With the new film by Disney entitled “Moana,” one has to wonder who benefits from the borrowing of Polynesian ideology and culture? There has been some recent backlash in regards to the visual portrayal of a revered and renowned demi-god in the media lately. With those of Polynesian descent showing both support and disgust for the Disney character “Maui,” I can’t help but question who really benefits from this all?
I am a Native Hawaiian so call me biased, but for someone who has come from a long lineage of forced denationalization, stolen lands, abolished language, and a nearly extinct race due to the introduction of foreign diseases, I can’t help but feel overprotective in all things regarding my culture and heritage. In a country whose anthem is the “land of the free,” for indigenous cultures, that has never been the case. So when a corporation giant, such as Disney, borrows a deity from Polynesian mythology, I can’t help but add this example to a long list of native exploits.
Just a few months ago, while the Disney teasers were introduced, an online petition asked Disney to “invest in our communities through our children” by providing a scholarship fund supporting the education of Pacific youth. Did Disney ever respond? Nope. I mean a multi-billionaire company, who will gain a huge profit from one of our greatest resources, our stories, will leave next to nothing in our communities in return. Sad, just sad.
But this tragedy, unfortunately, is just another foot note in a history of cultural misappropriation for all indigenous cultures, one that we are trying to fight against. An initiative has been started by a collection of Native artists, activists, filmmakers, educators and cultural practitioners with the goal of asserting our collective mana (spiritual power) as indigenous people. Support the Mana Moana collective via Twitter @WeAreManaMoana or Facebook https://www.facebook.com/manamoana/wearemoanawearemacui. #ManaMoana #WeAreMoana #WeAreMaui
As Native Hawaiian activist and journalist Anne Keala Kelly said in an interview with Deep Green Resistance:
“Embedded in every American theft is the denial of that theft, be it theft of land, culture, nationhood, all the things that define a people, all that they need to survive as a people. The exploitation and appropriation of Hawaiian identity and cultural identifiers, like lei and lū‘au is in keeping with that centuries old tradition…The sort of appropriation is possible because we’ve been remade, turned into a strangely passive icon that represents entertainment to Americans.”