- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 26, 2006

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — Karenne Wood had high hopes for “The New World.”She hoped it would be a lively, entertaining film.But more to the point, Miss Wood — a Monacan tribe member and chairwoman of the Virginia Council on Indians — hoped that writer-director Terrence Malick’s epic film would move beyond the pervasive mythology and tell the true story of Pocahontas.

Miss Wood was disappointed when she saw a screening of the film last month, and now that it has been released nationwide, she is voicing her objections.

“I think it’s unconscionable to perpetuate myths and legends that you know are wrong and explain it away by calling it ‘vision,’” said Miss Wood, who lives in Charlottesville.

“If [Mr. Malick] is an artist, then fine, write a story — but don’t tie it to a real-life event and make people think it actually happened this way.”

Mr. Malick, the rare Hollywood recluse who refuses to do interviews, has not spoken about the film. But at the East Coast premiere in Williamsburg on Dec. 21, executive producer Trish Hoffman said that Mr. Malick “gathered information from scholars” in an attempt to separate fact from fiction in the Pocahontas legend.

But she also acknowledged that the filmmaker had taken “some creative license” in using the story of Pocahontas, John Smith and John Rolfe as a vehicle to tell the story of the cultural clash between European settlers and the American Indian “naturals” they encountered at Jamestown in 1607.

“It’s definitely based in reality, but this is Terry’s vision of it,” Miss Hoffmann said. “He took the mythology of Pocahontas and John Smith and used it as the basis to serve his vision of different cultures meeting, and what happens when there’s a misunderstanding.”

At the premiere, 15-year-old actress Q’Orianka Kilcher, who portrays Pocahontas in the film, said her biggest challenge was “to do Pocahontas justice, and to show her story as well as the Native Americans’ story as best I could.”

Robert Two Eagles Green, chief of Virginia’s Patawomeck tribe, served as an adviser to the filmmakers and had a nonspeaking role in the film. At the premiere, he said the local tribes had some initial reservations, but in the end, he thought the film was fair. He said he was “extremely impressed with Terry’s treatment of the native people.”

None of that is reassuring to Miss Wood, who said she and other local American Indians met with the film’s producers before shooting began.

They were not allowed to read the script — Mr. Malick is famous for the secrecy he demands on his film sets — but she said the producers assured them that the film would be a more realistic portrayal of the events than other films have attempted.

In real life, Pocahontas was not yet a teenager when she first encountered Smith. While the two became friends, there apparently was no romantic relationship. Pocahontas married an Indian as a teen, but later was abducted by English settlers and held for ransom. During her captivity, she met Rolfe, an English businessman credited with the introduction of tobacco farming in Virginia. She converted to Christianity, married Rolfe, had a son, and died at 22 during an official visit to England.

“The New World” depicts her as a girl in her early teens and hints at a romantic relationship between her and Smith, though there are no love scenes between them. There is no reference to the kidnapping; she is shown meeting Rolfe when they lived near each other.

Miss Wood says the Pocahontas myth is a result of history written by the settlers, who wanted to use her as an example of “the good Indian” who converted to Christianity and lived among the Europeans.

In a press release, Reeva Tilley of Richmond, a Rappahannock tribal council member, agreed with Miss Wood’s assessment of the film. She said: “Mr. Malick had the opportunity to make an epic film about the merging of two dynamic cultures and their contributions and survival in the new world. Yet the main focus remained the mythical love affair between Pocahontas and Captain John Smith.”

Miss Wood said she thinks a nonfictional account of the same events could be the basis for an excellent film.

“I think Hollywood would make that film if they could be convinced that they could sell it,” she said. “It has been done with other cultures, so why not? Why do they want to keep perpetuating this tired thing when they could be telling the real story in a new and exciting way? That’s what I don’t understand.”

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