My Dissertation | Pocahontas

Sunday, 4 September 2016

When I chose to do my dissertation topic on Disney, I knew I was going to write about gender but I wasn't exactly sure what my question would actually focus on. I'd had the idea that I was going to discuss Mulan and Pocahontas, as to me they are the two princesses that truly began to show that Disney were beginning to move away from their stereotypical representation of a princess. They definitely still have their flaws but Pocahontas proved she was leader. That being said, I definitely found Pocahontas one of the hardest princesses to write about in the beginning but she is one of the ones I wrote the most about.

  How has the representation of the female gender in the Disney Princess movies progressed during the Disney Renaissance in relation to Snow White?

The Walt Disney Company then went on to release Pocahontas, their fourth princess movie during the renaissance period. It can be debated that Pocahontas is the most unique princess in regards to her portrayal of the female gender and the attributes she was given. She is an “adventurous young woman who stands up for her beliefs.” (Dundes, 2001, p.353) Pocahontas can be observed as not performing to traditional feminine gender ideologies, she is a strong leader and her foremost concern is following her own destiny. Similar to her predecessors she yearns for adventure; a long shot has been used to show Pocahontas canoeing in a tremendously open river with an ecstatic expression on her face. As she sings about dreaming of the life that is waiting for her “just around the river bend.” (Schwartz, 1995) The use of diegetic music demonstrates her to desire to search for more than the simple life in which her father is attempting to lay out for her. “Pocahontas does not have the same conventional desires as past female princesses did.” (Warner, 2014, p.12) She has no interested in getting married, especially to a man who she does not love. Pocahontas does not conform to the stereotype of a woman who needs love in order to find herself, as she “is not seeking love as the ultimate goal of her life.” (Davis, 2006, p.185) Similar to Jasmine, she does not need a man for identification and fulfilment. The use of diegetic music reinforces this ideal as she expresses her longing for adventure away from “a handsome sturdy husband, who builds handsome sturdy walls.” (Schwartz, 1995) A medium shot portrays her canoeing over the edge of a waterfall, portraying her daring nature and longing for a life beyond the safety of marriage. In comparison to Snow White, finding love comes a distant second to Pocahontas’s desire to find her true path in life and to explore what else the future may hold for her.

Although Pocahontas does acquire a love interest “she is one of the few female protagonists...whose story does not end in matrimony.” (Dundes, 2001, p.353) Her own personal destiny is the central plot of the film – she is a woman who chooses to pursue her own dreams and this does not involve being with the man she loves. A close up has been used to depict the sadness in Pocahontas’s eyes as she tells John Smith, her love interest, that she is needed among her people and will not be able to accompany him back to England. This represents Disney’s progression in the way they portrayed their female characters during the Disney Renaissance. Pocahontas was the first princess to reject love and “sacrifice her ambition and needs” (Hynes, 2010, p.212) in order to fulfil her perceived obligation in devoting herself to her villagers. A long shot has been used to show Pocahontas stood on a cliffs edge, portraying the vastness of the world around her and the endless amount of pink sky which encompasses her. The pink sky could denote the representation of the endless amount of love in which she holds for both John Smith and the villagers. The fact she is stood on a cliff’s edge could portray the uncertainness of the adventures which lay ahead, as she is unable to move forward. It could also portray her longing for exploration in the world outside her small village. However, this could reinforce the gender stereotype that Disney’s female protagonists still make decisions based on their relationship because she lets her emotions and intuition guide her actions. Although she “chooses her loyalty to and the needs of her own people over her own desires,” (LaCroix, 2004, p.225) proving her to be unselfish. This is a trait that the previous princesses did not have, as Pocahontas puts others before herself and takes into consideration the lives of the villagers and how her absence may affect them.   

Pocahontas saw “the creation of a new heroine, as she strays from the stereotyped female character who has to be rescued by a male hero.” (Van Kessel and Daalmans, 2014, p.5) She is courageous, as she stands up for what she believes in and disobeys Chief Powhatan, her father. The use of visual imagery represents Pocahontas’s bravery and determination to unite her people with the Englishmen. As Chief Powhatan goes to kill John Smith, Pocahontas places her head on his to act as a barrier between him and her father, while she states “this is the path I choose.” (Pocahontas, 1995) This represents the progression of Disney’s portrayal of their princesses. Pocahontas proves that she is courageous and a capable strong leader, due to her being able to prevent a war between her people and the Englishmen. The redness of the sky could portray the anger and power of Chief Powhatan before he is sentenced to kill an innocent man. 

However, the colour of sky soon transforms to a pale pink, “a colour with associations of...gentleness and softness.” (Stacey, 1994, p.3) This could denote Pocahontas’s success in bringing love and compassion to her people.Chief Powhatan states that Pocahontas “comes with courage and understanding.”  Pocahontas subverts the traditional gender roles that have been placed on women, as she “thinks for herself, controls her own destiny.” (Davis, 2006, p.183) Pocahontas did not need a man to save her; it was a man who needed her in order to be saved.  

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