How far they’ll go

In late 2016, Disney released "Moana," a film centered around a young woman that befriends a demigod in her quest to save her home island. Photo courtesy of

The University of Northern Colorado’s Asian/Pacific American Student Services hosted a screening of the 2016 Disney film “Moana” on Tuesday in the Lindou Auditorium.

The screening was one of the last events to be featured in the Smithsonian “I Want the Wide American Earth” travelling exhibition, presented by the University Libraries and A/PASS. Beginning in February, this celebration of Asian and Pacific American culture and experiences has included the observation of the Lunar New Year and various panel discussions.

Alethea Stovall, the director of A/PASS, explained before the film how this particular screening would be in the Māori language. According to Stovall, communities in New Zealand approached the Disney company about creating a version of the film in their native language; this is because the culture and characters presented in “Moana” are likened to those in the Pacific Island region.

“It first premiered, I believe, last September,” Stovall said. “It has never been shown in the United States, so it’s exciting that UNC gets to be a part the the premier showing of ‘Moana’ in Māori.”

In order to give students a fully authentic experience, the film didn’t include any English subtitles, and in compliance with Disney’s request, no audio or video recording was allowed during the show. Stovall also invited the audience to sing along with the musical score throughout the screening.


After the film, Stovall initiated a discussion about what the film means to those that are from the Pacific Islands, calling upon two of her student colleagues, one junior and one senior, that are both from Hawaii. Both young women explained how growing up, they didn’t have any role models in a movie setting that looked like them and that they could relate to; thus, having a main character that is voiced by a Hawaiian actress, and having the film be translated into Māori, is huge in terms of representation.

A version of the film translated into Hawaiian is scheduled to come out in the fall.

Gail Kuroda, a UNC library employee, was also born and raised in the Pacific Island region and shared her thoughts during the discussion as well. According to Kuroda, Disney consulted their Oceanic Story Trust when making the film, however some critiques have risen regarding the film, specifically about the use of the name ‘Maui,’ instead of a fictionalized name. In “Moana,” Maui is the name of a demigod that befriends the title character, and has the ability to turn into various animals, including a hawk. This is also the source of another critique, as the character turns into a land bird as opposed to a sea bird, and is not paired with another female deity as is depicted in legends.

Stovall’s colleagues also mentioned how, while not specifically stated in the film, the character of Moana is not one specific ethnicity, and is instead a mix of over 100 different ethnicities. This specifically is something the two wanted the audience to know.

The “I Want the Wide American Earth” exhibition will conclude on April 7 with the Ha’aheo ‘O Hawai’i Club’s 27th Annual Lu’au in the UC Ballrooms.


Asian/Pacific American Student Services:

I Want the Wide American Earth:


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