOIIIIING”

      But I put it down to the then-current principal being overly micromanaging of all the concerts we had, and also kind of a total bitch. I was still convinced that my peers had just been fooled by a small set of Disappointing Adults, and would be enlightened through logical arguments. I… Kind of feel nauseous from that flashback, actually.

      • Casey says

        For me, I got one of those pajamas when the movie first came out. I had the temerity/ignorance/naivete to wear it when we went camping so I could “role-play” as Pocahontas (ugh) and my mom even tried brushing my hair out with one of those weird bristle-y plants whose scientific name escapes me but we all called it an “Indian Hairbrush”….BOOOO! BOOOO! *booing past self*

        That’s probably worse than my Weaboo phase.

        • says

          I think everybody’s got embarassing phases like that. I had a brief weaboo phase, myself, plus generally a period where I thought I would be the NEXT JK ROWLING because, shit, I can write fantasy, I’m eleven years ooooold! I made friends based on the grand Pokemon-vs-Digimon question, new episodes of DragonBall Z, and Sailor Moon fanart… yeah.

          It’s one of those things that functions both as an outlet for humiliating fandom stuff that everyone does somewhere on the spectrum from mainstream to debilitatingly nerdy, but ALSO, depending on the fandom itself, can promote inappropriate appropriation of culture, art/writing/speaking style, etc. I don’t know if that’s something “natural” that people do, but I suspect that the acceptability of appropriation is more a function of the culture we live in than that. Which in either case means it’s a behavior and perspective that needs to be unlearned, and children aren’t usually taught that.

          *shrugs* I’m just really glad I never published any of my crappy Mary Sue fanfic.

          • Casey says

            Speaking of gross cultural appropriation, my weabooism HIT IT’S PEAK when I first began traversing the interwebs at the tender age of 13 and commenting on forums…but not anime forums (too many spazzes for even MY taste[/LOLHypocrite]) but horror/slasher movie forums (one of my great loves, problematic as the genre is), and instead of pretending to be a guy or something (I wasn’t aware of TITS OR GTFO and the forum I frequented was quite civil) I pretended to be a 16 year old Japanese girl named Yoko…thankfully the forum-goes didn’t realize that was a fake even though I talked like a phony weaboo with botched moonspeak (I did begin Japanese class that year and continued learning it until my teacher retired and moved back to Hiroshima in 2009)…TOTALLY EMBARRASSING!

          • Patrick McGraw says

            I know EXACTLY what you mean.

            No one will ever, EVER see the Final Fantasy fanfiction I wrote between the ages of ten and twelve.

  8. Anne says

    Oh! I forgot in my first comment, I was going to talk about one of the ONLY things Disney did in Pocahontas that hasn’t really happened in their other films: she has a friend, who is HUMAN, not a relative, female, and they don’t compete for a man. Doesn’t excuse anything, of course, and the friend character has her flaws as well, but most Disney films completely isolate female characters from friendship and turn other females into competition or bullies.

    But yeah, that’s not really related to the point of THIS crit of Pocahontas, I just figured I’d bring it up. ^_^

    • says

      Oh, I love Nakoma. So much! I always kind of wished Kocoum would have survived and hooked up with her– and I know she gets married in the sequel film, but I’ve only seen clips of it. I really just could not sit through that movie, even in my “I-enjoy-Sailor-Moon-dubbed” days.

      But yeah, I liked that she cared about Pocahontas, I liked that she was G-rated perving on Kocoum, I *loved* that she covered for Pocahontas but still checked up on her, because she can’t keep OUT of trouble. I’ve only had relationships like that with family, but it’s nice to see. :)

  9. darkmanifest says

    Wonderful article. This is the best and most detailed description of the true “Pocahontas” story that I’ve read, and thank you for it. Clearly Disney made their version up nearly wholesale, keeping mere names intact. Like terrible fanfiction. “Hey what if Pocahontas was a babe and John Smith not at all terminally stupid? Yeah, that’ll work.”

    I didn’t even find out until I was in my late teens (I’m twenty-five now), how deluded and problematic “Pocahontas” was. (Also “Aladdin”. I’ve yet to explore everything wrong with “Mulan”. Still examining everything wrong with “The Princess and the Frog”. I own all those movies and their sequels. I’ve memorized the lyrics to every. single. song. I’m definitely Disney-obsessed, too, and their insistence on being total dillweeds about race, culture, and history is just…argh.)

