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Pocahontas Decoded: Disney Movies Aren’t As Innocent As We Think (Part 2)

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Image Source: The Daily Dot

Read Alladin Decoded: Disney Movies Aren’t As Innocent As We Think (Part 1)

Pocahontas, the 1995 Disney movie, is an animated drama film, told as a musical. It is a romance, between Pocahontas, a young woman of the American tribe of Powhatan, and the Captain of a ship, Susan Constant, John Smith, who has journeyed to the New World to start his lives afresh, after getting caught in a deadly storm with a bunch of other people. The story involves a series of conflicts including the disapproval of Pocahontas’s father, the Chief of Powhatan for the relationship, and the fact that Smith’s companions wish to rob the Powhatan Tribe of their gold and property. Although Pocahontas and Smith do not end up living together happily ever after, Smith leaves with Powhatan’s blessing, and a promise to return in the future.

Through his movie, Disney tried to bring in the theme of “getting along”, where it showed people of different cultures coming together, learning to live together and eventually falling in love with each other.

The character of Pocahontas is derived from the life of the 15th Century American Indian Princess of the same name, who falls in love with Captain James Smith, the first British to come to America. Smith’s fellow British men tried to claim the tribe’s land and territory as their own, and eventually established Jamestown, the first British settlement of Northern America.

In contrast to Aladdin, the plot of Pocahontas is accurate to the lives of the actual characters and follows the settings of places and events to a great deal of accuracy to the ‘real world’, probably because Disney had a wide range of historical text to fall back on while planning the movie. However, what blurs the perspective is the fact that most of the historical records available are not those written by a Native American. This increases the chances of the depiction to become, to an extent, a film-ic realization of the lives of the tribe.

Right from the beginning of the movie, it has been tried to establish that Pocahontas is not a typical Disney Princess. Instead, she is a character with her own poise and personality. She is told to have her mother’s spirit and goes wherever the wind takes her. She is also shown to share a special relationship with the forces of nature, thus stereotyping the relationship between Native Americans and the Earth.

Further, the British who come to Virginia is represented as conquerors. They are shown to possess shiny armor and weapons, whereas the Powhatan Tribe is shown to be wearing leather and hides, reinstating that they are “backward”. This instills the idea of White Supremacy into the minds of the audience.

In the initial scenes, Pocahontas is introduced as something that is almost animal-like, who is in tune with nature, and accustomed to the outside world. It is later that she is revealed as a human. From there, it is established that she is the protagonist of the movie, courtesy her physical attributes of being tall, slender, and having long flowing hair. However, just like in Aladdin, Pocahontas is shown to be fluent in English, with a perfectly American accent.

Throughout the movie, Smith tells Pocahontas about London, and how advanced and developed it is. He tells her about the carriages, bridges and the solid houses they have. He directly calls the Native American way of living as uncivilized, thus bringing into notice how the ‘White’ are better, as they have a more developed way of life.

Another similarity to Aladdin which is seen in this movie is that only Pocahontas is shown to have Caucasian features and a contoured body of the European ideals. All the other females have a darker complexion and rounder faces than Pocahontas.

The other details of the movie which point to the stereotypical characteristics of Native American culture include the clothes the tribals wear, their chants and whoops, the references made to the ‘Great Spirit’.

Also, the song ‘Savages’ in the movie has been deemed extremely racist by the critics, who argue that the song tends to encourage the audience to ‘dehumanise’ the Native American culture. Savage, by definition, means a force of nature which is fierce, violent and uncontrolled and is usually used while talking of the wildlife. Hence, the song has been described as especially unsettling and brutal and perpetuates the idea that the American Indians are not human.

Although it expresses various racial stereotypes, Pocahontas is one of the first Disney movies to defy the typical gender roles of the society. The female protagonist is shown to possess qualities of leadership, and often questions male authority.

