Little Mermaid, Cinderella, Pocahontas, Snow White, Lilo (and Stitch), Rapunzel/Tangled, Frozen (Elsa), and soon, Moana?   That’s what Disney has next in its heroine/princess animation pipeline.

Disney Animation
Moana is Polynesian. So “Yay!”  The inhabitants of the “isles of the sea” will finally be represented at the Disney heroines' big dance - sans Lilo, of course. And while those listed above have arrived riding magic carpets, chariots, horses with silver and snowy manes, paddling dugout canoes or swimming, I guess our Moana will be sailing the ‘alia (big double-hulled vessels of Polynesia) to the ball.
(‘Alia or va’a tele in Samoan, kalia/vaka in Tongan, waka (Maori), wa’a kaulua (Hawaiian). Notice the shared heritage of the Polynesians in their language similarities especially in the name of something that was indispensable in their seafaring history - the va’a (boat). The “w” is also pronounced |v| in some Polynesian languages like Hawaiian and Maori.)

Or, considering the already favored Hawaiian background and context for the animation, Moana may sail in on the Hokule’a.  (Maui, a Hawaiian demigod has already been cast as a co-protagonist too.) But the word/name “Moana” belongs to Polynesia. It means “ocean” in Samoan and in most, if not all, of the Polynesian languages/dialects. And therein lies the spoil that may already be brewing ahead of Moana’s arrival, and one that might dampen her spirits and her premiere/debut.  At worst, figuratively speaking, she could end up a castaway, a misfortune she would certainly welcome as long as it’s on a tropical island and not in the colder regions of Antarctica.

Moana? - Illustration by Catena Badolato
The predicament involves an internal strife among some of Moana’s seafaring posterity.  The squabble is over how she would/should be portrayed - outfit, demeanor, accouterments and all.  Some of these "polykins" seem to want an inclusive Moana, one that represents all of Polynesia instead of the stereotypical dashboard-hula-dancing-maiden in a grass skirt, a flower garland, a lei and sei (flower worn over the ear).  The Hawaiian “hula” prototype for Polynesian maidens has prevailed for years and, understandably, for several reasons. To most outsiders, Hawaii IS Polynesia, at least in the world of movies and entertainment.  The popularity and visibility of Hawaii as a tourist mecca easily make it the Polynesian bellwether.

But let’s say that Disney caves in a bit to an inclusive Polynesian Moana, at least for the sake of cultural correctness and fairness.  That would mean that Moana needs a malu (Samoan female tattoos above the knees), wearing a ta’ovala (Tongan waist-mat), over a Tahitian tamure (dance) skirt, and then a moko (Maori chin tattoo), etc., etc.  Fair enough, or ridiculous? Methinks the latter.

The filmmakers have a duty - and will surely do their best - to be fair to the Polynesian heritage and culture (however one defines those in the context of time), though at the same time, they have at their disposal the creative/artistic license which serves as their chief negotiator and arbiter. Balancing the two - cultural correctness/fairness and artistic license - can be a challenge; but Disney may also claim that Moana is a movie, not a documentary and therefore they (filmmakers) do have some leeway if not autonomy.

Now, let’s say that push comes to shove is a possibility, and Disney acquiesces and portrays the real “Moana” of Polynesia 2000 years ago, the time period of the movie, then .. Hmmm... Huh? Wow!  Can you imagine how “Moana” might have looked then?   Obviously scantily-clad, like all Poly women of the pre-contact years; and even right up to the post-contact years too.  The famous Nafanua's (Samoa war goddess) tiputa (shawl) malfunction can conjure similar images; not that such images are foreign to Hollywood, but Moana needs to belong to the family-friendly genre of Disney productions.  So if by an infinitesimal chance (no way) that Moana will be depicted as a Poly woman of long ago, she will certainly end up as a castaway on a cold Temptation Island, viewed  not by a general audience, but by a mature/adult one.

I think therefore that the more insular and ethnocentric of Moana’s cousins should reconsider their “demands” for an inclusive surrogate of their newly dubbed princess.  The costume in the first picture (top) should suffice. Remember, also, Disney will settle on an outfit that's marketable and can be sold as a proprietary costume.  Profit, after all, is the bottom line, and therefore Disney's main goal.

Now if those are not enough to dissuade the inclusive-minded Poly's from their "fairness campaign", then let me also remind them that Moana will speak ...hmmm...English!?! - not Satomataha (my coinage for a Polynesian Esperanto) - Sa(moan)to(ngan)ma(ori)ta(hitian)ha(waiian).  And definitely not Hawaiian pidgin either.  Again, Moana is a movie (fiction), not a documentary (nonfiction).

But let's wait and see. If Moana shows up at the ball in skinny jeans and a sheer top, then I'll volunteer to lead the protest and boycott; and unmoor her 'alia so she can be a castaway.  Ha!

Oh, by the way, Disney is accepting auditions for the voice of Moana.  Some already on Youtube.  So if you want that big break, go to some casting sites for the audition information.  Good luck!  The voice of Maui is already awarded to the Rock.

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