    I did love the ending where the heroine actually chose her friends and family over Twu Wuv, yet now I don’t understand why they chose to include the fact that Smith returned to England without Matoaka…I mean, why not manufacture happily ever after them, if you’re going to take a dump on all the other true history in the name of creating a happier story? Where was the logic?

    Following that, if anybody was actually trying to sugarcoat things for the children, then what in God’s name were they were thinking with the song “Savages”? They all but dropped an f-bomb with the viciousness of those lyrics combined with the scenes of Smith’s near-execution by bludgeoning. Yeah, telling kids the truth about Matoaka’s life, that’s too much reality, but “Demons, devils, KILL THEM” and “Destroy their evil race until there’s not a trace left” is real tactful.

    • says

      Thanks! Disney was actually participating in a sort of cultural tradition of writing Pocahontas as a tragic little savage princess with a heart of gold who helped settlers struggling to survive. Tragic! Yeah, but not in the same way people were thinking in the 1880s. Depending on when you’re talking about, she would then either be put in a love triangle, star-crossed romance, or a promiscuous nymphet. 😛 (I refuse to call her a Lolita, because I’ve read Lolita and I’m all, “You keep using that word! I do not think it means what you think it means.”)

      Also, according to the IMDB, there were lyrics changes made for the VHS release, but not extensive ones:

      (1) “What can you expect/ from filthy little heathens?/ Their whole disgusting race is like a curse!” was changed to “What can you expect/ from filthy little heathens?/ Here’s what you get when the races are diverse!”
      (2): “Let’s go kill a few, men!” was changed to “Let’s go get a few men!”
      (3): “Dirty redskin devils, now we sound the drums of war!” was changed to “Dirty shrieking devils, now we sound the drums of war!”

      Yeaaaaah, that whole song shouldn’t have made it through editing, IMO. Those are the quotes that stuck out to you most as needing to be changed? BRB, watching unedited Aladdin to wash my brain.

      • says

        Ohhhh. That emoticon is unfortunate. I meant to have the face with the grossed-out tongue, not the face with the sexy flirty tongue. Disregard plz!

      • Patrick McGraw says

        The line that really stuck in my mind was “I wonder if they even bleed” because nobody in the movie bleeds.

        • says

          I remember being really scandalized by all the comparisons to demons and devils, but the song upsets me WAY more now than it did in ’95. Disney’s full of metaphorical deaths and not-bleeding, but they’re REALLY big on semi-religious imagery.

          In a way I get where they were going with SOME of the lyrics; “They’re different from us/ Which means they can’t be trusted” reminds me of the mob song from Beauty and the Beast, and I guess? kinda? sorta?? says not to judge others based on appearances…

          Completely ignoring the entire course of the movie that happened beforehand. One of the Englishmen had a throwaway “comedic” line about the Powhatans, y’know, being justifiably pissed, but it was played for laughs.

    • Jenny Islander says

      Oh, dear. I know that The Princess and the Frog’s “voodoo” is about as true to life as naugahyde, but what else is wrong with it?

      My kids are watching it right now for the skrillionth time. They love the music, the cooking, and everything Tiana does, from waitressing to kicking Dr. Facilier’s butt. They know that Shadow Man and Mama Odie are the Bad Wizard and the Good Witch and that real voodoo is something else. They figured out all on their own that Prince Naveen helped to dig his own pit and that Lottie needs a reality check. We have unpacked the little kernel of loathsomeness that is the Fenner Brothers at the beignet table, at least as far as a six- and four-year-old can understand. What am I missing IYO?

      • says

        My main issue with the movie was that there were several weak plot elements that I’d seen or read done better in other places. Notably the climactic showdown between Tiana and Facilier was done really well in Anastasia a decade prior (though I like the “temptation” interaction in TPatF better), Naveen as a prince learning to cope as a frog was done well in the book “The Prince of the Pond.” And I would have loved to see more of a compelling motive on Facilier’s part– I know he has to pay back his Friends On The Other Side, but an illustration of how he burned through their favors, or the penalty for failing them, would have been interesting. Mama Odie, Ray, and the Cajun frog hunters were incredibly stereotypical, but I was pleasantly surprised by Louis, Charlotte, and Tiana having a mother.

