Disney’s next film will feature a princess named Moana, and some members of the Asian and Pacific Islander community are thrilled.
Moana, which is set to be released in November 2016, tells the story of a teenager who sails the waters of the ancient South Pacific world of Oceania in an ancestral mission. Along the way she encounters adventure entwined with fascinating island folklore.
Polynesia is a region of the Pacific Ocean where the easternmost parts of the three large island groups lie. This includes French Polynesia, Samoa, the Marquesas Islands, and Hawaii.
In Seattle, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islanders make up 0.7 percent of the population.
“The next Disney movie got the baddest Polynesian chick Moana as the main character,” said Tim Chantarangsu, better known by his YouTube name Timothy De La Ghetto, in a Facebook post on October 9. “Talofa, baby!” he wrote.
The Thai American comedian’s post received more than 35,000 Likes, was shared almost seven thousand times and was bombarded with positive comments praising Disney for spotlighting Polynesian culture.
Keilani Afalava, a student at the University of Washington in charge of the Polynesian Outreach Program for the Polynesian Student Alliance (PSA), also shared the post on her Facebook timeline.
“I’m so excited for Moana,” Afalava said. “I think it’s a great way to spread our Polynesian culture through media to people all over the world. Not many people know what Polynesian even is these days, so it’s amazing that a Disney princess now holds the Polynesian title.”
The new princess will also be voiced by 14-year-old Native Hawaiian Auli’i Cravalho, a fact that fills Afalava with pride.
”Poly representation is definitely not something you come across often,” Afalava said. “Not many Polynesians are represented in media, in high-paying careers or upper-level education. This is a big deal.”
This is also a big deal to Julian Imran Rokonaki, who finds it difficult to remain close to his culture away from home.
“Most of my years growing up were spent in the southern hemisphere of the world, so I know every aspect of cultural, traditional, and historical background there is to where I originated.”
Rokonaki was born in Invercargill, New Zealand and raised in the Fiji Islands.
“If I am in Fiji, then very much so I’ll be attached to [Polynesian culture] but I think being far away it’s a bit difficult,” Rokonaki said. “The closest I can think of is buying groceries from the Polynesian store twice every month and cooking up a traditional meal at home.”
Seeing aspects of his culture represented on the big screen excites him, even though he considers himself too old to go watch animated movies.
“I’m sure it’s exciting for all the young children,” Rokonaki said. “I think this movie, it will show bits and pieces of traditional customs. It will give new viewers that feeling of the South Pacific.”
“Talofa means welcome,” Afalava said, and like Rokonaki and Dela Ghetto, she welcomes Moana and more media representation of Polynesian culture with open arms.