SINCE ITS release 22 summers ago, Disney’s animated hit “Pocahontas” has sparked divisive opinions. On one hand, the G-rated film took extreme narrative liberties, painting the 17th-century teenage icon’s brutal story as romantic, kid-friendly fare. On the other hand, the studio received praise — after six decades of fictional, uniformly pale princesses — for depicting a strong, real-life woman of color.
Yet for all the debate, Disney never drew a prominent twist of criticism over using the name of Pocahontas in its title — until now.
On Tuesday, Eric Trump tweeted an apparent attempt at defending his father’s renewed use of “Pocahontas” as a term of derision when criticizing Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and her claims of American Indian heritage.
At an event Monday saluting three Navajo code talkers who helped the Marines in the Pacific theater during World War II, President Trump said, “You were here long before any of us were here. Although we have a representative in Congress who they say was here a long time ago. They call her Pocahontas.”
A Navajo Nation spokesman called such remarks inappropriate, stating that no member of a tribal nation should be reduced to “the punchline of a joke.”
Later Monday, Jonathan Karl of Disney-owned ABC News asked White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, “Why did [Trump] feel the need to say something that is offensive to many people while honoring the Navajo code talkers, these genuine American heroes?”
Sanders replied that “Pocahontas” as a slur was “not the president’s intent,” and that the real offense was Warren’s “lying about her heritage to advance her career.”
On Tuesday morning, Eric Trump tweeted, “The irony of an ABC reporter (whose parent company Disney has profited nearly half a billion dollars on the movie ‘Pocahontas’) inferring that the name is ‘offensive’ is truly staggering to me.”
(“Pocahontas” grossed $346 million worldwide upon its 1995 release and spawned merchandise and Blu-Ray/DVD editions.)
In response to Trump’s tweet, many people on social media questioned whether the president’s son was purposefully being intellectually dishonest — otherwise, how could he honestly equate Disney’s use of her name on a loosely biographical movie with Donald Trump’s use of her name as an insult laugh line to deride a senator?
If Eric Trump wanted to make a leap — as strained as it is — between ABC News and Disney’s “Pocahontas,” there is plenty of fodder for attacking the animated film as offensive. All he would need to do is comprehend some of the criticism that the movie received two decades ago.
For instance, the Los Angeles Times reported on how “Pocahontas” perpetuates the fantasy of a regal “good Indian” who is willing to sacrifice her life for that of a white male invader. The Times wrote upon the film’s release: “Our fascination with this Indian princess image was rightfully dubbed the ‘Pocahontas Perplex’ by Rayna Green, director of the American Indian program at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History.”
And in arriving at a verdict in 2008, the Guardian wrote that the film is “an immaculately researched visual production, but it loses points for whitewashing colonial history.”
“It has attempted to give a generation of children the impression that the conquest of the Americas was a cheerful, cooperative effort between the enlightened Europeans and the accommodating natives,” the Guardian continued. “Not to mention the impression that a pug might marry a raccoon.”
Eric Trump was 11 years old when “Pocahontas” was released, and so a member of that “generation of children” who might have bought into the Disney deception.
So perhaps the younger Trump actually did learn a thing or two from growing up on such Disney films, after all: how to resort to “changing the narrative” in order to present a whitewashed understanding of events.