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“Moana” in Maori a Hit in New Zealand—Why Not in Hawaiian?

A free translated version of Disney’s film, released to 30 New Zealand theaters, played to packed houses.


Disney Moana



In a masterful public relations stroke by Disney as well as a heartwarming repurposing of a film buffeted by charges of cultural appropriation, the blockbuster Moana took Maori-speaking New Zealand by storm last week.  


As reported in The New York Times, a writer and director who worked on the original $643-million-grossing film, Taika Waititi, initially approached Disney about translating the film before its release. Permission granted, a team of translators and sound technicians went to work. Taika’s sister, Tweedie Waititi, would end up producing the redubbed version, called Moana reo Maori. Free screenings at the end of Maori Language Week played to full houses, which included many immersion school students eager to see a feature film in Maori for the first time—and one without English subtitles. 


While the Times story briefly referenced the controversies that erupted over certain merchandise choices and instances of alleged cultural appropriation, it did not raise the question of any forthcoming versions in other Pacific Islander languages, including Hawaiian or Samoan. New Zealand has about 125,000 Maori speakers out of a population of 4.7 million, while Hawaiian speakers are estimated at 72,800 (based on a 5.6 percent finding by the Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism in 2014) out of our population of 1.3 million.


To read the complete story, click here.




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Honolulu Magazine December 2017
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