        It’s also problematic as a movie set in the “real world” that revises (and blurs the lines between) class and race interactions in order to avoid talking about them, especially at a weird time period (the late ’20s, when the Great Depression is literally just around the corner).

  10. says

    I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Disney movies even since I was a little girl. After I saw (and loved) the movie, I found a biography of the real history of Pocahontas. I was horrified, that the movie was so terribly far from the truth. I could understand the change of some details, like making her a bit older, but the Disney version was so wildly invented that I just… I don’t have words for how shocked I was.

    And it struck me hard. And I think that’s the first time that it struck me how the dominant culture appropriates even history for tales that put them in a better light, that make them feel better about themselves. It disgusted me, and it still does, even though I enjoy the movie and music on a cinematic/musical level.

    I was a kid who grew up hearing stories about her Cherokee great-grandfather, but was told never, ever, ever to tell ANYONE that we had Native ancestry, because we’d be treated differently. I didn’t quite believe my dad at the time, but the movie and its shoddy treatment of history… really brought it home how true it actually was.

    • says

      I love the artistry of Disney animation. My current “experiment” in getting off the Disney crack is checking out other animation companies and artists, but it hasn’t been super effective or anything, it’s just made me more obsessed with animation in general.

      …the dominant culture appropriates even history for tales that put them in a better light, that make them feel better about themselves.

      YES. This. This exactly!

      The thing of it is, though, is that because the revisionist-history style of bigotry is a cultural practice, and not “just” prevalent in popular media, you have the really screwed up viewpoints of the past being carried through to the future. When they’re presented to children, you have the same situation, only little to no critical analysis of those viewpoints at all, esp. because of the association of those ideas with an idyllic childhood experience.

      It doesn’t help that Disney being a household name synonymous with quality (their animation is gorgeous, and their songs are catchy as hell) makes them, insidiously, have the monopoly on what children believe and believe in. When they hold that much cultural and social power, and their bottom line is the almighty dollar, that’s blood-chillingly terrifying.

      • Patrick McGraw says

        “Patrick used Avatar: The Last Airbender. It’s super effective!”

        Sorry, couldn’t help myself. :)

        • says

          LOL, I was thinking the same thing when I wrote that! And I adoooooore AtLA. I just got the art book and am eagerly awaiting AtLoK (Legend of Korra).

          It’s just that filling up the holes so my cartoon heart can grow three sizes, WITHOUT using Disney, and trying to use quality packing material– it’s taking some digging, yo.

          • says

            I’m still trying to sort through how it stacks up, but you might want to take a look at the movie Secret of Kells if you haven’t already. It has a little trouble with the Bechdel test (but then again, the setting is a mostly-male community and the second named female character is a cat), and I’m not sure what to think of the knot of multicultural Brothers, but it is visually stunning and has a lot of cultural background.

            • says

              I adore Secret of Kells. I have the soundtrack, but I was waiting on the US DVD release so I could have, you know, a LEGITIMATE copy of the movie. Also, special features. I am absolutely batty for behind-the-scenes stuff.

              I would have loved to see Aisling’s backstory (and the Tuatha Dé Danann/Cromm Crúaich issue) explored a little bit more, but in the end the movie really is Brendan’s story. Pangur Bán and Aisling are parts of it, just like Abbot Cellach and Brother George Carlin Aidan are, in their own ways.

              As far as the diverse Brothers, when watching I pinned them down as probably monks visiting either the Abbey of Iona or the Abbey of Kells (both were v. v. important abbeys, as I recall), who then slowly began accumulating within the defensive walls of Kells. I didn’t see any multicultural families in Kells (it was a functioning village), but then, Brendan might not have hung out with other children as much as he did with the Brothers? Also, them being monks and all…

          • says

            Who said anything about illegitimate copies? The US release hit Amazon on the fifth, and I got my two copies (one for me, one for my library) by mail two days later.

            The special features are beautiful. Was really interesting seeing the concept trailer for Rebel, the project that eventually morphed into the movie; you’d be amazed by how much it changed in the process.

            (I hope this stacks correctly. Still getting used to these comment trees.)

  11. Scarlett says

    Ugh, I HATE the argument of ‘it’s just kids entertainment, it’s not SUPPOSED to be real, don’t get on our case for wanting to keep our kids innocent’. It crap likle that that makes kids first think in such atrocious steretypes. Is it really THAT hard to create a few rounded female/POC characters? And if they didn’t want to address any Serious Issues in Pocohontus, they shouldn’t have tcouhed it.

