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Disney's Pocahontas

Updated on January 20, 2013

Disney's Pocahontas Myths

Pocahontas by Disney, was released in 1995. It’s media coverage backed by amazing digital design and computer generations. Historically speaking there are many contrasting details in Disney’s portrayal of the story of Pocahontas compared to what has been upstreamed and verified with historical writings. Disney’s Pocahontas portrays a classic love that has repeated itself throughout the test of time. This Hollywood film has distorted even the basic details of this event to portray a film catering to contemporary human emotional characteristics. Pocahontas’ age when she first came in contact with John Smith, to as detailed as the government of the newly established colony of Jamestown did not seem to come into play when the writers altered history. The story altercation was greatly needed to provide the Disney company a plot in which could be publicized to a wide variety of audiences. Historians to this era, as well as others, ridiculed this film for the severe distortion of history in which this film was created. It almost seems as though the writers and the creators of the film though it would be “OK” to blatantly lie throughout the telling of the story of Pocahontas, as long as they could satisfy their fiscal responsibility. To give credit where credit is due, there are some historical values that they did get correct, even though Disney fell flat on most.

Most basic details of what Disney’s Pocahontas embellished on were the mere appearance of the main roles within the story. John Smith was considered an adventurer, abrasive, and self-promoting.[1] To a degree Disney writers did get this description within the ballpark. Pocahontas’ Powatan name was Matoaka but chose to use the name Pocahontas because it was her mother’s name.[2] This name may have been addressed in an accurate manner unfortunately the movie does portray Pocahontas to much earlier before Smith’s arrival. John Smith is described and portrayed as a young brute tall man. Including clean shaved, and a strong jaw line, pretty much everything that a Disney Prince should be. Pocahontas is portrayed as a beautiful young woman who has a flare for life in the Disney film. Disney’s Pocahontas had long gorgeous black hair, a slim fitting mini garb and nobility that no Disney princess would be caught without. Discrepancies should have already arisen. In fact, when Captain John Smith first met Pocahontas, experts agree that she would have only been of the age eleven or twelve years old. Pocahontas’ birth year has been estimated to 1595, and Captain Smith had met her in 1607. At this time Pocahontas would have been only a child when John Smith met with her. John Smith himself was not successfully portrayed as well as could have been either in this cinema graphic distortion of history. John was not nearly as clean cut as portrayed. This took place during the early colonization of America. John Smith had a full beard, and wore standard colonist’s clothing. He did wear the armor as depicted in the feature film. He has been portrayed as having auburn colored hair within historical portraits of him; not the golden blonde hair portrayed in the movie. Pocahontas was also described as being a naked child during the summers, and wore garments during the cooler weather. As a child this is not unfamiliar within a Native American tribe to be unclothed.[3]

The writers set the first sequence of this movie in England with the Europeans, including Captain John Smith, boarding a large ship. The whole voyage across the ocean to America only took a few minutes. In one of the scenes, a young colonist falls overboard during a storm, and Captain John Smith makes a heroic gesture by jumping into the ocean after him. This colonist’s name, who plays a small role throughout the whole movie, is Thomas. It would seem this character might be misconstrued from John Smith’s journal entries, from when Smith writes about a Thomas arriving to Jamestown a year after Smith arrived. This contradicts Smiths heroic efforts of saving Thomas, when they never voyaged together. Some experts speculate that this is the same Thomas that is being portrayed throughout this whole movie. Another piece that was left out and not mentioned was the fact that there were three ships on this voyage to the new world not one. The movie may have not intended to portray just one ship, but it almost seems this vessel made the voyage alone.

Upon landing in the new world colonists pile off of the ship and broke into a musical. This may have been very possible, about as possible as the rest of the film. Governor Ratcliffe lead the men, as he was considered Governor of the new settlement, which was false at the time. The colony only had a council at that time with no Governor position. This was another time saving exercise Disney used to round out the story with historical figures, as they did the same for before mentioned Thomas. The film did get it correct with the musical section of gold craving. Ratcliffe was the proven antagonist of this film, because every film needs one.

The next major error of the film was when a ruggedly handsome John Smith went exploring by himself within minutes after landing. During this time (even in the film) John referred to the Native Americans as savages, this would thus explain why he would not explore by himself in real life. He did call them Indians as well but this was post contact that the use of such a kinder word was initiated. John Smith during one of his explorations was captured by the Powhatan tribe. This occurrence happened because he chose to leave the group of men with his guide. He has yet to meet Pocahontas in the historical, truest version of this story. But in the film version, he has already met with Pocahontas a three times. John Smith having been captured, was selected to be put to death by being clubbed by Powhatan warriors. This part is still murkier than others. Some believe the Powhatan were not going to kill him, but were going to ritualize him as a chief of his own colony.[4] Others belief he was going to be murdered. Either way the film still had it incorrect at this time. This section of John Smith’s adventure is when he first meets Pocahontas. Pocahontas does throw herself in harms way to protect John Smith from the ritualized beating. Disney portrays this taking place on top of a large rock overseeing large amounts of land. In fact historians argue that this ceremony would have taken place in a local tribal longhouse.[5] This was the first time that John Smith did meet Pocahontas. Pocahontas was between the ages of eleven and twelve at the time as well, and Captain Smith was of the age of twenty-eight years.

At this point in time, it seemed unlikely that John Smith and Pocahontas had nothing more than just a friendship. Pocahontas has been described as the child who would bring provisions to the new settlement to help during winter.[6] The movie portrayed these deeds as she was the one that made peace between the Indians and the English settlers. Her role may have padded the tensions, but the tensions grew stronger after John Smith left to go back to England.

John Smith did have to leave America to return to home to seek medical treatment. The movie portrayed him sustaining this injury while protecting Pocahontas’ father from gun shot from Governor Ratcliffe. In the film this makes John Smith even more heroic than before. Yet again there is no mention of this event even happening. The recorded incident was described as a bag of gunpowder igniting on his leg which caused him injury. After he was sent back to England Pocahontas was informed that John Smith had died. From that time on Pocahontas did not visit nearly as much which allowed those tensions to grow even stronger and lead to war. This last end point was never shown in the Disney film. End scene was Pocahontas running along mountainside of John Smith’s ship that was taking him back to England. She then reached the mountainside towards the bay and controlled the forces of nature to help place wind into the sail of his ship.

This romanticized version of history is not the first to be made. There have been numerous stories written about this particular event placating to the human emotion. Some of these stories were written closer to the beginning of the nineteenth century. As far as Disney takes this film, it should not be taken with more than a grain of salt as historical value. Credit should be given to the Disney Corporation as well; Pocahontas was a pretty good film of historical fiction. The question lies on whether or not it is good for society to learn about history through Hollywood of from their readings. Hollywood may distort some facts but they do include a lot more information than not researching the subject matter. To be misinformed, or to not be informed, that is the question.

[1] Morenus, David. The Real Pocahontas. October 06, 2011. (accessed October 07, 2011).

[2]Linwood Custalow, Angela L. Daniel. TheTrue Story of Pocahontas: The Other Side of History. Golden,Colorado: Fulcrum Publishing, 2007.Accessed October 07, 2011).

[3] Linwood, Daniel, The True Story, 35.

[4]Townsend, Camilla. Pocahontas and the Powhatan Dilemma. New York: Hill and Wang, 2004.

[5] Morenus, 2011.

[6]Woodward, Grace Steele. Pocahontas. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1969.


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