Disney’s Moana is a Collage of Cultures; not Representation Victory
12/8/2016 by Allan Hayes
Moana is Disney’s most recent success story. The movie came out on November 23rd and beat out Frozen in first day sales by half a million dollars. It follows the story of the namesake character, Moana, as she sails across the ocean to save her island and her family. Moana is a delightful movie full of bright colors and an incredibly endearing main character. The animation and art direction is nothing short of stunning. The story follows the usual Disney Female Hero algorithm that has been successful for them since the beginning of time.
The movie is not free of criticism, however. The character was originally praised during trailers and previews for Polynesian representation. Disney has long faced criticism for its lack of diversity in female protagonists. More than seventy percent of female main characters being white, with Disney apparently picking one story to tell for other nationalities.
Moana brought in fans excited to see the story of a Polynesian girl saving her world. What they got was a decoupage of many cultures inappropriately smashed together in what seems like a blanket smear of representation for the many Polynesian islands that are not exactly identical.
Disney does need to expand its horizons in diversity and adding another woman of color to the ranks of top selling female heroes could have been an incredible boon. Instead they took aspects of many cultures and blended them together until they got the skeletal fragments of storylines familiar to people of Polynesian origin.
The main problem with Disney picking aspects from different cultures is that there is no way to represent all of Polynesia by using only specific parts of select islands. There is not appropriate process of elimination to decide who gets to represent Polynesia in this way. The best option for Disney would have been to have used the story of one culture and filled their movie with iconography related to that specific culture. The use of many cultures from the pacific could only really be explained by the desire to exploit the culture for profit.
The only other explanation for the merging of cultures could be that Disney doesn’t really see the diversity in Polynesia. That they only see it as one large culture and actually can’t differentiate between any of the islands. There’s no real way of determining which of the two would be the worst, but either way it is irresponsible of a company with the budget and reach of Disney to create a movie with the basis of either.
Disney should be expected to do better than this and they should be held accountable, but in the event this does not happen don’t feel dissuaded from seeing Moana. Remain critical of the content, but it is possible to enjoy the story and music on its own. Unfortunately, the only way of hoping a company as large as Disney will listen to the minority people begging for representation is to support even the irresponsible content they provide for us. Otherwise they may continue making more Rapunzel/Frozen story retellings.
Allan Hayes is a Politcal Blogger at CSuiteMusic
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