Culture · Perspectives

Podcast: Moana, A New Hero for Representation?

In this podcast, we discuss Disney’s latest movie, Moana. We speak about the representation of Polynesian culture and discuss the movie within the context of Disney in general.

You can follow the podcast on iTunes or stitcher.


The Guardian – Review

Vanity Fair – Oceanic Trust

Slate – Polynesian Myths

CBC – Review

Islands – Polynesian Islands

NPR – Auli’i Cravalho and Polynesian Myths

Bustle – Maui

Eurweb – Ancestry

Decider – Legends Behind Moana

Metronews – The Real Moana

Collider – Auli’i Cravalho Interview

Latinpost – Disney’s Polynesian Princess

Medium – Moana and Resistance Spectating

Huffingtonpost – Auli’i Cravalho and her mom

Music: Ukelele – bensound


One thought on “Podcast: Moana, A New Hero for Representation?

  1. I love the point about Moana going despite not knowing what she’s going to do. I also really like that you guys brought up the oral tradition of Polynesian culture. I love valuing the oral traditions of these indigenous cultures… Often times it’s these types of cultures that tended to use oral ways of passing down their history that have started to become forgotten. I hope we explore them more.

    I want to comment on when you brought up the difference between dressing up as Pocahontas vs. as just a Native American. I am Native American (though not of that particular tribe), and to me it is very offensive when people dress as a Native American in general, but I don’t personally get offended by dressing up as Disney’s Pocahontas character. It was a good point that she is also a historical figure, and plenty of people do take offense at Disney misrepresentation of her, which I think is a fair conversation to have. The movie, while a favorite of mine, is undeniably incredibly problematic. However, I still see that VERSION of Pocahontas, the Disney design, as a completely fictionalized character. She is nothing like the historical Pocahontas. So, because of that, at least for me personally, I don’t take offense to costumes of Pocahontas herself, though I do still really dislike costumes of ‘Native Americans.”

    I also wanted to comment on your discussion of Moana’s lack of a love interest. Everything that was said about women of color was very interesting to hear but I wanted to bring up something about men of color. It really bothers me that Moana is one of the only princesses who exists in a setting with NO white people and also has no love interest. Mulan and Jasmine are the only other two that existed without white people in their films, and they did end up with men of color which is actually a miracle, particularly for Mulan. Asian men are never seen as masculine or heroic, but Shang was and I will say I really appreciate that. Aladdin as a film had some problems of its own, and Jasmine’s design was one of them, but at least they were both meant to be POC. Meanwhile, Tiana, the only black princess, is with a man of ambiguous, made up racial identity and he is lighter than she is. Pocahontas is with only white men. And moving away from the main Princess lineup(but still Disney) Kida and Esmeralda are both brown women who end up with white men. I think it’s a bit problematic, since men of color face a lot of discrimination in the way of being viewed as predators, thugs, aggressive, etc, and the fact that in a film where the only option for romance would have been a man of color that they opted to do away with romance just raises some concerns for me. Though I do agree that the film would have been odd to include romance, I just think with all this context it is rather unfortunate.

    I agree about Moana pointing out that she is not a princess. I think that half the reason people still use the term “indian princess” about native americans comes from Disney’s Pocahontas, and it’s very annoying. I think the comparison of that to the Frozen thing with Ana is because of the context of the way they poke fun at the trope. In Moana, she is explaining her own culture and how it is not a Princess, whereas in Frozen, Ana is being explained TO that her ideas, feelings, and choices are laughable. So, I agree that it was done well in Moana but patronizing in Frozen. But I do want to add, which goes along with you all discussing having more non-princess characters, that I felt that Maui’s comment of “if you wear a dress and you have an animal sidekick, you’re a princess” was leading into that. I think that they know that our culture and the little girls who watch their movies DO value the high status and wealth of a princess. The little girls want to be princesses, more than anything, and we can argue that it is Disney’s fault they feel that way in the first place. But I really appreciated that line by Maui, as if it was speaking to little girls to say, “yes, you want to be a Princess, but you CAN be and it doesn’t matter if you are wealthy or powerful or the child of a King or a Chief.” For Disney, I think the term “Princess” is almost taking on a different meaning, as almost being a “hero.” Although, I still do wish they’d start to move away from the term in general.

    My final comment is on the main theme of Moana. It’s touched upon briefly in this discussion but I don’t think ever fully tied together and it honestly is what I loved most about the film and about Moana as a character. I think this theme is summed up by Maui’s description of what wayfinding is. He says “it’s knowing where you are by knowing where you’ve been.”
    This is Moana’s journey. She wants to discover her place, where she is, and where is going, and she does this by learning both where her ancestors have been and realizing how far she’s come throughout the course of the film. (Her song is called How Far I’ll Go). Not only that, but she helps her entire people remember who they are by remembering who they’ve been. She helps Maui to recognize who he is in the same way when she says “the gods don’t make you Maui, you do.” And while he thinks without his hook, he is nothing, he realizes later that she was right. Finally, Te Fiti learns the same thing, remembering who she. “You know who you are” is the song for Te Fiti at the end and “Where You Are” was the song for Moana at the beginning. Maybe it was too obvious to discuss, but I value Moana so much because being able to realize this, to find confidence in yourself, to know where you’ve been, where you are, and where you’re going, despite how simple it might seem, is really hard. It’s scary. But Moana does it, and because she reconciles this struggle in herself, she is able to help others recognize the same struggle they have and come through it. And I love that this is her strength, because like one of you mentioned, it’s a very traditionally feminine strength in a way (she is supporting, kind, understanding) but it’s also just so powerful and confident.

    Anyways, I believe that’s all I had to say listening to this. I really enjoyed your discussion. Thanks!

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