    I went to a high school history class where the students were being taught the Civil War wasn’t actually fought over slavery.

    I know this is nit-picking, but wasn’t the civil war actually fought over the right to seceed? I know slavery was BEHIND the south wanting to seceed, but it was my understanding that the south wanted to seceed and that’s what they went to war over.

    • says

      I really, really never understood why, beyond laziness and low standards, it was rare to even have female/POC characters in the types of stories I was interested in, let alone well-rounded characters. It’s not that it’s so hard– if you’ve really got that mental block, pretend you’re writing everybody as a white male, and go from there. It would be flawed, but better than some of the other tripe I’ve sat through.

      The Civil War reference was to illustrate how even “history” differs based on where you are and who you talk to– there’s a lack of open discussion or acknowledgment of another side to an argument. When revisionist history kicks in to decide who’s “right,” and cover up or edit timelines based on how good or bad PR is for those occurrences, there’s an issue.

      I was lucky in that my first high school had a really kickass history program, but my second (we moved) high school’s history class really shocked me. Up north for K-8, the rudimentary US History we’d been taught re:the Civil War was “the South wanted slaves and to maintain a culture wherein slaves were ‘necessary’ to maintain a standard of living for the Southerners making those decisions, and the North thought that was really bad and also kind of Luddite, and we fought them, and we won, and we freed the slaves to boot.” Down south, it was, “the South wanted stronger states’ rights and less federal meddling in state affairs, and industrialization blows for xyz reasons, and btw it was just a lot of radical folks that wanted slavery ended, most everybody was cool with it.” And the thing is, the South did lose the Civil War, so most people hear the first version of history, but just because something’s culturally agreed upon as true, doesn’t make it the accurate– or whole– truth.

      It’s not just the Civil War, though, even though that’s a really dramatic example. In-class, I didn’t learn extensively about the Vietnam war until high school, largely due to the Afro-Asian World 9th grade required history, and the sizable Hmong population in the area I was living. I never had a single history teacher even mention the Korean War until high school, either, which probably just indicates how shitty public school history is generally. Unless you assume that every time my family moved, that was going to be the year US History class didn’t involve memorizing Christopher Columbus facts!

      • SunlessNick says

        Down south, it was, “the South wanted stronger states’ rights and less federal meddling in state affairs, and industrialization blows for xyz reasons, and btw it was just a lot of radical folks that wanted slavery ended, most everybody was cool with it.”

        One thing I often hear is that the South was on the verge of abolishing slavery anyway, so obviously that couldn’t have been the real cause of the war.

          • says

            Yeah, I got it. It’s one of those things that as soon as we moved down here, I called bullshit, but found it interesting that there was another side of the Civil War making the rounds– and by “making the rounds,” I mean indoctrinating the youth to a particular mindset by repetition over the course of a decade-plus.

            Not that indoctrination wasn’t done up north either, but because it’s a different POV, the things taught differed in some ways. Also, states pick their own textbooks for public school, so. WHAT THE WHAT.

        • Patrick McGraw says

          What I find so aggravating about that is that it requires that you ignore pretty much everything written by Confederate leaders and the declarations of secession. There was no question among the leaders of the Confederacy that it was about slavery, and they were quite explicit about it.

    • says

      No, Scarlett, because they didn’t just wake up one morning and feel like seceding. The rest of the country was trending toward abolition, and they seceded to protect their “rights” to maintain slaves.

      My schooling was similar to Gena’s.

      In West Virginia (which went Union in the war) schools, I had been taught that the Union’s position wasn’t about *freeing* slaves, and that I believed. Slavery gave the South a big economic advantage and North didn’t like.

      In TN, I was taught the South went to war over states’ rights and economic issues, not the right to keep slaves, oh goodness me no. But it was the states’ right to define who was chattel, and the economic benefits of unpaid labor! It’s a real stretch to try to convince yourself it wasn’t about slavery. I mean, if you remove the contentious issue of slavery, you can’t imagine a reason for the South to cut itself off and try to go it alone.

      It’s definitely revisionist history to make white people feel better about themselves.

