Stereotypes are simply assumptions and generalizations that people make concerning a particular group. In most cases, these generalizations are often negative and are used to discredit and demean the target group. In the United States of America they have been in use since colonial times and are used to propagate racism. These stereotypes are spread by various methods such as in paintings, plays, comedies and films like in the case of Disney movies where the same is expressed through animated films such as Pocahontas, the Little Maiden among others.
To narrow down the scope of this essay, the paper will specifically focus on how Disney films depict stereotypes of the Native Americans in the film, Pocahontas. In most of the Disney films, stereotyping is a subject that cannot be ignored. It has in many of their films been depicted as negative towards the Native Americans although in some cases they have been depicted as positive like in the case of Pocahontas. Most of these stereotypes are expressed by use of animated characters to represent various groups for example, women and young girls have been portrayed as oversexed especially those with big breasts and thin waists.
Disney in the film Pocahontas though not overtly expressing the negative stereotypes that are found in the previous movies replicates some of them in a concealed manner while at the same time trying to portray other positive ones. Unlike in the previous films where women like Pocahontas were seen as overly sexed, in this film the young lady was portrayed as somebody who is shapely, mature high fashioned super model who is courageous, bright, politically progressive and literate. (Kilpatrick, J. )
All Disney movies whether positively or negatively do not reflect a true picture and representation of races and in one way or the other try to reinforce negative cultural stereotypes of the native Americans. Disney in most films shows the natives as people who are primitive, savagery, unintelligent by this is done by use of various animated creatures to represent this for example, in the Little Maiden Disney uses a dark and a light maiden to represent the characters of the natives and the whites respectively (Peach, L. J. 58).
With reference to the above case, Disney uses the light mermaid which is portrayed as having good characters to represent the Whites while the dark mermaid with bad characters is used to represent the natives but unlike in the Little mermaid, Disney in Pocahontas brings the stereotype of love conquering racism by this super model saving the life of a Whiteman, Smith through love. “Pocahontas exudes a kind of soppy romanticism that not only saves John Smith’s life, but convinces the crew of the British ship to turn its greedy captain and return to England” (Giroux, 117).
Disney films’ trials to depict native females as supportive, romantic, saviors and non-racists are challenged by other people who view this move in a negative light. These are people like Green Rayna in the essay; The Pocahontas Perplex contradicts this by showing Pocahontas as a lady who betrays her race to the white race. (Peach, 95) In the film Pocahontas, there is under representation of races something that poses a very great danger to the children. The film fills the mind of these young children with a false notion that racism does not exist.
Considering that the brain of a child is not yet fully developed, this child will take whatever is provided to them. Many parents do not see the harm that these films cause to the children and they think they are harmless something that is highly opposed by one of the top theorists Jack Zipes who argues that Disney films are dangerous to the children who watch them. To support this Giroux (121) says, “There is nothing innocent in what kids learn about race as portrayed in the magical world of Disney. ”
In the book, Celluloid Indians, the Native Americans are totally misrepresented in the films and are depicted as inferior to the whites. Those stereotypes that are depicted in this book can be classified into three that is mental, spiritual and sexual but the most important is the mental one. In most cases, native Indians have been depicted as warlike and have been portrayed as people who would fight at the slightest provocation and for this reason according to Kilpatrick (xvii), “they (the natives) have been firmly placed in the echelons of intelligence by many Euro-Americans….
There are other bad terms that have been used by the whites to refer to the Native Americans and especially to the Indians. These are terms such as dirty and red skinned, filthy, primitive, savagery and innocent. Most of these terms were used to compare the level of intelligence of the natives with that of the whites and thus insinuate that they are lesser intelligent that the whites. (Kilpatrick 1999; 32-35) In short in all Disney films, stereotyping is eminent whether positively or negatively portrayed.
In Pocahontas Disney tries to brainwash people into thinking that racism is a thing of the past but this is not true as in the end the two parties seem to go into separate ways. Nonetheless, the film tried to ameliorate the negative aspects of the Native Americans that have been portrayed by Disney’s previous films. These stereotypes are said to negatively impact on the children who in most cases tend to take what they see in the movies as the gospel truth.