There have been many requests and petitions thrown at the Walt Disney Company over the years, but the latest is picking up steam and could bring about some worry. An online petition has been started and is asking Disney to drop its trademark on the phrase “Hakuna Matata” from their animated classic The Lion King. The petition isn’t just looking for freedom to use the phrase, but also accuses Disney of “colonialism and robbery.”
Zimbabwean activist Shelton Mpala started the petition on Change.org and as of Wednesday afternoon, it has already had more than 62,000 people sign it. It’s titled “Disney robs Swahili of ‘Hakuna Matata’,” and aims at getting the company to stop trademarking African languages.
The phrase was made popular in Disney’s 1994 animated classic, The Lion King, and also the title of a hit song from the movie. Translated, “Hakuna Matata” means “no trouble” or “no worries,” which is the message that Timon and Pumbaa are trying to get across to Simba.
Mpala spoke with CNN and told them that he started the petition for a specific reason.
“…to draw attention to the appropriation of African culture and the importance of protecting our heritage, identity, and culture from being exploited for financial gain by third parties.
“This plundered artwork serves to enrich or benefit these museums and corporations and not the creators or people it’s derived from.”
The message of the petition is coming across to many, though, as the signatures keep adding up.
As of this writing, Disney has not yet commented on the petition which is calling for the freeing of “Hakuna Matata,” but that isn’t surprising.
This summer, Disney is releasing a live-action remake of The Lion King, which is directed by Jon Favreau and hits theaters on July 19, 2019. It will feature the voices of Donald Glover, Beyonce Knowles-Carter, James Earl Jones, Keegan-Michael Key, Seth Rogen, and many others.
“Hakuna Matata” is expected to be a part of this film, just as it was in the animated version.
— New York Post (@nypost) December 18, 2018
Liz Lenjo is a Kenyan intellectual property and entertainment lawyer who is not in agreement with the message of Mpala’s petition. She doesn’t think that Disney has done anything wrong and feels as if the Internet is making a lot more of this whole thing than there actually is.
She said that Disney “has not stolen anything” and that there is really no need to be angry at the company over the trademark.
“The use of ‘Hakuna Matata’ by Disney does not take away the value of the language. East Africans or whoever speaks Swahili worldwide are not restricted from using the phrase.
“The conversation on the internet has been blowing up because of a misconception and misunderstanding around intellectual property law, the ethos behind intellectual property law and the various regimes of protection.”
When any company has something that is profitable, they’re going to trademark it to make sure that anything earned off of its use is theirs. That is what The Walt Disney Company did with “Hakuna Matata” from The Lion King, and there is a good chance they won’t bat an eye at this petition. For now, the signatures will likely continue to accumulate, but Disney will probably carry on with no worries.