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We Asked For Pacific Islanders's Honest Opinions On "Moana," And They Did Not Hold Back

"Our culture is not a lost artifact in a museum – it’s living and breathing."

We recently asked Pacific Islander members of the BuzzFeed Community for their honest opinions on Moana, Disney's first movie with a Polynesian princess. Here are some of their responses:

1. Many appreciate the movie's showcasing of Pacific culture to the rest of the world.


"As a New Zealand-born Samoan, it gave me great pride to see a Disney film on the big screen with a strong Pasifika influence and flavor. It showcased Pasifika in general to the world as it wasn’t focused on a specific Pasifika country and its peoples, but it displayed and incorporated different Pasifika cultural dress, dance and songs of several Pasifika islands.

I liked how Moana was portrayed as a strong character who was family-orientated, as many of our Pasifika women are, with leadership skills and critical thinking. She showed bravery, compassion and resilience."


2. Some are deeply offended by the portrayal of Gramma Tala.


"Every island in the Pacific and each Polynesian is different. To throw all Polynesians in one pot was wrong and offensive. For them to portray Gramma Tala as the 'crazy' lady of the village was SO offensive. Why was she 'crazy?' Because she held on to cultural practices and told stories of her people? Because she didn’t have knowledge of 'Western' education? Good one, Disney. Screw Disney and their false narrative, their culture appropriation, and for thinking that they had a right to create a FAKE princess to speak for and portray my people."


3. Some praise Moana as an authentic representation of a Polynesian girl.


"Considering Disney did their best to include the heart of the Pacific and its culture, they did a great job. It helped others see who we are. I watched the opening movie with family. The big takeaway for this group was how the film portrayed the importance of family. Moana was the model of a real Poly – thick hair, not really petite, big eyes, and always running around barefoot! Maui: gotta love his hair and yes, most Polys do talk non-verbally which is what we saw Maui do a lot... using his eyebrows to answer."


4. Some believe Maui should be depicted as he is in the culture.


"The movie as a whole was curated and made really well, but as a high school student in Hawaii, we were shown Maui as a much different being. In Hawaiian thinking, Maui was NOT a big, grumpy, very large character. In fact, he was quite the opposite. Maui is shown as humble, strong and noble, like how we in Hawaii say, a 'Hawaiian Superman.'" —makenaiona

5. Some think Disney is improving in its treatment of various cultures.


"I am half Samoan and live in America. Moana was a wonderful movie to watch with my Samoan grandparents and aunt, and we all loved it. I think Disney has been getting progressively better at portraying different cultures. Moana includes linguistic elements and utilized actors from the cultures. While Disney may have bitten off more than they could chew, they were more respectful in their approach than they have been in the past."


6. Some believe since Maui was partially based on Dwayne Johnson's grandfather, the portrayal is not offensive.

a lil’ @Disney gem of a secret, my character Maui was partly inspired by my late grandfather, High Chief Peter Maivia of Samoa. #grateful

"Maui's design was based on photographs of The Rock's grandfather. Not the stereotypical body."


7. Many think the culture should be highlighted in contemporary films.


"Auli’i (the voice of Moana) went to my high school. Kamehameha is a private high school in Hawaii for students of Native Hawaiian descent. Movies like this are important for representation, but we also need films about Polynesians today. We’re still here, trying to perpetuate our culture in a colonized world. Our culture is not a lost artifact in a museum – it’s living and breathing."


8. Many view the movie as a source of pride for Pacific Islanders.


"I loved it! It was a proud moment for me when my family and I went to see it especially when they started singing in Samoan! I forever will be proud of my culture! I don’t think there was anything wrong with the movie! Loved the beginning to the end! I might’ve cried a little bit, but that’s okay!"


9. Some wish the movie centered on one specific island rather than fusing all Pacific cultures together.


"I had high hopes for this movie, and when I went to see it in the theater I had an overwhelming sense of pride. With that being said, I do feel like they could’ve done more. There’s so much confusion about where Moana is from. I’ve seen multiple comments from people that thought the culture was completely made up. I know they were trying to do us a favor by not placing her in a specific island like Tonga or Samoa, but they could’ve done so much more culturally if they did focus on one."


10. Some find a comforting sense of familiarity in the film.


"I’m Hawaiian. My mom was adopted in Oahu by a military couple and brought back to the mainland. I loved seeing a princess who looked like me as I went to a predominantly white school. Even though it came out when I was 26, I think I was so infatuated with something that innately felt familiar."


11. Some find the movie visually stunning but the plot a little boring.


"The computer animation was breathtaking, the musical score crushed it, and the voice actors represented our people well. I swelled with pride when I saw Chief Tui's pe'a and Moana's tuiga.

That being said, I did find the actual story lacking. It needed just a little more risk in its conflicts. The greater the risk, the greater and more satisfying the reward."


12. Some appreciate the blending of Pacific cultures but wish Maui were slender.


"In Maori culture, Maui was always a trickster. Slender and sneaky. In the movie, he was made to look completely different. Which was my only critique.

The movie as a whole is one of my favorite movies. The detailing alone in the animation is stunning. Considering they merged nearly all Pacific cultures including New Zealand, I feel they did well."


13. Many believe the old folks deserve more respect.


"All things considered with Disney, I think they did a pretty good job of trying to cover all their bases with the islands. I think they muddled some of it, but I don't think it was enough to dilute the main lessons they were trying to show with Moana and Maui. I did take some offense to Tala being written off as being 'crazy,' but that's a personal thing with me only because I don't like the old folks being treated that way. I don't really know if that lent anything to the story to begin with.

Better this story than Margaret Mead's disasterous portrayal."


14. Some wish the culture in Moana was explored more thoroughly.


"I’m a Pacific Islander. It was a nice movie, and I guess it made me a little proud to see some type of representation. But the culture is so much richer. They barely even tapped into it. But I guess it’s a start."


15. Some believe wayfinding is a traditionally male role.


"Moana should have been played by a man. Wayfinding is usually a man's job as they dunk their balls in the water to feel the current to make sure you're going the right way. (There's a special seat in the canoe where you can sit safely in the boat while also being able to feel the water.) You can't always see the stars so you mostly rely on the water."


16. Some enjoy the movie but believe Maui should have been portrayed as a warrior.


"As a proud Polynesian woman, it's not often that you see a film like Moana come out. It headlines our Pasifika culture, and it's lead by our Polynesian artists in the industry. Moana represented true Polynesian strength, determination, and pride.

As for Maui supposedly portraying how our Pasifika men look: yeah he was funny in the movie, but I'm sorry, they got his image all wrong. Our Polynesian men are LEAN, MEAN fierce-looking warriors. That's what Maui should have portrayed. The only good things about Maui were his hair and tattoos."


17. Some find Lilo and Stitch the better islander film.


"I’m a Pacific Islander, and it frankly didn’t do anything for me. It was neat to see a Disney princess that looks like me, but it wasn’t as good as I expected it to be. I didn’t find it offensive, and it was a fun representation for people who have no awareness of islander life. But as an actual islander, it was meh. Lilo and Stitch was more beautiful to me."


Note: Submissions have been edited for length and/or clarity.

Check out how BuzzFeed is celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month!

Victoria Reyes / BuzzFeed

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