However, the male lead, John Smith, possesses all characteristics which reinforce masculine stereotypes. He is showcased as the ideal man, through his physical appearance and personality. He is muscular and has blonde hair, which compliments his role as brave and authoritative.

Although Pocahontas is given a personality which is different from the typical Disney Princess, she is given their characteristics in her physical attributes. She has a perfect hourglass figure, long wavy hair, and small feet.  She is shown to be wearing tight, short and revealing outfits.

This reinforces the notion that it is important for the men to be strong and to possess leadership qualities, whereas women are expected to be beautiful and visually attractive, and that their personality is secondary to their appearance.

Also, Smith’s troop only consists of men, saying that the men are responsible for the dangerous and adventurous roles, while a woman needs to focus on the domestic duties. All men in the Powhatan Tribe are given powerful roles and are allowed to leave the village. The women, however, do not get the same privileges.

Read Alladin Decoded: Disney Movies Aren’t As Innocent As We Think (Part 1)

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Aladdin Decoded: Disney Movies Aren’t As Innocent As We Think (Part 1)

 

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Image Source: Business Insider

Aladdin, released by Walt Disney Pictures in 1992, is an animated movie based on the folklore, Aladdin, from One Thousand and One Nights. It follows the life of a street urchin, Aladdin, who finds a lamp which contains a genie. Then, to hide his “magic lamp” from the Grand Vizier, he pretends to be a wealthy prince and then goes on to please the Sultan of Agrabah, and his daughter, Princess Jasmine.

Aladdin was one of the first Disney movies to have a “non-white” princess. This was meant to be a move to promote inclusion, but it did not quite work that way, and there were various latent messages in the movie which hinted towards gender and racial stereotyping.

The opening song of the movie, Arabian Nights, has the following lyrics:

“Oh, I come from a land

From a faraway place

Where the caravan camels roam.

Where they cut off your ear

If they don’t like your face

It’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home.”

(Aladdin, 1992)

 

Aladdin is a very good example of “white man’s Oriental fantasy”, as it is, at the end of the day, based on an American’s notion of the Middle East. It depicts the Middle East as a dangerous, barbaric place, where no one is safe. It is shown as an exotic land of snake charmers and magic carpets. It is described as a hot place, both in temperature and in the temperament of the people of that culture.

The main characters of the movie, Aladdin and Jasmine are shown to have the typical Western features, a lighter skin tone, and an American accent. On the other hand, the bad guys in the movie, Jafar, and the nefarious shopkeepers have an Arabic accent, and Eastern features, like hooked noses and curly beards. Jafar is, hence, an epitome of the stereotypical representation of the perception of Arab men. He is, like every villain, shown as patriarchal and threatening. Jafar is also portrayed to have a darker skin tone than the other characters in the movie, thus reinforcing the white supremacy, telling kids that white is good, and black is bad. This, further, establishes the racial status of the Americans being superior to the Easterners.

The genie embodies the magical negro, a saintly black character whose sole purpose of existence is to illuminate the white character’s emotional and intellectual journey. He lives only to serve his “master”, complaints about eternal servitude and longs for freedom throughout the movie. This goes completely off the tangent from the Islamic concept of the djinn, Djinns, in Islam, are spiritual beings, who could be both good and evil. To enslave djinns, magicians would tie them on to lamps or rings. However, the djinn was never obligated to serve the captor, and even if he did, it’d be out of gratitude.

The racism in Aladdin goes beyond that of the representation of the setting and the characters. It exists even in the tiny details portrayed throughout the movie. The movie mispronounces words, including the word “Allah”, it depicts a nonsensical scribble written, instead of the real Arabic script. The Sultan’s palace resembles the Taj Mahal of India. Also, the flying carpets shown in the movie are a part of the Persian culture.

Through small details like these, the movie distorts the actualities and portrays only what the makers “think” of the Middle East. It blends the various geographical and regional identities into one mainstream culture, which represents the truth very inaccurately.

