Monsoon Subeditor Mitiana Arbon reflects on the controversies of Disney’s upcoming film Moana and its French language changes.
The release of the trailer for Disney’s upcoming film Moana has brought with it a mixture of polarising opinions about representation amongst Polynesian communities. Recent debates on the representation of the demi-god Maui have gained particular traction through the sharing of a meme by Samoan footballer Eliota Fuimaono Sapolu on Facebook, and a similarly scathing critique by New Zealand Labour MP Jennifer Teresia Salesa, highlighting the negetaive stereotyping of Polynesians in the media.
Despite the vibrancy of discussions around the characters and Polynesian culture that can be so far gleaned from the film, the anglo-centric media has yet to engage with other language debates. Similar discussions on cultural representation and inclusion have been raised amongst French Pacific Islander communities in French Polynesia, Wallis and Futuna and New Caledonia, and also their large cultural diaspora in France.
Of particular note for French speaking Pacific Islanders is the total lack of Polynesian in Disney France’s Moana. While we have only heard Maui so far in the trailer, the French version is devoid of a Pacific Islander tone, with the current voicing in French thought to be that of Frantz Confiac. A French dubber of African heritage, Frantz Confiac is well known for his voicing of pre-dominantly African-American actors such as Terry Crews, Orlando Jones, Courtney Vance, Tyler Perry and Tracey Morgan.
As the French tend to dub, rather than use subtitles, over the original language, it is paramount that Disney should hold the same level of care across all its language versions, and not just solely pandering to the primarily anglo-orientated audience. Unlike Disney’s praised attempt to include English speaking Pacific Islanders through an open casting call for Moana, that saw the Hawaiian Auli’i Cavalho and the Samoan Dwayne Johnson cast as Moana and Maui, no such effort has been taken up by Disney France.
Following the release of the official Moana trailer last month, many French Pacific Islanders took to social media to express their anger at the lack of inclusion by Disney France, arguing that a French Polynesian should voice Maui and Moana in the same way as the English version does. This even included the launch of a petition on change.org asking for Disney to give the role of Maui to a Polynesian. The petition argues that there is no excuse for not casting a Polynesian as Maui and also surely that of Moana as well (whose voice is yet to be heard).
Some French Polynesians, such as Yves Edouard Malakai and the Tahitian born singer, music producer and model Ken Carlter, have even gone as far as producing versions of the trailer dubbed by themselves to show how a French Polynesian Maui could sound (see below) with a French Polynesian voicing and accent.
However this is not the only significant change to the Moana film, with Disney France actually chaging the title of the film from Moana to Vaiana: La Légende du Bout du Monde (Vaiana: The Legend from the End of the Earth). At one point it was even going to be called La Princesse du Bout du Monde (The Princess from the End of the Earth).
While the name change isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it does create a little linguistic confusion. The name Vaiana itself can be understood in Tahitian as mean vai, or ‘water’ and ana, ‘cave’. This however clashes when you consider that her last name Waialiki contains the Hawaiian/Maori cognate word wai also meaning water.
Disney’s alteration of film and character names is not an uncommon occurrence for French versions of English films. With past movie name changes including the likes of Finding Nemo that became Le Monde de Nemo (The World of Nemo) despite the Quebec French language version remainining Trouver Nemo (Finding Nemo). However the swap from Moana to Vaiana was claimed to be due to possible trademark issues that the name posed in Europe. With Disney Spain tweeting that “The ‘Moana’ mark is registered in Spain and in some European countries. So the film ‘Moana’, will be Vaiana.”
Other commentators have taken a more critical position, suggesting that the change to Vaiana may actually be an attempt to distance and prevent confusion of the character with the already famous Italian porn star, actress, writer and cofounder of the Love Party of Italy, Moana Pozzi, which has been cited as the reason for the films rebranding as ‘Oceania’ in Italian.
Considering that France has a strong Pacific presence and cultural ties in the region – through its overseas collectivities of French Polynesia, Wallis & Futuna and New Caledonia – it seems strange that Disney would not follow the same stringent inclusive attitude that it has taken for the English version; that there are a high number of Tahitians, Marquesans, Wallisian and Futunan throughout France, there is really no excuse. While we are yet to hear the voice of further characters, one can only hope that they will change Maui, or at least try to include the voice of French Pacific Islanders in other roles.