      That’s why I liked what I learned in WV – WV broke off from VA for the purpose of going Union. Sounds awesome, right? Truth is, slavery wasn’t doing WV any good – WV was full of white settlers working their OWN asses off and being looked down on for it. WV simply say no reason to help VA maintain its slaving lifestyle at the cost of lives and money they didn’t have to spare. WV is now home to some of the most virulent racists in the country, because at no point for them was it ever about concern for black people, and I’m glad I was taught that humbling lesson, or I might’ve mistakenly thought I was descended from above-average humans instead of typical, self-interested ones.

  12. M.C. says

    Oh, Disney. I still occasionally rant about what’s wrong with their version of The Little Mermaid.
    I mean the original version is problematic enough, but at least it makes it clear that the mermaid totally ruined her own life when she gave up everything she had just to be with a guy whom she didn’t even know.
    But Disney butchered that lession with their happy ending saying: Go on, little 16-year-old, leave your family give up your culture and dramatically change your teenage body to be sexually desireable for an older man. Argh, I hate Disney!
    And yet there are pictures of me as a 5-year-old dressing up as Ariel. And I still listen to that beautiful music every now and then…

    I believe the only non-offensive Disney film ever is Enchanted. (Though this might have to do something with my celebrity crush on Idina Menzel – I just have to love every film that turns her into a fairytale princess.)

    Now as for the race issue: I’m a white girl and I’m not American, so please tell me if I’m being ignorant or stupid. But are there actually any films that show what really happened? Because there’s so much stuff I’ve never seen.
    For example I didn’t know until a few months ago that almost every tribe of Native Americans had members calles two-spirits (transgender or transsexual people) who were butchered by the colonists. Never seen that part of history in Hollywood media…

    • says

      I looooove Idina Menzel. I saw her in concert earlier this year, and she’s amazing! But there are a few other Disney movies I really like– The Incredibles, Winnie the Pooh, Fantasia 2000, Lilo and Stitch… um. Hmmm.

      I like Sleeping Beauty just for passing the Bechdel test, and for being GLORGEOUS to look at, but there’s problems with that movie too. And for what it was, the Little Mermaid TV show was unexpectedly entertaining and gave Ariel a friend! A triplicate token minority friend, but hey. And there’s no way in hell I’m giving Disney credit for Studio Ghibli’s work, or for the butcher job they did on The Thief and the Cobbler. Mary Poppins was alright, but significantly watered down from the books. I can’t speak for the Tinkerbell movies besides that I despised Peter Pan, or for Kim Possible…

      As for accurate historical movies– obviously you’ll never get 100% accuracy, but some movies are going to be better than others. To be completely honest, I can’t recall ANY good “period pieces” with any degree of accuracy regarding indigenous peoples. I haven’t seen, like, any of the movies on it, but Rob of Blue Corn Comics made a list of good Native films. I’m on my iPod or I’d look for more, but you’re absolutely right about the damn near 100% ommission of fact in “historical” Hollywood productions, generally speaking. I wouldn’t mind as much if those movies weren’t marketed to children, or if they were released explicitly as fiction vs. “inspired by true events,” “the true tale of x,” “the history of y,” “diary/memoir/firsthand retelling of z,” etc., or if American culture didn’t treat historical fiction as history and books as what you go to when there ISN’T a movie.

      • Maria says

        Don’t forget Gargoyles! Or Aladdin: The Series — I think both of those pass the Bechdel Test and the latter gives Jasmine a lot more agency.

        • says

          Oh, man, Gargoyles was my SHIT!! I didn’t even think of it as Disney because I mentally file it as an offshoot of Star Trek.

          But the Aladdin TV show was MORE racist, even though as an adult it’s got some insanely entertaining moments. Also Sadira, who is awesome. But, Sultan Pasta Al Dente? Like, when is Abiz Mal coming back on? Or Mozenrath?? Or that one cat lady who made Jasmine a Naga that one time?

          Disney owns Marvel now, too, but even though they’ve been showing older Marvel stuff I don’t think they should get props for something they didn’t make.

        • Patrick McGraw says

          Gargoyles is indeed awesome.

          Gena, I share your problematic love for Sleeping Beauty. It’s so very beautiful, and has an awesome group of female heroes. (I think there might be a princess and a prince in there somewhere, but they’re clearly just supporting characters.) Plus, Maleficent.