Focusing on the gender issue of the movie, it is seen that Jasmine is introduced as a young lady, who is being forced to marry a random prince, by her father and the rule of law. She is shown to wear harem pants and a barely-there top. She doesn’t wear a hijab, except for when she is disguised as a poor and ‘backward’ Muslim lady. Throughout the movie, Jasmine is dependent on the men surrounding her.

Her father, the Sultan, has a white beard, rosy cheeks, and kind eyes. He is shown as a wise yet gullible person. The Sultan wants Jasmine to marry a prince, not only because that is what the law demands, but also because he wants a man to take care of her. Towards the end of the movie, he conveniently changes the law. But this isn’t because Jasmine doesn’t want to get married, it is because the Sultan accepts Aladdin.

Jafar wants to marry her to gain authoritative power, and also for the lust of flesh. When it came to defeating him, the only weapon Jasmine is shown to use is of her body, as she seduces Jafar to distract him, so that Aladdin could do his job.

Aladdin, who is shown as her knight in shining armor, actually spent a major portion of the movie stalking Jasmine. He breaks into her room in the middle of the night and lies to her about his identity.

The movie barely focuses on the personality of Jasmine as an individual. All that is depicted of her is her wish to be free. She is seen to voice her opinions only in front of the servants and Rajah, her pet tiger. When it comes to facing challenges, Jasmine adheres to the role of a damsel in distress, being saved by a male character time and again.

The gender role story doesn’t limit itself to only Jasmine. All women of Agrabah are depicted as passive and highly sexualized individuals. This results in a male gaze on the women throughout the movie, implying to an objectification of women.

This is just one example of how Disney movies warp the reality of culture and gender. There is a high level of negative and suppressed representation of the non-dominant cultures, which is often not even accurate. These representations are further exaggerated through class stereotypes.

Read Pocahontas Decoded: Disney Movies Aren’t As Innocent As We Think (Part 2)

Chatori Gali

For the same photography assignment as in the last post (Babulnath), as a backup, I photographed a street called ‘Chatori Gali’ in Bhopal.

Chatori Gali is a supposedly delightful lane of hawkers and restaurants, located in Old Bhopal, near Ibrahimpura. It is a meat lover’s paradise and a pure vegetarian’s worst nightmare.

However, unfortunately, on the day of my visit, the lane was rather gloomy. I was later told that the reason for that was the fact that the hawkers were told to get off the roads and into a particular area, which was still under construction at that time.

I did manage to get a few decent clicks there but chose to use the pictures I had clicked at Babulnath for the final submission. Oh, and I got some delicious Chicken Tikka!

Thank You!

Feedback is appreciated. 🙂

Babulnath

A couple of months ago, as a part of our Photography Project, we were told to photograph any one street, and show it’s various dimensions. The area I had chosen is known as Babulnath.

Babulnath Temple is a Shiva Temple in Mumbai, near the Girgaum Chowpatty area. It has been there since the 1890s, and still stands just as majestically.
However, the central character of my project wasn’t the temple itself. It was the street that leads to the temple, starting from the Girgaum Chowpatty, right up to the Hughes Road junction. I have been living near this road since the time I moved to Mumbai, which was about 10 months ago. I cross this road every day, multiple times.
Every time I walk past this street, I see the same scenes and more or less the same people too. Day in and day out, it never changes. Even if it does, the changes are probably tiny enough to miss the viewer’s eye. This, for some odd reason, adds to its beauty.

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It’s an eerie feeling, looking at childhood broken and left behind.
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Mentally somewhere else.
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Life is fragile. Handle it with prayer.
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There is no greater agony than holding an untold story within you.
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Things will change. Someday. For sure.
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Handwritten letters are the bliss we seldom savour.
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Evening conversation over chai are the best!
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When in doubt, pedal it out!
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Because following the rules is just too mainstream.
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Let go of those who’re already gone.
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Don’t give up. Look for another way in.

Here is a link to the Slideshow of the images, which I had originally submitted for evaluation.

Your feedback is appreciated!