Disney’s Moana and the portrayal of moral personhood in Hollywood’s Pacific (1932-2016)

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The goal of this essay is not to build an argument about the commercial basis or ideological functions of Hollywood movies. My goal is exegetical or methodological. I want to shift the critique of Hollywood’s representations of Pacific peoples and cultures towards how they are and are not depicted as moral persons, the meaning of which I will detail below. I begin by introducing the concept of the moral person in social anthropology and in the work of the Canadian literary critic, Northrop Frye. I then examine three Hollywood movies, Rain (1932) and Blue Hawaii (1961) in which the moral personhood of Pacific Islanders is reduced and marginalized while Western protagonists are foregrounded, although in different ways. Lastly, I discuss Disney’s Moana (2016), a movie which excludes Western characters altogether by focusing on the adventures of a pre-contact Polynesian girl. Moana is able to do so, I propose, because it is an animated musical.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)73-84
Number of pages12
JournalJournal de la Societe des Oceanistes
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Societe des Oceanistes. All rights reserved.


  • Durkheim
  • Fortes
  • Hollywood movies
  • Moana
  • Moral personhood
  • Northrop Frye
  • Pacific people and culture


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