The trailer for the movie, out this November, has sparked debate over Maui’s stocky stature – with some critics saying they feel the character perpetuates stereotypes about Polynesians and their weight.
Jenny Salesa, a member of the New Zealand Parliament, spoke out in a Facebook post.
“When we look at photos of Polynesian men and women from the last 100 to 200 years, most of our people were not overweight, and this negative stereotype of Maui is just not acceptable,” Salesa wrote.
Will Ilolahia from the Pacific Media Association told Waatea News that he is bothered by the characterization because of the prominent role Maui plays in his native folklore.
“He is depicted in the stories that have been handed down, especially in my culture, as a person of strength, a person of magnitude and a person of a godly nature,” he said. “This depiction of Maui being obese is typical American stereotyping.”
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Others are not bothered by the portrayal, and many have come to the defense of Maui’s characterization.
Designer Louie Mantia pointed out that many of Disney’s characters have been depicted as overweight, regardless of their nationality.
“Saw complaints about Maui being overweight in Moana. Let’s look at some other classic Eric Goldberg characters,” he Tweeted, along with photos of Genie from Aladdin and others.
Samoan comic book artist Michel Mulipola also defended Maui’s shape.
“If you study animation, you’ll notice that each character has a distinctive ‘shape’ to their design to not only distinguish who is who, but also to portray personalities through their look,” he posted on Facebook. “It’s a simple yet effective illustration device. I’m not fazed by the way Maui is designed in this film.”
Mulipola accompanies his commentary with a sketch showing that he believes Maui’s “thick, solid build represents power and strength.”