Disney Under Fire For ‘Fat-Shaming’ Polynesian Character In The Film ‘Moana’

Critics are up in arms over a starring character in the Disney film scheduled for release in November of this year. The film, Moana, is about a pair of friends overcoming obstacles. The title character is a typical Disney Princess, thin and beautiful, and the first of Polynesian descent. However, her side-kick, Maui, who is described as a “demi-god,” is a Polynesian man of large body size, and he is depicted as obese. Although half of many cultures are now obese, this has angered many people, and there is a tremendous outcry over the characterization of Maui.

Moana Official Concept Art

According to New Zealand politician Jenny Salesa, the decision to make Maui obese was an abhorrent one on the part of Disney.

“When we look at photos of Polynesian men and women from the last 100-200 years, most of our people were not overweight and this negative stereotype of Maui is just not acceptable. No thanks to Disney. The environment our kids grow up in and what they are exposed to have a role to play. Disney movies are very influential on our children. It is great that Moana is the lead. However, it is disappointing that Maui, one of our beloved historical ancestors from hundreds of years ago, who was a very strong man [and] a skilled navigator, is depicted to be so overweight in this kids’ movie. “

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson

Dwayne Johnson, perhaps the most popular actor of Polynesian descent, is in tremendous shape and far from obese. He also feels the representation of Maui, as far as looks, are unfair and a poor image for Polynesians. But many other people wholly disagree that obesity is a shameful thing. A Facebook user stated that she found the outcry more troubling than Maui’s representation as an obese Polynesian.

“All people come in different sizes and shapes. They are just showing a different body type that some Polynesians do have. Sorry it is not the stereotypical one you dream up … not all of them can be that perfectly chiseled. Maui can be strong and bigger.”

Karla Ivankovich, PhD, an adjunct professor of psychology at the University of Illinois, Springfield, says it is not the only instance of Disney fat-shaming a character, particularly a character of a minority, according to Yahoo.

“Some time ago, there were reports of a collaboration between Disney and Blue Cross and Blue Shield. The intention was to help children make better lifestyle choices. The campaign featured apps and websites including ‘buff, virtuous’ characters Will Power and Callie Stenics squaring off against nemeses like the lazy, grotesque Lead Bottom and the transparently-named Glutton. Unfortunately the efforts were not as well received as BCBS or Disney had hoped. They were actually viewed as offensive, discriminatory, and served to ‘pick up where the schoolyard bully left off…Proponents of ‘fat-shaming’ think that obese individuals would be best served if they could be given a ‘dose’ of shame. They hold the belief that the individual would be more likely to drop unhealthy weight as a means of gaining societal acceptance. Recent research suggests that weight stigma precipitates weight gain and increased calorie intake as well as other psychological correlates, such as lower self-esteem and depression.”

However, like some other viewers, Ivankovich doesn’t find anything particularly harrowing about the way Maui is portrayed and points out that appearances aren’t all that make a person who he or she is.

“When I saw the character, I did not see a fat man. I saw a strong man who would easily fit the male stereotype of hunter, gatherer, and provider. Now, when I read what’s out there, I can see how some might be offended — but it’s drawing inferences that not everyone else might share.”

In fact, some viewers may be pleased that a character is being depicted that is not lean and muscular. Maui’s depiction shows that good people can be obese, which is the opposite of fat-shaming and actually encourages acceptance. Readers, how do you view this situation? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

[Image credit to Disney Productions]