Hollywood films such as Pixar’s Moana
(2016) and Warner Brothers’ Aquaman
(2018) have drawn on the aesthetics and stories of the island cultures of Oceania to inform their narratives. In doing so, these works have both succeeded and failed to respect and engage with oceanic cultural knowledge, providing a cultural vehicle to expand communication, while also exploiting Oceanic culture for financial gain. Cultural tropes and stereotypes pose a heavy intellectual burden that neither film fully shoulders, nor are the complexities of their content acknowledged. Moana sought to enlarge the franchise of the “Disney Princess” genre, but could not avoid issues of cultural appropriation and tokenism becoming entangled with an ongoing process of engagement. Moana’s desire to represent the cultural memory of Oceania raises questions, but while Pixar presents digital fantasy, Aquaman hides its global ambitions beneath star Jason Momoa’s broad shoulders. If the blue humanities is to follow the seminal postcolonial scholarship of Tongan and Fijian cultural theorist Epeli Hau’ofa by exploring a counter-hegemonic narrative in scholarly treatment of the global oceans, then how can it respond with respect? This risk applies equally to academic literary inquiry, with a more inclusive mode of receptive and plural blue humanities as an emerging response.
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