          • says

            Yeah. I mean, if Philip and Aurora’s mothers had lived to see the end of the movie, I would have far fewer complaints– after all, the good fairies saved Aurora’s life with a magical loophole, and, knowing it was a crazy loophole, essentially performed the requirements themselves utilizing Philip in the process.

            The only thing that would be missing then would be Aurora making it clear that her life being a lie and her loss of freedom were a bigger deal than “dude I met in the woods,” though he may have been part of that equation. Then Philip and Aurora could have had a cute, “Oh, it’s YOU!” moment, help each other out in learning to rule, etc.

            EVERYONE WINS!

          • Patrick McGraw says

            Actually Aurora’s mother does live to the end. She hugs both of her parents upon meeting them.

            But otherwise, yes. Aurora gets ZERO reaction to anything beyond “I have to marry who now?” followed by no dialogue whatsoever once she reaches the castle. She has basically no plot development, and is really more of a MacGuffin for the heroes and villain to fight over than a character with her own life.

          • Patrick McGraw says

            Yeah, the fairies are some of Disney’s best heroes ever. Brave, heroic, and flawed (especially Flora). Plus their voice actresses gave magnificent performances that conveyed such much about them just from how they sounded – not surprising, since they were all radio veterans.

            I find it interesting that as originally conceived, the fairies were going to be minor characters and indistinguishable beyond their clothing colors (explicitly like Donald Duck’s nephews). During the course of pre-production, they started developing distinct personalities and redesigns, and swiftly became favorites and basically took over the film. Much to the film’s benefit, in my opinion.

  13. Brand Robins says

    So I’m at work with a guy I know once upon a time. He happens to be Cherokee, something I’d never really thought much about until this night. He’s working as a volunteer in a tourist information center and the place is abandoned, as usual, and we’re hanging out when a bus full of tourists stops in.

    Most of them ignored us. Then a lovely couple of semi-liberal white folks comes over and is asking about the history of the area. My friend tells them about how his family came here after the trail of tears, and they say (maybe not word for word, but close enough) “Oh… wow, you’re a really Indian?!”

    He confirms that he is, and they make a little bit of a deal of it. They then go and get their 8 year old daughter and bring her over and introduce my friend as “a real Indian!”

    The girl looks up at my chubby, sweet faced friend and bursts into tears. She cries and cries and tries to get her parents away from us. Her parents are red-faced, flustered, shamed. But while they try to calm her down, they aren’t successful and end up more or less fleeing from the building because the girl won’t stop crying and telling them variations on not wanting to be scalped, that he’ll steal her or her mom, etc.

    I am TOTALLY freaked by this. He isn’t. He’s just tired and tells me it happens a couple times a year — not often that spectacular with the screaming and wailing, but something where a little girl won’t be in the same room with him because he’ll scalp her. And more or less every day he gets told he doesn’t look like an Indian, or that someone tells him they thought all the Indians were dead, or something like that.

    I told me once that his mother was working at the center, near the diorama of the first nations, when a class on a field trip came through and the teacher said to the kids “And then all the Indians died, and white people settled here.”

    Not, you know, “then the white people killed as many Indians as they could.” Not “then some white folks intermarried with the local indigenous tribes and became the Latino people who still live here to this day.” Nope, the Indians just magically died. All of them. So there were none left. Not even that nice lady cleaning the floor over there. She doesn’t exist.

    • Casey says

      YEESH! She was afraid he’d scalp her? If I was that kid I’d be wailing and screaming and crying because we white people raped his land and his culture and killed everybody, that’s what I grew up learning. (plus I was uber-sensitive about everyone’s suffering…didn’t stop me from playing “Cherokee Princess” though! >_>V)

      • says


        That’s what I grew up learning too. I was homeschooled, so my education about the Native Americans was probably very different than what most people my age learned. I learned about the atrocities that were committed against the tribes.

        I always hesitate to bring up my Cherokee great-grandfather, because I don’t want to get classified as one of those “Cherokee princess” types, but my Dad talks about him a lot (he sadly died before I was born) and a lot of what he taught me, which extended to some amount of shamanistic beliefs about spirits and the world, came from my great-grandfather. NA history has always been very personal for my family.

        • says

          The Cherokee Princess thing is one of my pet peeves.

          1) If you are going to claim native American ancestry, do a tiny bit of research first.

