Writing about World Music

Section X, Fall 2016

Authenticity in Disney’s Moana

My post is both a follow up from another post and based on this npr article


This article chronicles Disney’s production of the musical score of Moana, the most recent Disney princess movie about Oceania. The director Ron Clements has been working since 1970 with Disney, and has worked with Disney after their rut. Their hit The Little Mermaid included music, and the animation with music has been the framework for Disney films ever since. Alan Menken and Howard Ashman were working on Broadway, and Disney’s success on Broadway can be attributed to this.  This time around Disney has picked Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of broadway hit Hamilton. He hails from the Caribbean and is very focused on the authenticity of the music. The creators of the music have done lots of research and studying on the music of Oceania and some native artists even appear on the musical score of the new movie.  “The studio has taken flak in the past for appropriating other cultures in misguided — and sometimes insulting — ways” so this time around, they are working on the authenticity of their piece. The writer of the musical score Mike Mancina, who also wrote the score for The Lion King is also focused on the authenticity of the piece.

The problem is how authentic can they be? This time around they have put lots of work into the music making sure it is authentic, but are leery of making sure they appropriate the culture respectfully. They are working to make  the music authentic, but as we have seen with the Lion King, that is not always the case. I think Disney has gotten better with cultural sensitivity and is doing great work to make sure that the music that appears in the musical score of their new movies both represents the culture well and is a reasonable hit. I think that Disney is going to do great work in the future, and I think that although they have not done justice to the cultures in the past, they may be able to redeem themselves now.



  1. I actually had an interesting conversation about cultural appropriation this weekend and I thought this was a well timed blog post. From what you have said in this post I think that the directors and creators attempted to make the music for the movie as authentic as possible. I think a problem with this is cultural appropriation in general and how it is always viewed as a bad thing. I think there has to be a way to adopt parts of another culture respectfully while still taking elements from the culture. I don’t mean to sound harsh but I think peoples’ intentions are often times good there is just poor execution sometimes. I wish there was a way to blend cultures together without the negative connotation of cultural appropriation. I think this is a very sensitive topic due to the recent election and the upsurge in outward racism. I think that Disney is setting a good example with their attention to detail on using music that reflects the culture they are trying to represent in the movie. Globalization has led to a lot of cultural boundaries being crossed in the production and sale of music so I think it can be difficult to be totally accurate and authentic but it seems from the little I know that an attempt was made to be culturally correct. I hope that Disney sets a precedent of respecting and reflecting a culture which can help to spread positive images and increase cultural awareness in this age of racial and cultural tensions.

  2. This is a very interesting topic to approach given not only Disney’s past but also our discussions of The Lion King earlier in the year. Based on the information presented in the article, I am very hopeful for this movie. I think that Miranda summed it up well by saying “I think anyone should be able to write about anything,” he says. “But your biggest tools are empathy and research. Emphasis on the research.” Clearly, Disney is doing its research. It went so far as to meet with not only linguists, archeologists, and anthropologists, but also decided to meet with villagers, chiefs, and more in order to get the full story here. This seems to be quite the dedication, something Disney would only do if it were explicitly trying to avoid cultural appropriation. We must keep in mind, however, that even when research has been done cultural appropriation can occur. And we cannot be certain that the people at Disney have received all the information necessary. Nonetheless, this seems to be a change for the better for Disney and I am excited to see what this movie has in store.

  3. So I finally got around to watching this movie. I absolutely loved it. I am naturally a Disney fan, but I loved pretty much everything about this movie. I also have a tendency to love Hawaiian/Polynesian based movies because of where I was born. That being said, a large portion of my childhood revolved around Polynesian lifestyle. Hawaii, although part of the United States, is truly unlike anything in the country. The people have their own unique history with their own traditions. Furthermore, their king and history revolving independence is different from the United States. This means that culturally there can be a bridge between how “Mainlanders” and Hawaiians view the state.

    However, the crew at Disney clearly made an effort to pick actors and musicians that are Hawaiian and understand the culture. Furthermore, they provide modern twists with Hawaiian songs. I do not know Hawaiian nor do I know if the songs they picked are stereotypes, but the backing of a Hawaiian cast gives me enough support to believe that these actors would not want to see their culture misrepresented.

    This leads into an interesting point by Gaby. I do not think there is anything particularly wrong with the idea of cultural appropriation. I love it when people can appreciate the culture of Korea as a whole and provide an American twists. The problem comes when all I hear is Gangnam style and Big Bang. There is always more to a culture than what is popular in America.

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