Here's How Netflix Responded to Criticism of Its Sexist Movie Summary

We all love Netflix, but it’s not without its faults. The streaming service was criticized earlier this month when Dr. Adrienne Keene took to social media point out the sexist, culturally appropriative description given to Pocahontas: “An American Indian woman is supposed to marry the village’s best warrior, but she yearns for something more–and soon meets Capt. John Smith.”

Keene wrote on her blog, Native Appropriations: “the description reads like a porn or a bad romance novel… The use of ‘woman’ and ‘yearns’ is so…gross. The problem? It overly sexualizes the film, and only positions Pocahontas in relation to her romantic options, not as a human being, you know, doing things.” Nailed it. Yes, the movie is wildly historically inaccurate and is problematic in its own way (as is true of many Disney movies), but this description seems to conveniently leave out all the other plotlines—you know, like the one where she risks her life to save her entire tribe from war with the English colonists?


Keene compared this female-led film’s descriptions to those of other Disney films that feature male protagonists. For example, Tarzan: “After being shipwrecked off the African coast, a lone child grows up in the wild and is destined to become lord of the jungle.” And, for Hercules: The heavenly Hercules is stripped of his immortality and raised on earth instead of Olympus, where he's forced to take on Hades and assorted monsters.” Notice a pattern here? Virtually all Disney movies, whether the main character is male or female, has a romantic plotline of some sort—yet only in the female-led movie does Netflix decide that that’s the main focus.

Not only is the description sexist, but culturally insensitive. “Of course Pocahontas wouldn’t be content with her backwards Native ways with her Native man… she yearns for something more,” Keene wrote. “SPOILER ALERT: It’s a white dude. Of course. It’s perpetuating the idea that white colonizers are better, more than, and the solution to Native savagery.”

After Keene’s point gained some visibility on Twitter, Netflix wrote her an email and has since changed the movie’s description. “Thanks for bringing attention to this synopsis,” the company wrote. “We do our best to accurately portray the plot and tone of the content we're presenting, and in this case you were right to point out that we could do better. The synopsis has been updated to better reflect Pocahontas' active role and to remove the suggestion that John Smith was her ultimate goal.​”

The film’s description now reads: “A young American Indian girl tries to follow her heart and protect her tribe when settlers arrive and threaten the land she loves.” Gotta love the power of social media to let us have our voices heard—now, if only the entertainment industry could acknowledge gender equality without us having to ask first.