The upcoming Disney film Moana will star a Polynesian princess for the first time in the franchise’s history — but, rather than be excited, many people are complaining that the film’s portrayal of a Polynesian demigod character is culturally insensitive because he’s too fat.
According to MauiNow.com, Polynesian politicians are among those speaking out. For example, New Zealand Labour MP Jenny Salesa (who is of Polynesian heritage) complained on Facebook that the movie having a fat demigod will actually harm children.
“It is great that Moana is the lead,” she continued. “However, it is disappointing that Maui, one of our beloved historical ancestors from hundreds of years ago, who was a very strong man and a skilled navigator, is depicted to be so overweight in this kids’ movie.”
In an interview with MauiNow.com, a University of Hawaii graduate student Oriana Leao — who is working on a thesis titled “Misrepresentation of Kanaka Maoli Women in American Cinema” — said that she basically agrees that we should be offended.
Here’s the thing: Aren’t people also constantly complaining that movie characters are not fat enough? In fact, just recently, an advocacy group called ProjectKnow declared that even cartoon superheroes should be fatter, because — apparently despite the fact that fighting crime, much like “scooping up entire islands” would probably get you into pretty good shape — not seeing enough fat cartoon superheroes is (you guessed it!) hurting children.
Gee, it’s almost like there’s no way to win.
Now, not everyone agrees with people like Salesa. For example, Samoan illustrator Michel Mulipola defended Disney’s decision in a now-viral Facebook post on the grounds that the character’s size fits with his personality.
“As an illustrator who works in an industry similar to animation, I understand the meaning of shapes and silhouettes when designing characters,” he wrote. “If you study animation, you’ll notice that each character has a distinctive ’shape’ to their design to not only distinguish who is who but also to portray personalities through their look.”Along with the post, Mulipola included a graphic breaking down how Maui’s body type is consistent with what the body of a character with his personality and role would usually look like, regardless of race:
“I’m not phased by the way Maui is designed in this film,” he writes. “In Polynesian mythology, Maui is the demi-god who inspired many myths and legends.”
“In this film, he would of done a lot of those amazing feats but he’ll be a blow hard [sic] braggart who can be a bit of an idiot.”
Honestly, his explanation seems both logical and well-thought-out. But who needs thinking when you can just get angry instead?
— Katherine Timpf is a reporter for National Review Online.