There has been much controversy around the Disney animated film, Moana, and its colonial depiction of an amorphous “Polynesia” that flattens out differences between Polynesian cultures, nation-states, and geographies.  The film also continues the willful ignorance of colonial and post-colonial situations in Polynesia, including genocide and settler colonialism, and environmental destruction caused by militarism, climate change, and corporate industries like tourism, fishing, logging, and agriculture.  This syllabus is only a partial list of readings, criticism, and historical and cultural analyses, and does not claim to be authoritative or complete.  Although it centers on Disney’s Moana, the list of readings consider contemporary Polynesia as a geo-political entity that has been carved up by colonial enterprises since the 18th century.

I will try to update this syllabus as newer entries become available, and of course, as readers point to other work being done on Polynesia and Moana‘s reception.


Facebook: Mana Moana: We Are Moana, We Are Maui

Mana Moana wordpress blog

Articles on Moana:

 Chinen, Nate. “How Moana Uses Polynesian Myths to Create a Disney Story.” N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.

Cho, Kassy. “Someone Noticed That ‘Moana’ Basically Has The Same Plot As ‘The Lord Of The Rings.’” BuzzFeed. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 June 2017.

Constante, Agnes. “Critics Accuse Disney of ‘Culture Theft’ ahead of ‘Moana’ Release.” NBC News 18 Nov. 2016. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.

Diaz, Vicente. “Don’t Swallow (or be Swallowed by) Disney’s ‘Culturally Authenticated Moana.’” Indian Country Today Media 13 Nov. 2016. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.
Gilio-Whitaker, Dina. “Disney Refines Its Cultural Competence in Moana, But Bigger Questions Remain.” Indian Country Today Media 9 Nov. 2016. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.
Godfery, Morgan. “Disney’s Moana Isn’t Progressive — It’s Dangerous.” Movie Time Guru. N.p., 17 Jan. 2017. Web. 30 June 2017.
Grandinetti, Tina. “Moana Might Be Great for Representation but It’s Not All Heartwarming for Hawaii.” The Guardian 12 Jan. 2017. The Guardian. Web. 30 June 2017.

Kaʻili, Tēvita O. “Goddess Hina: The Missing Heroine from Disneyʼs Moana.” The Huffington Post. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.

Kaʻili, Tēvita O. “The Demigod Maui: Modern Day Lessons from Ancient Tales of Oceania.” Huffington Post. N.p., 15 July 2016. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.

Kelly, Anne Keala. “The Unflattering Cultural Poaching Of ‘Moana’ Is A Threat.” Civil Beat News 4 Oct. 2016. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.

Ngata, Tina. “Maui ‘Skin Suit’ Isn’t The End Of ‘Moana’ Trouble.” Civil Beat News 27 Sept. 2016. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.

—. “Disney in the Maara.” The Non-Plastic Maori. N.p., 19 Sept. 2016. Web. 21 Aug. 2017.
—. “For Whom The Taika Roars (An Open Letter to Taika Waititi).” The Non-Plastic Maori. N.p., 24 Oct. 2014. Web. 21 Aug. 2017.
—. “Table Manners.” The Non-Plastic Maori. N.p., 28 Mar. 2016. Web. 21 Aug. 2017.
—. “WTH Do You Mean, Bicultural?The Non-Plastic Maori. N.p., 6 Aug. 2016. Web. 21 Aug. 2017.

Rika, Arieta Tegeilolo Talanoa Tora. “Disney Pulls ‘Brownface’ Moana Costume.” BBC News. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.

Wallace, Don. “‘Moana’ Is Turning Culture into Cash—Here’s Why It Matters for Hawai‘i.” Web. 6 Dec. 2016.
Wolfgramm, Richard. “Moana and Resistance Spectating.” Medium. N.p., 23 Nov. 2016. Web. 6 Dec. 2016.


Perez, Craig Santos. “An Open Letter from Two Oceanic Story Trust Polynesians.” N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.


Sulia.  “Moana Review by an Actual Polynesian Person.” onenutman. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 June 2017.
Tina Ngata.  “Te Reo Māori WON’T Fix Moana.” The Non-Plastic Maori. N.p., 12 June 2017. Web. 30 June 2017.


Kelly, Anne Keala. Noho Hewa. N.p., 2008. Film.

Winner: Special Jury Prize, Pacific International Documentary Film Series 2010, Tahiti

Winner: Best Documentary Film, Hawai‘i International Film Festival 2008

Winner: Grand Festival Award for Documentary, Video and Film Festival Berkeley 2011

Hamer, Dean, and Joe Wilson. Kumu Hina. N.p., 2014. Film.

Winner: Independent Lens Audience Award 2014-15

Available on Netflix


Goodyear-Kaopua, Noelani, Ikaika Hussey, and Erin Kahunawaika’ala Wright, eds. A Nation Rising: Hawaiian Movements for Life, Land, and Sovereignty. Durham: Duke University Press Books, 2014. Print.

Kauanui, J. Kēhaulani. Hawaiian Blood: Colonialism and the Politics of Sovereignty and Indigeneity. Durham: Duke University Press Books, 2008. Print.

Osorio, Jonathan K. K. Dismembering Lahui: A History of the Hawaiian Nation to 1887. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2002. Print.

Silva, Noenoe K. Aloha Betrayed: Native Hawaiian Resistance to American Colonialism. Durham: Duke University Press Books, 2004. Print.

Tengan, Ty P. Kāwika. Native Men Remade: Gender and Nation in Contemporary Hawai’i. 1st edition. Durham: Duke University Press Books, 2008. Print.

Trask, Haunani-Kay, “Lovely Hula Hands.” Manjioca: Uma Brasilian Feminista… N.p., 12 Sept. 2008. Web. 29 Nov. 2016. (Excerpted from her book, From a Native Daughter. See below)

Trask, Haunani-Kay. From a Native Daughter: Colonialism and Sovereignty in Hawaii. Rev Sub edition. Honolulu: Latitude 20, 1999. Print.