Disney’s upcoming film, Moana, has recently come under fire for accusations of stereotyping Polynesians. The film has greatly promoted the fact that it will add a Hawaiian Princess to the roster of Disney’s animated heroines, in addition to having multiple members of Polynesian ancestry attached, such as Phillipa Soo and Lin-Manuel Miranda, as well as newcomer Auli'i Cravalho, who will voice the titular heroine.


The Controversy over Maui.

However, one element in particular, has begun to cause controversy before the film is released: the depiction of Maui, a Polynesian demigod. The character, who originates in Polynesian mythology, is played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and befriends and accompanies Moana during her journey to help rescue her family, according to a press release. While still somewhat sympathetic and heroic in the final film, the concern is over his appearance as somewhat overweight, as well as the comical nature of the demigod, and the detractors appear to have voices in prominent places.


New Zealand politician Jenny Salesa posted a meme on her Facebook account, comparing three Polynesian actors (which, interestingly enough, includes Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson the voice of Maui in the film) to a picture of the animated Maui, referring to him as resembling a hippo and a pig, with Salesa commenting that she agrees that the portrayal of Maui as overweight feeds into the“negative stereotype of Maui,” as well as adding that most people of Polynesian are not overweight, according to statistics.

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The post can be read below.

Another well-known figure, Samoan rugby player Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu also posted a similar meme, which is seen below, that pointed out the irony of having Johnson voice an obese Polynesian character, despite playing well-built characters of various other ancestries in live-action. Fuimaono-Sapolu’s comments also suggested the film could be guilty of appropriation, writing that this is a comparison of “white people telling Polynesian stories” and telling their own stories.

In Maui's Defense..

That said, others have commented against the detractions. A Samoan artist took to Twitter and Facebook, where he drew the skeletal basis of the film’s released characters: Moana, her father, and Maui. As seen below, he defended the portrayal, pointing out the Maui still has something of a strong build, and his more comedic nature simply comes from being Moana’s sidekick, possibly so that he could serve as a foil to Moana’s father.


Another point of issue is that some feel that the detractors come off as not wanting overweight characters to appear in film at all. Writer Leah Damm pointed out in a piece for New Zealand’s Spinoff publication that this all reflects a Western style of beauty, and that obesity among Polynesians often comes from inequality and economic issues, rather than poor decisions.


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