(Author’s Note: This post is not in reference to a Gretchen Weiner real or other wise. The title is just a Mean Girl’s reference)
Mary Rowlandson’s account of her time spent as a captive of the Algonquian tribe has been labelled as controversial since its release in 1682, and unsurprisingly it remains so. Also unsurprising are the mentions of Disney’s legendary cinematic failure, Pocahontas,as we continue scrutinizing the text and its predecessors on our reading list. The most recent texts that we observe the trend of problematic casting is of the Algonquian tribe and the indigenous peoples of Mexico in “The Emperor of Mexico”.
These works contribute to an unflattering portrayal of indigenous populations in America, but most of these were not distributed with the sole purpose of slandering these people in mind. There are parallels between both works, but they could be read as not meaning to be offensive to their audiences or the very people that they are trying to portray. That is not to say that they should not be considered offensive- of course they are offensive to us, I could barely name a work published in the past fifty years that has aged so well that it is incapable of offending us yet. Calling native people “savages” is bad, we get it. I believe that ultimately, these works are meant to be read not as indictments of the natives (or even as compliments to white people)- but as narratives between good and evil.
The same way that pocahontas is not really a movie about the evils of racism and name calling, but more about the struggles that two people in an interracial/cultural relationship may face. Like Dryden’s play, Pocahontas was Disney’s attempt to bring in fame and prestige- more specifically an oscar. In Mary Rowlandson’s case, the integration of Algonquian language and her favorable descriptions of the women offering to free her, can be read as moments where her maker’s mercy is present in her time of struggle. The unfavorable depictions are (yes, racist) but also are meant to emphasize not only how foreign her situation but cruel and confusing as well. She was kidnapped, even though she could have easily died, but was kept alive and eventually made it out in one piece- through divine providence.
These texts have racial biases, but they do not represent all of the biases against indigenous cultures.