Before Criticizing Disney…


Now that Moana is edging ever closer to its release date, more footage (including the official trailer!) is being revealed, and merchandise is now out. And of course, the controversy ball is rolling.

The now pulled costume for Maui included brown skin and tattoos, and of course, a lot of people weren’t happy about it. The argument is that it allows non-Polynesian children to partake in ‘polyface’.

I’m not going to make any excuses for the costume, but what bothers me is that, with this simple mistake, people are frothing at the mouth and saying that ALL merchandise for the movie is bad and that Disney is exploiting Pacific Islanders and commodifying their culture and bodies, and that Disney is a Big Bad Racist Capitalist Machine TM.

This…upsets me.

Now, I’m not going to tell Pacific Islanders and Polynesians to see the film when they’re not comfortable doing so. They have a right not to support the film if they choose so.

But I hate this assumption that Disney is this monolithic AI with no thought process. Like nobody realizes that Disney is a HUGE company made up of many different divisions and hundreds (thousands?) of workers. The people who made Moana are not the same people who made the merch for Moana, who aren’t the same people who distribute and finance the film. Lumping them all together is disingenuous.

Furthermore…what is up with this assumption that this movie was ONLY made to exploit Pacific Islanders? That is fundamentally untrue. John Musker and Ron Clements wanted to make this film for a long time. They were inspired by Polynesian artwork and history and wanted to tell a story about it. They got together with hardworking animators, artists, and storytellers and consulted with actual Polynesian people (forming an Oceanic Story Trust) to make this film as culturally sensitive and enriching as they possibly can. And they went out of their way to have a majority Polynesian cast. Yet somehow this is lost to a lot of critics. The filmmakers aren’t real people, they’re cogs in a capitalist machine. And the Polynesians involved with the creative process? They either don’t exist, or somehow are too ‘wealthy’ or brainwashed or some bullshit and don’t matter.

And this whole “you can’t buy the merch, any merch” ideology is really harmful. Sure, brown children aren’t allowed to have toys of people that at least partially resemble them because you say so. Sure, girls who may feel empowered with Moana can’t have dolls of her because you say so. Sure, heavier set kids can’t have toys of Maui because you said so. Because you, an adult, think that Disney is an evil capitalist machine that only represents people when it makes them money. You can absolutely criticize how they only continue to market white and animal led movies (*side-eyes how Frozen got marketed do death for years but Big Hero 6 is struggling to get more merch in stores even though they’re both popular and successful*), but that doesn’t mean you can just say that nobody should buy the merch because it ‘doesn’t matter in the long run’ and that it’s not important to fight for more representation. For a lot of children, characters like Moana are going to be so important.

At this point, what really bothers me is that it’s really obvious that, no matter what Disney does, it’s never going to be good enough. People will complain and make wild accusations without doing any research (a lot of people were making assumptions about Big Hero 6 without reading into the making of the film to call it racist) and turn around and excuse other animation studios for doing the most basic progressive thing. I’m not saying people should like or support Disney if they don’t want to, but they have to stop acting like they genuinely care about Disney getting better when they clearly don’t, or try to make other people feel guilty for wanting to see a damn film. That’s all I’m going to say about this for now. I’m just tired of having to deal with so much inanity before a movie I’ve been anticipating comes out. It’s tiring and it goes absolutely nowhere.

On an endnote, this is my 100th post! To prep me for Moana’s release, I’ll do reviews of John Musker/Ron Clements movies and/or the Disney Revival!

Author: Laura Alexander

My name is Laura, I use they/them pronouns, and I'm a college student with Asperger's currently enrolled at the Social Service Worker Program at Sheridan College. I have a passion for film and animation, social issues, and helping others, all of which will be featured on The Flying Red Robot blog. Please read the about page before commenting or following. "Big Hero 6" is my favourite movie.