“I am not a princess”: Navigating Mana Wahine in Disney’s Moana

Nicola Hyland


Moana is a Disney heroine like no Other¾ a protofeminist South Seas protagonist who is neither princess, nor fairy, but an assertive, young, female leader. She embodies critical traits of mana wahine, while quashing myths about the subservience and sexualisation of young brown women.The representation of the Disney character Moana has been critically (and ironically) overshadowed by the 2016 film’s contentious representation of pan-Polynesian deity, Maui. Drawing on the Māori feminist discourse of mana wahine, this essay considers how Moana, while only two-dimensional, signifies an alternative and empowering performativity for Oceanic women. I argue that in shifting the contentious alignment of Oceanic female bodies with the land to an affinity with the ocean, the film offers a useful counter-trope to the passive dusky maiden. This analysis is self-reflexive; unpacking the particular looking relations of a contemporary bicultural feminist and how an “educated” response to this text was unsettled by unexpected affect.


Mana wahine; Moana; Indigenous feminisms; Oceania' Pacific performance; Māori women

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