Friday, November 25, 2016

'Moana' passes test of cultural authenticity

Polynesian Moana and her erstwhile companion, the demigod Maui.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Thanksgiving hangover. Thinking of taking the family to a movie? Here's an offering you should consider.


By Louis Chan
REPRINTED FROM ASAM NEWS


MY TWO 20-something children called Moana, which opened this Thanksgiving weekend, one of the best Disney movies ever.

That’s high praise from two kids who’s collection of animated Disney and Pixar movies is quite extensive. (can you still call two 20-somethings kids? Hell, yes, especially if they’re yours)

The Media Action Network of Asian Americans joined in that praise applauding Disney studios for hiring Pacific Islanders at multiple levels and reflecting accurately the values and culture of Pacific Islanders.

Moana is the gold standard for how movies should be made,” says MANAA board member Rakshak Sahni. “If you are making a film about Pacific Islanders, it is a given that you should hire Pacific Islanders both in front of and behind the camera. Yet in the past and present we have seen studios creating stories about Asians and Pacific Islanders, but hiring White writers and White actors to perform or voice the roles.”

Moana tells the story of a girl drawn to the ocean and who defies her father, the chief of the island village, when she goes beyond the reef to save her people.

According to the Disney Examiner, an independent online magazine devoted to Disney, directors John Musker and Ron Clements met up with prominent cultural advisors in the region and immersed themselves in the culture during visits to Fiji, Samoa, Tahiti, and New Zealand.

“The ocean is viewed as a living, breathing, powerful entity,” said Musker about what he learned. “There is immense respect and admiration for the ocean in this part of the world. We heard many times from the people we met during our trips to the Pacific Islands that the ocean doesn’t separate the islands, it connects them. Voyaging is real source of pride for the Pacific Islanders, a part of their identity. They were, and continue to be, some of the greatest explorers of all time. This wayfinding sense is not only quite sophisticated, it is miraculous.”

Members of MANAA had a chance to see an advanced screening of the movie. Some came away in tears.

“When many Pacific Islanders spoke up during a Q&A with ‘Moana’ producer Osnat Shurer, they were in tears,” said MANAA Vice President Miriam Nakamura-Quan. “They felt that Disney had somehow managed to combine three different cultures and values into one and present it accurately and authentically to a wider audience.”

According to MANAA co-founder Guy Aoki, there wasn’t a White person in the entire movie.

“Disney had confidence in their story that they didn’t have to compromise — as many filmmakers do — feeling they needed a White character for the audience to identify with,” he said. “We’re confident that children of all ages and backgrounds will identify with Moana.

Besides the lead voice roles of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and newcomer Auli’i Cravalho, the commitment of Disney to cultural sensitivity is impressive with all the Pacific Islander talent used in the movie.

Extra Hint: Watch the credits all the way to the end for an extra surprise scene.

Auli’i Cravalho as Moana

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Maui

Nicole Scherzinger as Sina

Rachel House as Gramma Tala

Temuera Morrison as Chief Tui

###