There has been a strong reaction from the Polynesian community over the way the mythical demigod Maui is portrayed in the film Moana, after Disney released a trailer for the animated movie.
The film set in ancient Oceania follows a Polynesian princess named Moana, who sets sail in search of a fabled island — during her journey she teams up with Maui, a character inspired by one of the great heroes of Pacific mythology.
But while Maui is voiced by actor and former wrestler Dwayne The Rock Johnson, Disney’s version of the demigod has offended some members of the Polynesian community, who say he appears overweight.
“We all have Maui in our folklore, for example in New Zealand, here the Maori depict him as the person who fished up the North Island,” said Will Ilolahia, president of the Pacific Islands Media Association.
“I’m Tongan and we have a similar story of Maui fishing up the outer islands, so he’s held in high regard as a person of strength and a person of magnitude.”
But Mr Ilolahia is concerned that the film’s depiction of Maui is based on unhealthy stereotypes of Polynesian men.
“Congratulations to Hollywood for actually wanting to tell a story of our area, of the Pacific, but unfortunately … the slightly obese character, that kind of upset me because that does not depict the character that we understand in out folklore as Maui,” he said.
“They’ve picked a deity that’s quite important to our culture — Maui is very significant — and then to depict him in that character in regards to his physical appearance is actually an insult for our communities.”
Online reaction to Maui character mixed
Tongan-New Zealander Isoa Kavakimotu took to YouTube to weigh in on the debate, in a video that has been viewed more than 56,000 times.
“Whenever I look at Maui I do not see an obese man who’s had too much to eat at his aunty’s house and needs to stop eating immediately,” he said.
“I see a demigod who looks like he’s physically capable of fishing up the islands of our ancestors, physically looks like he slowed down the sun that was moving too fast, he looks like he can fight off monsters.”
‘Maui isn’t fat’: Isoa Kavakimotu
Not everyone agrees though, with Samoan rugby union player Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu writing on Facebook that Disney’s Maui looks like “after he fished up the Islands, he deep fried” and ate them.
Will Ilolahia said the issue of obesity in the Pacific is serious, and in ancient Oceania, traditional lifestyles were much healthier.
“Anyone just has to pick up pictures or drawings of all our people, pre-European and there definitely weren’t any obese people at all,” he said.
“It is unfortunately a stereotype and it is based on what the Americans see Polynesians as, because obesity is actually a recent phenomena amongst our people because of the junk food we’re forced to eat from the first world.”