Moana debuts in theaters during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Image © Disney
Anne Keala Kelly, the
director of Noho Hewa, a documentary
about the occupation of Hawaii, takes a look at Disney’s latest depiction of indigenous people with the animated Moana:
Most Indigenous peoples under U.S. control, certainly Hawaiians, have yet to carve out a meaningful space to represent ourselves, what we value, and our reality in mass media and film largely because America’s master narrative relies on our subjugation. The truth of what matters to us undermines the colonizer’s imagineered innocence. The narrative of Hawaii as “the Aloha State” is a perfect example— every non-Maoli living and vacationing here is able to do so because of the theft of our nationhood and the complete appropriation and subversion of our land and culture. While there are certainly other oppressed groups, our oppressions aren’t any more equal than our successes. Hawaiian world—Indigenous world is all buss-up and our narratives are convoluted. But the settler world isn’t, and neither is its story.
Our hopes, dreams and struggles are inconvenient to what Disney has chosen to produce about us. Worse yet, we’re expected to shut up and enjoy the ride everyone’s taking on our back. Yes, some of our own people, grateful for any acknowledgment, don’t recognize an insult or culture theft when they see it. Others will happily join in with the massive, commodifying monstrosity of “Moana” and buy Moana-gear and computer games. (I heard that the Ala Moana Disney Store is already well-stocked.) One Maori writer, who likes the Maui-Skin-Suit, said it’s like dressing up as Santa Claus. He’s not far off, seeing as how we’re the ones doing all the giving. He reminded me of something funny that Haunani-Kay Trask, one of our beloved sovereignty leaders, once said to me: “Yah, the haole, they stole everything we gave them.”
Being culturally poached and misrepresented isn’t flattering, it’s a threat.
Anne Keala Kelly:
Making Native Sense of Disney’s ‘Moana’
(Indian Country Today 10/28)