It probably wouldn’t surprise anyone to know that Disney might not be all that concerned with historical accuracy when it writes one or two of its most brilliant screenplays for animated movies. Pocahontas was a historical figure known for her connection to the settlers of Jamestown, Virginia. She was a Native American daughter of Powhatan and is believed to be responsible for saving John Smith in 1607. Who did she save Smith from, exactly? As the story goes, her own father tried to execute the man by clubbing him to death. Pocahontas perhaps prevented the bloody killing by resting her own head on his. Whether this is true or not is unknown.
Disney’s retelling of this historical tale is rife with inaccuracies. Here are a few of the most glaring mistakes.
We know that Pocahontas was dead before her 22nd birthday. When she met John Smith, she was only ten or eleven years old. When you’re writing a story for little kids (and their parents, and okay, we all love it), you can’t really rely on a narrative of an older man wooing an eleven-year-old. It doesn’t really work. Disney fudged the age a bit in order to make the story more relevant to the present era. In the film, she’s 18 years old. Oh, and another thing–historically, Pocahontas and John Smith weren’t even an item. Pushing people into romance is also a Disney thing.
We also know that the meeting between the two not-so-romantic fools wasn’t as spontaneous in reality as it was in the movie. When John Smith and company landed and populated Jamestown, it was only spring. Smith was then captured by the tribe in winter, so quite a bit of time had gone by in the interlude.
Leave it to Disney to kill off historical figures just to fit their narrative. In the movie, Pocahontas is told to wed the warrior Kocoum. She is defiant, and eventually, Kocoum is killed by one of the British colonizers. In reality, Pocahontas really did marry Kocoum not that long after John Smith got out of Virginia. We don’t know exactly how all that went down, but it’s entirely feasible that Pocahontas was in love with Kocoum. These weren’t arranged marriages: members of her Native American tribe were able to make their own choices when it came to marriage, and marriage as we know it was completely different for them.
The account of Pocahontas saving Smith comes from Smith himself, and that’s why it is sometimes regarded as truth. In the movie, the scene plays out similarly but for an altogether different reason. In the movie, Smith is to be executed because of Kocoum’s death. We know that Smith didn’t actually kill the man, and so some scholars debate whether or not Smith was ever in danger at all. The entire event could be somewhat lost in translation. It’s possible that Smith’s narrative either embellished, outright lied, or simply didn’t understand what may have simply been a ceremony intended to initiate him into the tribe. Either way, the movie didn’t get the reasoning behind the potential execution right at all.