The Importance of Moana

The Importance of Moana

Marielle Ariete, Cactus Writer

When I was younger, my favorite Disney princess was Princess Jasmine from Aladdin. Why, do you ask? Well, to put it simply, it was because she looked like me. Yes, she was fearless, strong, and intelligent, but she also had dark hair and thick eyebrows. She had tan skin and a nose that curved in a different way than the other princesses, and people found her beautiful because of that. Although I was Filipino and she was heavily implied to be Middle Eastern, I felt drawn to her. Before I was even aware of what representation meant, it mattered to me.

Children often latch onto characters they admire and relate to. When I was younger, all I could relate to in terms of looks were Jasmine and Pocahontas with their darker skin, and Mulan with her being from a traditional Asian family. With the exception of Disney’s first black princess, Tiana from Princess and the Frog (which came out when I was long out of my ‘Princess Stage’), it was hard for me to relate to the other princesses like Ariel from The Little Mermaid, a redhead with a button nose, or Cinderella, a stunning blonde with blue eyes.

Disney’s Moana was released to DVD on March 7th, and I watched it with my four nieces. When one of them came up to me — four years old and eyes shining with pure giddiness — and said, “Moana looks like me!” I was reminded of exactly how I felt about Princess Jasmine.

Moana, with her wild, curly hair and tanned skin. Moana, with her big brown eyes and a body type that was not slender and sensual, but strong and chubby-cheeked. She was exactly who I was looking for as a child. Her story is also different, there is no love interest or any urgency for marriage. Her sole mission in the film is to save her family and her people. Her biggest worry was if she would be a responsible enough chief for her village. There’s nothing wrong with a princess who yearns for her first love, but there’s something refreshing about a Disney princess’s story not even mentioning the need for another’s affection.

Moana is even more important to the Polynesian children who see themselves in her, bravely sailing across the Pacific Ocean and saving her people. Auli’i Cravalho, the sixteen year old Polynesian actress behind the voice of Moana, grew up on the same tales of Maui that Moana did. She is an example of a Polynesian child who was waiting for an opportunity to connect with a Disney Princess who was just like her, and she got just that. Through her, other children from Pacific Islands finally have a princess they can say looks like them.

How a princess, or any Disney character for that matter, looks like from the outside is not the most important aspect of the character, but it is one of the most important factors in representation. Role models help children decide who they want to be in the future, and if my nieces want to be like Moana when they grow up, I’m not stopping them!