The soon to be released Disney “Moana” cartoon movie has millions of children anxiously anticipating its premiere set for Nov. 23, 2016. My 11-year-old son is no exception.

“Moana” features Polynesian-styled characters, including the demigod Maui, locked in a degrading perversion of Polynesian history and culture that is more a tool and reflection of American imperialism (economic, military and cultural influence) over indigenous Pacific peoples and lands than a testament of who we are as Oceanic voyagers with shared histories, religions, genealogies and cultures.

Disney is an American corporation that makes billions off the stealing and repackaging of other peoples traditions, histories, songs and religions, especially those peoples who have been colonized or taken over by the United States. It is a powerful arm of American imperialism-creating narratives that justify U.S. world dominance and occupation over indigenous peoples’ lands while molding public perceptions and self-images of the colonized.

The demigod Maui as depicted in the upcoming animated comedy from Disney, "Moana."
The demigod Maui as depicted in the upcoming animated comedy from Disney, “Moana.” Disney

“Moana” is one of those narratives that has tangible effects on the indigenous lands, minds and bodies of Polynesia, including Hawaiians.

In case you haven’t heard, Mickey is on vacation at Aulani Disney Resort & Spa in Ko Olina on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. According to the Aulani Resort website, it “is the place to stay for a Hawaii family vacation that immerses you in local culture through Disney magic” while less than four miles away is Nanakuli, one of the largest indigenous Hawaiian communities in the world.

Nanakuli has the lowest ranking school in the state of Hawaii, and 62 percent of its residents live below the poverty level. Since Aulani has taken root near this community, the land and property values have gone up 400 percent, pushing land taxes up and indigenous Hawaiians out.

Aulani’s manicured lawns where magical menehunes hide and manmade blue lagoons beckon is a stark contrast to the harsh reality of nearby indigenous residents whose culture and lands are pimped for this Disney fantasy. “Moana” is part of Disney’s Aulani propaganda promising to bring even more visitors and future wealthy residents to Hawaii.

One of the main characters in “Moana” is Maui, who is mentioned many times in the cosmogonic genealogy of indigenous Hawaiians and who is a prominent religious figure and hero in other Polynesian cultures. His grandmother selflessly sacrificed her jawbone, which held mana or spiritual power, so that Maui could use it to make his “magical” fishhook to slow the sun and pull islands from the sea.

Disney’s Maui dehumanizes Hawaiians by taking what is sacred from our people and making it ridiculous.

Disney’s Maui dehumanizes Hawaiians by taking what is sacred from our people and making it ridiculous. Maui, our benevolent ancestor, is now a Disney doll on sale for $19.95, and his plastic light-up fishhook is on sale for $24.95.

Disney took the commodification of Maui one step further by marketing his skin and hair in a gruesome body suit that allowed anyone to dress up and pretend to be a Hawaiian demigod. Thankfully, after a public outcry which criticized Disney for creating a 21st century Polynesian version of blackface — the stage makeup made popular in 19th century minstrel shows, but long relegated to the margins of society for its racist history — these Disney products were pulled from the shelves.

Unfortunately, this does little to diminish or change Disney’s hegemonic power to influence and sway the pliable minds of the world’s youth. On the big screen, indigenous Hawaiian children will get to see a brown-skinned Maui and laugh at his antics in a dumbed-down comedic style that is distinctly American in the way it subliminally consigns young Hawaiian men to buffoonery.

Ultimately, “Moana” sets sail on another campaign of discrediting indigenous Hawaiians to help solidify American imperialism in the Pacific.

Hawaii is the home to 161 U.S. military installations and the U.S. Pacific Command, whose powerful arms stretch over 50 percent of the world (including the Pacific). Therefore, it comes as no surprise that Disney has a base here, as well — Aulani, helping to “other” and exotify Hawaiians to counter the powerful truth that Hawaiians, Kanaka Maoli, are the first peoples of these lands who traversed Oceania with no instruments, just faith in the wisdom of our ancestors.

For over 123 years the U.S. has illegally occupied Hawaii and has taken what it wanted from our lands, people and culture to feed it greedy industries. Disney’s “Moana” is just another chapter in the U.S. occupation of Hawaii where the indigenous people, culture and lands are commodities and our rich history is expendable, changeable — even erasable.

Thankfully, Hawaiians have long been awakened to the call of aloha aina or love for the land, who is our mother, Papahanaumoku, and continue to hold sacred places like Waialeale, Kaala and Mauna Kea. Those who aloha aina know our place in the universe and our kuleana to our land, our kupuna and our communities.

We are in the canoes, tapping kapa, writing our own histories, creating art, growing food, planning forums and protecting what is sacred.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a current photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

About the Author

  • M. Healani Sonoda-Pale
    M. Healani Sonoda-Pale is the chair of Ka Lāhui Hawai'i Political Action Committee and is one of the organizers of the "Stand for Aloha" trademark movement. She has genealogical ties to the chiefs of Kona of Hawaii island and the Levu family of American Samoa. Currently, she helps advise the undergraduate student government at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and resides in Kuliouou valley on the island of Oahu with her husband and two sons.