Moana and Polynesian Culture

The film has not even been released yet and local commentators are complainingLoudly.

Moana and Maui, the primary characters of the film Moana, credit Disney Studios
Disney’s upcoming feature film Moana features a young Polynesian girl who seeks the help of the demi-god Maui. I have not seen the film, nor has anyone else without inside access to Disney. Yet editorials have already appeared in local papers, and the conversation is already rolling in social media. Like most others all I have seen is a two minute and thirty five second trailer.

I find it somewhat questionable that such accusations can be made without even seeing the film. Editorials written not on the content of the film, but on the author’s perceived version of it based on a two minute trailer. The film simply becomes a convenient vessel into which can be poured all of the author’s pre-conceived grievances. The accusation really have nothing to do with the film, but simply become a screed against whatever they want to rail against.

Much of the accusation levied against Disney centers around the idea of Cultural Misappropration. I have trouble with the mere concept of cultural appropration, culture is meant to be appropriated… It is taught to the next generation, it is pressed upon immigrants, it is preserved by spreading it through media and art. Disney has simply created a business model out of this act of using and selling culture, an act which has both positive and negative implications.

We could debate the film’s treatment of Polynesian culture, the good points and the bad points, I am sure there will be both, after we actually see the thing. The film is due to be released over the Thanksgiving weekend.

In the meantime there is an important point that the authors of these complaints seem to miss… Totally miss… Moana is the hero. She is not a bad guy, she is not a damsel in distress, she is not a mere supporting character simply a foil for the hero, she is the hero. She is not Tonto, or Danno, she is the hero. Even from the trailer is it apparent that she is strong willed and fills the role of the hero as expected in a film.

For a young girl growing up in these islands, for any child with Polynesian ancestry, this is the only important bit, the only part that will have any lasting importance. This film is aimed at children and that is how we must consider it. After seeing a film where a the hero looks like they do, has the same cultural references as they do, there will be an effect upon young minds. They can imagine themselves being the hero, placing themselves in that role.

If you are to have any success in the world, you must see yourself as the hero in your own life, not as a victim, not as supporting cast. Seeing yourself as the hero gives you the power to change yourself and do good for your community. Role models, both in real life or fiction, in books or on screen, teach us how to see the world, how you can find a place in the world. We must insure that children have a chance, even an imaginary chance, to explore these roles. How to be the hero.

Author: Andrew

An electrical engineer, amateur astronomer, and diver, living and working on the island of Hawaiʻi.

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