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Disney just took a big step toward addressing the company's past by announcing a major change to the Splash Mountain attraction in the theme parks. However, Song of the South didn't happen in a bubble and while we've been on a, more or less, straight path toward better representation over the years, there are still a few places where Disney took a misstep, and one that has recently been brought back in to the light is the Pocahontas song "Savages" which even the voice of Pocahontas wasn't so sure about back when she recorded it.
Pocahontas celebrates its 25th anniversary this year and Yahoo recently spoke with Irene Bedard, who voiced the title character of the film. She admits to being apprehensive about the song "Savages" because of the history that the word brings up. She initially felt it might be best if the word was just left alone. According to the actress...
When I first saw it, I was like, ‘Why did we have to go there? Why do we have to go that far, that deep into it?’ It’s so fraught, that word ‘savages.’ So my first instinct was to go, ‘Oh no.’
"Savages" takes place late in the film, as tensions between the European settlers and the Native American people have hit a fever pitch. Combat between the two is all but assured. The song is a duet between the two groups where each one is calling the other "savages." Each side sees the other as different, and therefore, not worthy of any consideration as people. Because the other side is different, they must therefore be evil. It's not hard to see why a song like this is being discussed in a modern context.
Irene Bedard even included discussion of the word savages in a one woman play she once performed. The term is incredibly loaded and a lot of people, both when Pocahontas was new and today, are critical of the song because of that. However, Bedard has largely come to terms with the song, For her, the fact that the song draws attention to the fact that both sides are seeing each other in the same way, helps the larger story of the film.
To see what story it was showing, that both sides were looking at each other in this way of, ‘You’re less than.’ The song really shines a light on that, so ultimately it adds to the story.
It's perfectly clear what "Savages" is trying to say, that it wants to use the history of that particular word to bring attention to the other side of the conflict, but the song maybe isn't as subtle as it thinks it is and the execution falters a bit. Don't expect to see the song edited on Disney+ anytime soon. It's not that bad, but it is a moment that needs to be considered in the proper context to be properly understood.