Marvel's comic book series King Conan has come under fire for its depiction of an Indigenous woman.
Princess Matoaka, the Indigenous character who appears in the third issue of King Conan, published on February 16, has been criticized as depicting Indigenous women in a disrespectful and degrading way.
In the issue, the main character meets Matoaka, a half-clothed Indigenous princess, after getting stranded on an island. She explains that she is from "a land far to the west" and has a rather dark history.
Matoaka fell in love with a man who tried to colonize her people. After he attacks her community, she is forced to kill him, but her father, angry about Matoaka's relationship, exiles her to the island where she remains cursed, attracting colonizers away from her native land in the west.
To Native Americans, Matoaka's tale is clearly a reference to Pocahontas, who was privately referred to as Matoaka in real-life.
The legend of Pocahontas has long been mythicized and dramatized in popular media characterizing her as a Native American woman who fell in love with English colonist John Smith, who she later saves from execution.
Pocahontas was only around 11 years old when she first met John Smith, and whatever relationship they did have was not romantic. While John Smith claimed in personal accounts that Pocahontas saved his life, many historians have challenged such assertions.
In actuality, Pocahontas ended up being taken captive by the English where she was raped, most likely by more than one colonist, according to the Mattaponi Tribe.
Given the grim reality of Pocahonta's backstory, it is not surprising that Indigenous comic book fans and artists found the pornified character to be demeaning and impudent.
Arigon Starr, a comic book artist and member of the Kickcapoo Tribe of Oklahoma wrote an email to CNN expressing his disdain.
"The real Matoaka was a pre-teen girl who suffered at the hands of her English captors," said Starr. "What's even more shocking is that most of this information is online; a quick search would have informed the writer, artist, editor and publisher that it was a poor choice to give this character the name of a famous victim of violence."
In light of the backlash, writer Jason Aaron issued an apology.
"This new character is a supernatural, thousand-year-old princess of a cursed island within a world of pastiche and dark fantasy and was never intended to be based on anyone from history," the writer said in a statement shared by Marvel. "I should have better understood the name's true meaning and resonance and recognized it wasn't appropriate to use it. I understand the outrage expressed by those who hold the true Matoaka's legacy dear, and for all of this and the distress it's caused, I apologize."
Aaron also noted that he donated all of the profits he made from the comic book issue to the National Indigenous Women's Resource Center.
Marvel has agreed to change the name and appearance of the character in future printings, editions, and digital versions.
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