Adrienne Keene first pointed out the problems with the summary for Pocahontas on Twitter earlier this month after she discovered the movie was on Netflix.
Under the movie, the description read, “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.”
Keene took issue with the synopsis and highlighted how it only reinforced the problematic sexualization of Native American women in narratives.
Just the use of "woman" and "yearns" is so disgusting. It sounds like a porn description. Or a bad romance novel.— Dr. Adrienne Keene (@NativeApprops) September 1, 2015
We talk about the sexualization of Native women, how society paints us as sexually available, free for the taking, conquerable…case in pt.— Dr. Adrienne Keene (@NativeApprops) September 1, 2015
She elaborated further on her Native issues site Native Appropriations, which is a “forum for discussing representations of Native peoples, including stereotypes, cultural appropriation, news, activism, and more.” To prove her point, she examined the Netflix synopses for four other Disney movies—The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Emperor’s New Groove, Tarzan, and Hercules—compared to Pocahontas’s. Most of those films have white male protagonists and romantic plots, but they’re focused more on the adventures and conflicts than the hero falling in love.
Despite all of the film’s historical inaccuracies and her personal thoughts on Pocahontas, Keene doubled down on how problematic and terrible the description itself was.
“I also want to make explicit the colonial white supremacy embedded in this description as well–of course Pocahontas wouldn’t be content with her backwards Native ways with her Native man…she yearns for something more,” she wrote. “SPOILER ALERT: It’s a white dude. Of course. It’s perpetuating the idea that white colonizers are better, more than, and the solution to Native savagery.”
Although it appeared that the description had changed just as Keene posted her blog, it was only a shorter version of what she had seen. But about a week later she received an email from Netflix, alerting her that the synopsis had been changed.
“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 email read. “The synopsis has been updated to better reflect Pocahontas’ active role and to remove the suggestion that John Smith was her ultimate goal.”
The description now states, “A young American Indian girl tries to follow her heart and protect her tribe when settlers arrive and threaten the land she loves.”
“Look at that,” Keene wrote. “From an angry tweet to an actual change in the description. Sometimes I’m still amazed by the power of the internet.”
H/T The Guardian | Screengrab via Netflix