Did Moana offended you? I can tell you a movie that won’t. Read about it here and watch the trailers!

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Last month I took my son to see Moana.  I know that doesn’t sound like it should be a full sentence but there was some build up to this situation.  Not only were we going to see a movie, not something we do every day, but his best friend was going to be there as well.  As you may know, when friends are involved in anything for a 5 year old the stakes go way up.  So not only were we going to a movie there was to be some social time, and my boy loves social time.  The plan was to meet his friend and his friends mom at the movie theatre, see the movie, and then play after.  This was one of the rare times I didn’t by tickets for the movie before I went.  Normally I use Fandango and just print the ticket when I arrive.  Later, I was kicking myself.  We got in line at the theater and my boy was really excited.  He had heard all about the movie from his friends and was really looking forward to seeing all the things that had only be described to him.  Then I looked up at the board with all the times and saw it happen.  The time beside our movie, changed to sold out.  I looked down at Max, back up at the board, and then back down at Max who was smiling up at me with the unknowing look of someone who had no idea how bad he was about to feel.  “Buddy.” I said.    “I’m really sorry but it looks like the movie sold out.”  Blink, blink.  “So let’s get our tickets.”  He said.  “My heart dropped.  No parents wants to have to explain bad news to their kids more than once.  It just feels worse every time you have to say it.  By the time I finished and he understood I could see what was about to happen.  Tears were already welling up.  We stepped out of line as he laid his head on my shoulder and cried.

This past week I went home early one day because I was sick.  I had no energy for anything but when one has kids one must do what needs to be done.  I suggested to Max that we watch a movie. What luck!  Moana was available to rent from ITunes.  So I pressed a button, received some instant gratification, and we snuggled up on the couch for viewing.  I was crying within the first ten minutes.  Max had no idea why I was getting so emotional, and truth be told neither did I right away.  There is one line in what I think was the first song in the movie, when Moana’s father, the chief of a Hawaiian village, sings, and I’m paraphrasing, “You will be the most important Chief of our village.”  That was what did it.  I was immediately moved.  I hadn’t even seen 15 minutes of the movie but I already knew this was taking me someplace resonant.  I knew this mostly because it had quickly reminded me of one of my favorite movies, a movie it was tied to by its examples of culture, family, and women.  As far as a Disney musical Moana is up there with the best of them in many ways, and though it might not be the best in its complexity, in some ways it far exceeds what other have done.  It doesn’t have a love story or really even an antagonist but it is filled with challenges that result in a journey that takes a girl, makes her a woman, and teaches her father, and the village, what a real leader can be.  The short version of the story is that Moana goes against her father’s wishes and sails past the reef, a symbol of safety, surrounding her island, so she can retrieve the heart of Te Feti, a green stone stolen by the Demi God Maui.  She must get the stone and return it from whence it came to stop an environmental catastrophe from enveloping her homeland.  The movie examines all if this with the talented lens of a Disney movie.  That being said, after it was over, and I had cried several times, I wanted to know more about the culture and how much appropriation had gone on.  It turns out there were quite a few liberties taken, in some cases to an insulting point to native Samoans.  Taking the movie on its own, doing no research., I never knew any of this.  Max and I still enjoyed it to its fullest as the story is presented.  The cast is rounded out by some very talented actors, some of whom are indigenous people.  Auli’l Cravalho as Moana, Rachel House as Gramma Tala, and Dwayne Johnson as Maui are all great in what they do.  That being said Maui is presented as a clown, a clown with abandonment issues, but still a clown, and storytelling wise, for a movie, I understand where that comes from; without it he is just that and there is no depth to the character at all.  Giving him a reason to be the way he is, and a very sweet one works for a movie like this.  However as a story about a particular culture I had to wonder what that meant to the actual people represented in the story.  It only took me a few minutes to find this article in Smithsonian that broke it down.  This is a quote:

“As my Native Hawaiian friend Trisha Kehaulani Watson-Sproat says, “Our men are better, more beautiful, stronger and more confident. As much as I felt great pride in the Moana character; as the mom of a Hawaiian boy, the Maui character left me feeling very hurt and sad. This is not a movie I would want him to see. This Maui character is not one I would want him to watch and think is culturally appropriate or a character he should want to be like.” Smithsonian, Dec 2016

So as much as there are great strengths to a movie like this, bending the culture to fit in a multiplex, can have a negative effect on those who actually represent the world presented.  When things like this are appropriated many suffer from how people see things afterwards and those of us outside of that world, might never know the difference.   If I push all of this aside, not easy, and look at the movie just as a movie, knowing it’s only goal is to entertain, it’s very good.  It has a strong woman in its lead, fun animation, and lessons I want my son to benefit from.   Still, for any movie that shows us a different culture and asks us to buy in to their idea of that world, I should check it out and see what’s missing so my kids get a full rounded idea of where things are coming from.

If you are interested in a story that presents a similar culture in all its realistic beauty, but still maintains the mythic idea that Moana has, watch Whale Rider.  Fair warning, this one is not for the little kids.  I would wait until you have a ten year old, maybe even twelve depending on your kids maturity level.  In a small village on the coast of New Zealand a tribe traces their ancestry to Paikea, a man who escaped death, when his canoe capsized, by riding to shore on the back of a whale.  Since that time thousands of years back every chief of this village has been a man who they say is an ancestor of Paikea.  Pai, an 11 year old girl in this tribe ruled by men, is convinced that she is supposed to be the next chief in the line of succession.  The only thing standing in her way is her grandfather, the person she loves most in the world, and who would never break with tradition.

The experience of watching Whale Rider is one of understanding where cultures, families, and society meet.  It is to remember that as our global culture gets larger we must still recognize there are smaller ones desperate to maintain their ways, while still being unsure of how to move forward in a world that does not outwardly support them.  That sometimes those cultures must take an ever painful step in a new direction, and though that can step can seem jarring, it can also be graceful, and gentle, making sure what is needed for generations to understand the past, is also there to maintain the future.  That if the tears come before, durning, or after the story, we should understand why they are shed and for whom we are crying.

Moana

Grown-ups:4 Stars (4 / 5)
Kids:5 Stars (5 / 5)

Whale Rider (Older kids!)

Grown-ups:5 Stars (5 / 5)
Kids:5 Stars (5 / 5)

 

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