Inspired by Legend

When I first learned about Disney's planned Pocahontas' project, I had mixed emotions. Having restricted my daughters' viewing of Peter Pan, mostly because of its portrayal of American Indians, I believed Walt Disney had a great deal to atone for. I suspected the studio wouldn't get the history quite right with Pocahontas either. On the other hand, the movie might make more visible a strong, American Indian, female character.

Now I have seen the movie. And I am still of a split mind.

Pocahontas is 33rd in a long line of animated and live-action features from Disney. Such legendary fictional characters as Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, and Pinocchio have been immortalized on the screen, while others, such as Mufasa (The Lion King) and Bambi, were created by the Disney studios.

But Pocahontas is not about a fairy-tale hero or a storybook legend. It's about a fairly well-known, historical person, an early native to this country-one of the few American Indians regularly recognized in Western history books. In many ways, Pocahontas, therefore, bears a great deal of historical weight and importance.

Pocahontas, the movie, clearly draws on the legend. But it is merely reminiscent of the woman. True, many of the details are not known; the recorders of history determined that a native person need not receive close attention. Her history must be pieced together.

In 1608, Captain John Smith and his English sailing ship entered the Powhatan Nation. Powhatan was the leader of a confederation of 34 tribes, stretching from present-day North Carolina to Maryland, as well as the father of 11-year-old Pocahontas.

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 1995
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