Netflix Changes Pocahontas Plot Summary After Users Complain

Photo: Courtesy of Disney.
There are so many ways to summarize the classic '90s Disney flick Pocahontas: Badass chick who talks to trees and single-handedly stops a war. Or Bold heroine— with the kind of hair braiding skills you only dream of — dabbles in diplomacy and cliff diving. Even, Seriously, what is this dude Thomas' deal? would have been better than the summary Netflix supplied. This is how your favorite Friday night date summarized the film—"An American Indian woman is supposed to marry the village’s best warrior, but she yearns for something more—and soon meets Capt. John Smith."

To be clear, Pocahontas did yearn for a lot of things—adventure, quality time with her family (tree and otherwise), possibly a parkour league in her village. She did not yearn for John Smith. She and John Smith had the kind of relationship a girl at a small school might have with the new guy. He's new, he's cute, he's good at making out, but I'm not going to, like, follow him on tour or anything.

Luckily, Adrienne Keene, a postdoctoral fellow in Native American studies at Brown University, pointed out Netflix's flawed description in a tweet she sent out on August 31.
Keene pointed out in an essay for the Pacific Standard, that the sexist treatment of the story of Pocahontas makes it seem like she was just waiting for John Smith to arrive. This is particularly problematic because of how Native American women are often portrayed in the media. Keene explained, "We cannot divorce the description of Pocahontas from it’s context. We live in a society that sexualizes Native women: it paints us as sexually available, free for the taking, and conquerable—an extension of the lands that we occupy. The statistics for violence against Native women are staggeringly high, and this is all connected."
Her protest was heard, and Keene reported that she received an e-mail from Netflix one week later, which reads, "Thanks for bringing attention to this synopsis. We do our best to accurately portray the plot and tone of the content we’re presenting, and in this case you were right to point out that we could do better. The synopsis has been updated to better reflect Pocahontas’ active role and to remove the suggestion that John Smith was her ultimate goal."

The new Pocahontas description? "A young American Indian girl tries to follow her heart and protect her tribe when settlers arrive and threaten the land she loves." Obviously, this switch is a step in the right direction. Still, it's important to not let nostalgia for the film (I wore my Pocahontas nightgown as a dress for a solid year during my youth) or a love of "Just Around the River Bend" make you forget that Pocahontas is still a deeply problematic film which completely glosses over the horrors the real life Pocahontas, and other Native Americans like her, faced at the hands of white settlers. And until American kids are as familiar with that narrative as they are with "Colors of the Wind," there's still progress to be made with Native American representation.

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