2 Jan 2017

Disney's Moana makes waves in NZ

9:48 pm on 2 January 2017

Disney film Moana has faced criticism for its portrayal of Pacific culture and identity, but some movie-goers have changed their minds after seeing it.

Moana trailer

Now that people have seen more than just the film's trailer, some have formed new opinions about Moana. Photo: Supplied

Ahead of its release, some feared the potential for cultural appropriation and the portrayal of Māui came under fire for reinforcing negative stereotypes about Polynesian obesity.

Now that people have seen the film in its entirety and not just the trailer, some have formed new opinions.

The film follows the chief of Motunui's daughter, Moana, as she journeys across the Pacific to find the demi-god Māui, to convince him to return the heart of Te Fiti in order to heal the land.

The crops on her island are failing and the fishermen return with empty nets so Moana decides to take action.

At Manukau Event Cinemas in South Auckland, Rasmussen Numanga and his wife were taking their three daughters to see the film.

Mr Numanga said he and his family connected with the movie because it was part of his ancestry.

"Well this is a good wake-up call for [our children] to know that these are their roots as well.

"Now that they're young and they're still learning about their roots, this will be fun for them."

Zion Petone, 14, took his younger sisters to the same session.

He said he was excited to watch the movie because it was based on his people.

"People think, just because we're Pacific Islanders, we're bad people. But in the movie, it shows how good we are."

Writer and mother Karlo Mila took her two sons to see it soon after it came out.

Her first thought as she left the cinema was that she was not going to apologise for liking the film, she said.

She had always been proud of being tāngata moana to the region, descending from Tonga and having ancestry in Samoa and living in Aotearoa.

"I felt OK about how Disney validated [our culture] and put that forward ... I don't think they made me feel stink."

Mrs Mila said one of her sons rated the film a 10 out of 10 and the other a seven because of the way Māui was depicted.

"Māui was a little bit problematic but we could tell that right from the start and there were lots of us that jumped all over that," she said.

"That was a problematic caricature that chest-beating ugga-bugga savage-type character in that three minute trailer that made us all freak out.

"We were like, 'Oh my gosh if you're going to do that to one of our beloved demi-gods then what the hell is the rest of the movie going to be like?'"

Maeva Becerra, nine, enjoyed Moana but not everything got past her.

"I liked the characters, I also liked how traditional it was and it was really funny.

"I actually recognised the pātē [Samoan slit drum] Moana banged but sadly they called it a drum."

Former Manu Samoa and Auckland Blues rugby player Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu, who is also a father, said the film should not be relied on to teach the next generation about Pacific culture.

He said parents and family still had a responsibility to tell their stories.

"I just hope people flesh out the fakeness.

"[Children should] ask about the navigation and the elders should spend time with their kids... story-tell and help develop the ability to perceive your own future and keep our histories alive."

He hoped the film would open people's minds and if someone Pacific liked the film or not, it did not mean they were more or less Polynesian for it.

Moana was released in New Zealand just over a week ago, on Boxing Day.

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs