Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson said he believed Polynesian people will be “incredibly proud” of his new Disney animation Moana despite criticism of its portrayal of the god Maui.
The wrestler-turned movie star voices the character of the mythical demigod, which some critics have claimed promotes a negative stereotype because he is depicted as obese.
New Zealand MP Jenny Salesa, who is of Tongan heritage, reportedly claimed the character resembled a creature that was “half pig, half hippo”, while Samoan professional rugby player Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu also criticised Disney’s portrayal.
At a press conference to promote Moana in Los Angeles, Dwayne – whose mother is Samoan – acknowledged there had been concerns from people in the Pacific Islands but he had “great confidence” in the movie.
He said: “There was some hesitance from a lot of people in our culture about well; ‘What’s going to happen if our culture is going to be showcased for the very first time on this level and this capacity from Disney?’
“I can tell you … with great confidence, and this is my hope too as well, that our experience has been that we were in such great hands.
— Moana (@DisneyMoana) October 24, 2016
“I feel like the Polynesian people are going to be incredibly proud of the movie.”
Hawaiian teenager Auli’i Cravalho, who voices heroine Moana, admitted she was “a bit wary” of a film being made about her culture but she was pleased with the end result.
“Disney has done a wonderful job,” she said.
“I’m excited for my community to see it and excited for everyone else to see it. Hopefully they’ll be inspired to research our culture.”
According to Polynesian mythology, Maui is a heroic figure who fished islands out of the sea. After a trailer for Moana was released in June, Fuimaono-Sapolu criticised the depiction of the demigod, saying the character looked like “after he fished up the Islands, he deep fried ‘em and and ate ‘em”.
Salesa also reportedly wrote on Facebook: “When we look at photos of Polynesian men & 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.”
Meanwhile, Will Ilolahia, from the Pacific Island Media Association, told Waatea News that Disney’s portrayal of Maui as obese was “typical American stereotyping”.
Moana is released in UK cinemas on December 2.