Disney is pulling from sale a number of children’s items tied to its upcoming release “Moana” amid controversy over whether they are examples of cultural misappropriation and insensitivity toward Pacific Islanders.
In the film, set thousands of years ago, a girl named Moana (voiced by Hawaiian-born newcomer Auli’i Cravalho) wants to learn to be an ocean navigator and is aided by the demigod Maui (voiced by Dwayne Johnson). In the film’s official description, “Moana fulfills the ancient quest of her ancestors and discovers the one thing she’s always sought: her own identity.”
The costume garnering the most attention depicted Johnson’s character of Maui and featured brown-colored shirt and pants replicating the character’s tattooed skin. A number of protesters declared on Twitter, “culture is not a costume.”
“The team behind ‘Moana’ has taken great care to respect the cultures of the Pacific Islands that inspired the film, and we regret that the Maui costume has offended some,” Disney said in a statement to Entertainment Weekly. “We sincerely apologize and are pulling the costume from our website and stores.”
As Hollywood makes steps toward including broader cultural representations, it also runs the risk of offending those same communities it is attempting to include. The animated film “Kubo and the Two Strings” recently came under fire for using white actors such as Matthew McConaughey, Charlize Theron, Rooney Mara and Ralph Fiennes to voice a story set in ancient Japan.
“Moana” is directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, whose previous collaborations include “The Little Mermaid,” “Aladdin,” “Hercules” and “The Princess and the Frog.” Among the writers on the film is the New Zealand-born, half-Maori filmmaker Taika Waititi.
While there has been some criticism over the size of Johnson’s character and that it perpetuates stereotypes of obesity among Pacific Islanders, “Moana” has largely been lauded for its careful consciousness of representation. Filmmakers made sure to create a more realistic depiction of a young girl’s body type with the character of Moana and also attempted to put her in line with other the more active recent female animated heroines from films such as “Brave,” “Tangled” and “Frozen.”
The cultural issues around the film and its depiction of Pacific Island culture have obviously been on the minds of the filmmaking team throughout the process. At last year’s Disney-sponsored D-23 fan convention, Johnson noted that he is half-Samoan when he added, “This is my heritage.”