          2) Some of us are descended from tribes among other things and loathe the attitude some folks have of ‘oh, just another wanna-be trying to claim native ancestry to feel special’ whenever we try to do any research in that area.

          It’s like a catch 22.

          I have an ancestor who claimed to be Cherokee though we are reasonably certain he was of a different tribe based on his place of birth (we are also reasonably certain he was a horse-thief, rapist, and murderer, but that’s a whole other story. Suffice to say his eventual death by multiple and slightly excessive bullet wounds came well-earned). The Cherokee were ‘civilized’ though and thus tolerated where others weren’t. I also have a legitimately Cherokee ancestor.

          I have an ancestor who was the child of an escaped slave who ‘passed’ and did her best to hide her true heritage. And then on my father’s side we have an ancestor who was put down as both ‘Ojibme’ and as ‘Iyinwoka’. We can guess what those meant (Chippewa and Cree, respectively) but aren’t sure which (or if both/neither were accurate). My father’s ancestors didn’t exactly tend towards the well-educated or meticulous when it came to making notes.

          • says


            Which is why I don’t bring it up unless it’s relevant. :) Tracking my family genealogy has proven to be quite the pain in the ass, since my family is full of names like William Smith. I understand a family member has done some work on genealogy, but due to a feud between my father and this family member, I have no access to it. Bleh. I am also told the later ancestors avoided being added to the census rolls, which adds even more of a headache to the process. Sigh.

          • says

            Yeah, passing is a huge issue. Passing for white is one thing, but, as you said, there was passing for a member of another tribe as well. Another issue is that lots of NA people would pass for Black or Latin Am, because those were “better” things to be than NA. Mixed people would sometimes be forced to give up claim to NA heritage even if they didn’t CHOOSE to ignore it (on paper, at least).

            Re: census rolls, all the above applies to that, plus the “fuck the government I’m not getting on a damn list, what are they using it for?” mentality (which… can you blame them?), plus the accuracy of any record-keeping in the BIA: one of the least organized, least effective branches of government the US has got.

            I watched a movie a little while ago called “Naturally Native,” and while it was both SUPER ULTRA ’90S!!! and trying to fit a loooot of plot into one movie, there was a confrontation at a pow-wow between one of the main characters (who’d been taken by the state with her sisters at a young age and put up for adoption) and a visitor to the pow-wow. The visitor suggested that the main character was trying to claim tribe member status to cash in on casinos, oil found on reservation land, and to be able to brand her beauty products as Native, and that she was essentially a phony.

            Her sisters and husband reassured her the woman was just a bitch, but the main character was really upset because all the documentation of her family’s tribal status and her sisters’ adoption papers had burned up in a fire, and there were no backups or anything. She had no way of proving who she was, and while she shouldn’t have HAD to on a personal level, there’s still that sense of not being good enough and of rejection and abandonment when you’re denied ownership of your own heritage.

            The movie also touched on general commercialization of faux-spiritual Indianness, Indians as mascots, alcoholism, fetishization of minority women, promiscuity vs. virginity, low self-esteem, attempted date rape and domestic violence, interracial relationships, support for and by your family, starting a business and finding sponsorship as a minority woman, Native spirituality and cultural identity, and going after what you want even if it’s risky or you’re not used to doing things for yourself. In a maybe two-hour movie. Irene Bedard is in Naturally Native, too, except I actually LIKED this movie. :)

        • Casey says

          I wasn’t homeschooled (nor do I have any Amerindian ancestry, to my knowledge) but my mom would always try to “smarten me up” on these sorts of issues…like when I went through a “ZOMG! POCAHONTAS!” phase, she told me “you know that movie is a lie and the Indians got fucked over, right?” Then she’d let me go on my problematically merry way. 😛

          She’s also the type of person who said “Happy 9-11! We deserved it!” every Patriot day…>_<V

    • says

      I… Casey covered my reaction to the scalping fears, but they thought “all the Indians were dead”??? How can anyone possibly not know better than that? That is some aggressive ignorance going on. I mean, you have got to work at being that uninformed.

      • Casey says

        That sounds as aggressively ignorant as a 60-something-year-old retired Republican couple asking my friend if “all the Hippies died out” in the region where we live to make sure it’s “safe to move there”.

      • Brand Robins says

        Well, I don’t know if they actually thought every single Indian every was dead. Just, you know, enough of them that you didn’t really have to think about them anymore.

