Over the weekend, a clip from last week’s The Amber Ruffin show made the rounds online from a segment she calls “How Did We Get Here?”. In it, she details an appearance by Matoaka, or Matoax, better known as Pocahontas, in an issue of King Conan from February (written by Jason Aaron with art from Mahmud Asrar), and then links the current controversy to the previous controversy that centered on Disney’s portrayal of Matoaka in Pocahontas. In the comic, Matoaka is presented as “Princess Matoaka”, and is depicted with a feathered headpiece and a gold metal bikini. I won’t link to it, but you can see an example of the pages in Ruffin’s piece:
There’s really nothing to say that Ruffin doesn’t already express perfectly and concisely. I’ve never read the Conan comics, and in fact, haven’t been to the comic book store since before the holidays, so I missed this entirely, and frankly, I’m glad. I’m too tired for this sh-t. Jason Aaron has already said he’s going to change the character’s name and she’ll go in for a redesign, too, but I don’t know if that really “fixes” anything, because clearly, the stereotypes of Indigenous women as highly sexualized and welcoming of western/European protection and/or rescue are still alive and well in the world, and writers still can’t be bothered to take five seconds and google “is this a good idea” in the year of our lady 2022.
But Sarah, Conan’s not European, you might say, if you have any familiarity with a third-tier comic book. True, he’s Cimmerian, and this is all fantasy. But Conan and his world heavily references the European Dark Ages and take a lot of cues from post-Roman Europe and the clash of so-called “barbarian” empires that followed the collapse of Rome. So, it’s still in that European tradition. The weird thing is Jason Aaron wrote Scalped, a crime comic centered on a fictional Oglala Lakota reservation in South Dakota. Scalped ran for years to great acclaim and without running afoul of major controversy, so I’m not sure why Aaron (and Asrar) stumbled so hard here, except for not stopping to think “is this a good idea” before committing. (There was once going to be a Scalped television series produced by Sterlin Harjo, I wonder if the success of Reservation Dogs can revive it.)
The myth of Pocahontas is DEEPLY entrenched in white America, and the Disney movie just solidified the image of the welcoming, beatific Native woman who embraces western culture via romance with a white man. Reminding people that “Pocahontas” isn’t even her real name and that she died before she was 21, not to mention the hardships she suffered before then at the hands of colonists, never goes over well. People just love their Disney princess who can sing with all the voices of the mountain, and don’t want to be bothered with stuff like “facts” and “historical accuracy”. Changing a comic book character’s name and outfit isn’t going to fix that. They should change those things anyway, but the larger cultural problem still exists.
Here’s Amber Ruffin at the Critics’ Choice Awards yesterday. If you would like more information from the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, or to find a way to better support Indigenous women, you can do so here.