Hey Look! Our Polynesians’ Review of “Moana” is on Strange Horizons

Logo from Disney's Moana

A lot of non-Islander folks have asked me if I liked Disney’s Moana and what I thought of how they handled Pacific Islander culture. It’s difficult to gauge how I should, or want to, or am able to, respond. Those are two very different, very complicated questions with answers that have changed in the months since I saw the film, and will undoubtedly change dozens of times more once it comes out on DVD and my daughter forces us all to watch it on a loop for the rest of our lives. (Hooray.)

My reaction to Moana is informed by decades of Disney adoration but tempered by a fierce determination to safeguard my culture, which has only ever been exploited by companies like Disney. But it isn’t my culture alone that needs protection. Moana is a Polynesian princess, not a specifically Hawaiian one. To tell the story about a determined young woman resurrecting the lost art of wayfinding, Disney collapses the wide array of Polynesian civilizations into the inhabitants of a single isolated island.

This is a narrative decision made by Disney that will affect how various Pacific Islander audiences will respond to the film. It’s is why I have such a tough time responding when people ask for my reaction. I might not feel exactly uncomfortable, but  I definitely feel responsible. I might be the most outspoken, or maybe even the only, Polynesian person somebody knows. To share my views from my little slice of Polynesian understanding is great and am so glad to have something to contribute to the conversation, but there is so much more to be said.

So when my dear friend Fangirl Jeanne asked if I wanted to collaborate on a review highlighting our different and complicated reactions, I immediately said yes. Jeanne is half Tongan, while I am part Hawaiian and part Chamorro. Our cultures are pretty different, yet Moana claims to represent them all. Our hope is that sharing to two different perspectives in a single article might expose non-Islander audiences to just how diverse Pacific Islander voices are. And maybe that will inspire them to seek out more reviews and responses from other Polynesians. But even more importantly, I hope it will inspire more Polynesian and Pacific Islanders to share their thoughts on Moana. I know I’ve been searching for and eagerly reading those voices ever since the movie came out. And I’ll continue to do so forever, because I’m sure that we all have a lot more to say.

To read our review on Strange Horizons, click here. Drop us a comment to let us know what you think.

Many thanks to Jeanne and to Strange Horizons for the opportunity. This was a dream to work on and I am so honored to be a part of it.

Image of Moana logo via Wikimedia Commons.


  1. I’ll admit I’ve been wondering what your take on this movie is. I still haven’t seen it, but not for any reason. I’ll also admit that your bit about your grandma’s corse-soft curls and your friend’s line about seeing a mirror for the first time made me cry a little. Thanks to you both. xo

    1. I could have sworn I replied to your comment already but eh, my brain’s all over the place these days so probably I just *thought* about what I was going to say but didn’t actually translate that into, you know, saying anything. Hah. Anyway, I wanted to let you know how much it thrilled me to see you mention my grandmother’s hair. I wish everybody in the world had been able to know her and when someone picks up on a tiny bit of her through something I’ve said or written, it just makes me so damn happy. <3

      Also, if you do happen to see Moana at some point and want to gab about it, let me know! I'm super happy to talk about it more. I don't want anyone to feel like they should't ask or talk to me about this or anything else like it. It's just tough to know when to shut up about it, so it was nice to have my space to say wth ever I wanted. 🙂

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