        Which is something I’ve come up against in another way as well. By complete freak accident, I had friends with a couple of different tribal heritages of several different degrees of ‘full bloodedness’ while I was growing up. And when I talk about it I have often been accused by other white middle class suburban folks of making things up because you can’t live a normal life and have THAT MANY Indian friends.

        (That many is like… 6. Maybe 8. More if you count the Latinos who spoke native languages at home.)

        • says

          That’s SO BIZARRE. Like, really. What kind of non-normal life would you have to have to justify that many Indian friends? What do they want you to do, move to a reservation? I know I sound really snarky there, but seriously, what are the criteria? And what’s the magic number where you crossed into the “abnormal” edge of the Minority Friends bell curve??

          I mean, I’ve had people deny the ethnic diversity of different areas where I grew up (usually people don’t believe there is a sizeable Hmong population in WI unless they’ve seen Gran Torino or something), but then again, as the “ethnic friend” I probably wasn’t part of those conversations to begin with.

          It’s really mind-boggling to me to consider myself anyone’s token Black/Hispanic/NA buddy, but I think… I mean I guess I must be/have been at some point for some people. O___o

    • says

      WOW. There are so many things wrong there that I am having a hard time choosing where to start.

      First of all, where the hell did that little girl “learn” Indians scalp people and steal women?? I mean, I know it’s a relatively pervasive stereotype and all, but it’s still the freakin’ 21st (or late 20th, depending on when this happened?) century. Maybe I’ve just been incredibly shielded, IDK. But what kind of TV is this family watching?!

      Sadly, I’ve had that classroom experience, more-or-less. When my Girl Scouts troop in MA went on a trip to Plymouth to see the rock and the historical reenactments, my mom and I kind of tainted the trip with our “facts” and “learnins.” Mom was asking about the lack of toilet paper and disciplining children (when a “Puritan” woman claimed time-outs, my mom just gave my sister and me the “They’re Lying, Bullshitting Liars Who Lie” look), and when a “Native American” woman (who may have actually been NA, I don’t know) was telling us everybody got along okay, I got my “Ah, So That’s How It Is” Gena-is-disappointed-in-adults face on. Got a lot of mileage out of that face. Also, I didn’t want to get on the reproduction of the Mayflower at first, but that’s because I have a thing about drowning.

      I haven’t had anybody tell me I don’t “look” Amerindian, but I suspect that’s largely because I’m mixed and people just decide on their own which physical attributes come from where, as if I were a jigsaw puzzle or something. Those same people usually think my sisters and I all have different dads. UM, GENETICS IS MORE COMPLICATED THAN THAT. We don’t look alike because we’ve got a big-ass gene pool.

      I also haven’t been told all Indians were dead, but that might be because I used to confuse the shit out of people trying to explain my full ethnic heritage to them. And I look the most “white” of my sisters, so they could have just thought I was full of shit and trying to be a Cherokee Princess. Guys, I said Osage five minutes ago! Keep up.

    • SunlessNick says

      He confirms that he is, and they make a little bit of a deal of it. They then go and get their 8 year old daughter and bring her over and introduce my friend as “a real Indian!”

      Because clearly your friend had nothing better to do than be an impromptu sideshow attraction.

    • says

      Wow! I didn’t know that, thanks. With a name like Ratcliffe and David Ogden Stiers as the VA, I kind of assumed he was an over-the-top Disney villain.

      Jeez, and what a way to die. *gags* It makes trollface John Smith Escapes Again! all the more of a d-bag, actually.

      • Patrick McGraw says

        I remember when Pocahontas first came out, my local paper’s film critic made no mention of Ratcliffe’s name, but did say that John Smith was “a made-up name if I ever heard one.” Seriously.

  14. Lika says

    Is my reality too tough for you to handle? Am I too real for you?

    Aw, man, Gena, you ROCK. You went far beyond calling out the “hey, we’re just intepreting the *legend* as we see fit for children” bullshit, and showed a history of systemic racism and appropriation, not to mention white privilege and entitlement that made that movie possible.

    • says


      Yeah, I’m like, the least “street” person you could meet, but I try and keep everything legit. With citations, if needed. I’m big on calling people out with history, MLA style, and it’s my weapon of choice because it’s always been the only tool I had to make my point.

      Who knew being the bullied nerd would come in handy?!


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