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Representations Of Native Americans In Disney Productions From Peter Pan To Pocahontas

3189 words - 13 pages

Historically the treatment of Native Americans has been highly problematic, especially throughout the colonization of the New World. Although, when colonising some Europeans took a merciful and sympathetic approach to the Native Americans, generally the treatment towards the indigenous people was not humane. Not only did the Native Americans die at the hand of the settlers, they also died from diseases that had been brought to the new world by explorers for which they had no immunity. In some cases diseases such as smallpox wiped out entire tribes. Together, the introduction of diseases and the actions of the European settlers had devastating effects on the Native Americans.
In 1830 Native ...view middle of the document...

The Hudson River school was a group of artists that were active in 19th century New York, and were the first American School of painting. They created “philosophically and aesthetically robust landscape scenes of young America […]. The paintings […] show a country distinguishing itself from Europe and celebrating what was uniquely American – the landscape.” (“American Eden: Landscape Paintings of the Hudson River School from the Collection of the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art”, 2004). The vast and beautiful paintings helped create a national identity for America and gave an insight into the history of the landscape and foretold the potential for the future America. The paintings depicted America as a Garden of Eden and seemed to derive from the idea that the European settler is the Adam figure from the Bible and is destined by God to civilise the savage land and its Natives. Often Native Americans featured in the painting as a mystical being located in the impressive landscape, perhaps as a point of fascination to help distinguish America from other countries.
Robert Berkhofer Jr points out that:
The essence of the White image of the Indian has been the definition of Native Americans […] as a separate and single other. Whether evaluated as noble or ignoble, whether seen as exotic or downgraded, the Indian as an image was always alien to the White. (Bird, 1996, p. 3).
Berkhofer points out that throughout history Native Americans have been depicted in both negative and positive lights, but regardless the representation has always been through the White man’s eyes, thus it cannot be an accurate representation. This is evident in many films that contain Native American characters, specifically Dances with Wolves (Costner, 1990). The narrative has a white man entering a Native American tribe and showing the audience how he, as a white man, views the tribe. This is problematic because the audience is only seeing the perspective from the White protagonist and taking what they see as truth, but also not allowing the Native Americans to have a voice. This implies that Native Americans have not often been portrayed accurately by a director and have not been given the chance to represent themselves in film because they have not been represented by a Native American director.
Typically referred to as ‘Indians’ in popular culture, Native Americans were traditionally seen in Westerns as the antagonists. The Western genre typically tells the story of the colonisation and discovery of America, which saw the major Hollywood studios revive the interest in the Western. Westerns draw on “historical actuality, a romantic philosophy of nature, and the concept of the […] savage” (Saunders, 2001, p. 3). Westerns often split the “depiction of the Indian, with the cruel and treacherous [Indian] balanced by the faithful [Indian]” (Saunders, 2001, p. 3) which resulted in the portrayals of Native Americans witnessed in films today.
The Western genre tended to portray...

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