It seems like this past year has been filled with equally impressive and horrible things. Two of the bright rays of hope are of two films, one animated and the other a superhero. Yes, I am talking about Disney’s Moana and Warner Brothers’ Wonder Woman.
Disney’s Moana was released in 2016 and broke all sorts of records; having a Polynesian ethnic Princess and the first Disney Princess film to not have a love interest. Moana makes a full turn for Disney; many would state that the success of Brave (2012) and Frozen (2013) have helped push pass the archaic narrative of the princess needing to be rescued from a Prince.
Moana is set on an Polynesian island and Moana is the daughter of the village chief and next to rule. Despite knowing her role as Village leader, she is called by the ocean and is captivated by the legend of the stolen heart of Te Fiti (Mother Island). It was stolen by the demigod Maui. He was then defeated by the destroyer Te Kā. Moana is told by her grandma that she has been chosen by the ocean to take the stolen heart, find Maui, and give it to Te Fiti. This not only will restore Te Fiti but save her village.
The film is powerful in the fact that Moana is the heir to the village, she is not told she should have been a boy, the film depicts her parents as being supportive in her path as leader.
She has the courage to accept her role as leader and more importantly she has the courage to go on the journey and quest to find Maui and save the islands.
The storyline continues to break the old narratives, with Moana constantly going through the typical hero journey by questioning her role and capability. It takes a gently pep talk from her grandmother’s spirit to realize that She is Enough, She is Moana and She will succeed. The climactic battle is even more stunning as she calls upon Te Kā and restores Te Fiti. “I have crossed the horizon to find you. I know your name. They have stolen your heart from inside you. But this does not define you. This is not who you are. You know who you are. Who you truly are.” (Know Who You are)
Moana saves the islands, she returns home and leads her people to regain their lineage as voyagers. She is enough. She finds her courage and strength from within herself.
“I am a girl who loves my island, I am a girl who loves the sea. It calls me. I am the daughter of the village chief… I’ve delivered us to where we are. I have journeyed farther. I am everything I have learned and more. Still it calls me. And the call isn’t out there at all. Its inside me… I know the way. I am Moana.”
The movie hired 98% of the voice actors with Polynesian descent. The music is co-written by Polynesians and one Puerto Rican (Hamilton genus Lin-Manuel Miranda.) The bodies of the villagers and Moana are not idealized but depict actual Polynesian realness. Even Moana’s hair is curly, unruly at times, and very realistic. It pulled in $642.8 million dollars. It continues to encourage young girls to find who they are for themselves.
On June 2, 2017 came another film to which shattered conceptions and prejudices of the success, popularity, and importance of female superheroes. Warner Brother’s released the first feature film of the classic comic book hero, Wonder Woman. Through the many different adaptations of Wonder Woman, the current film has seemed to capture something much more palatable. The ability for a woman to be judged by her actions, not her gender or her ability to weld it.
Wonder Woman was born Diana, Princess of Themyscira, Daughter of Hippolyta, the Queen of the Amazons. She is given the breath of life from Zeus and believes her mission; her duty is to destroy the God of War to help humans return to their original state of being creatures of passion and light. She is new to the world of men, as she grew up on an island devoid of men. It is alluded to in the movie, but confirmed in the comics that Diana is bisexual.
The movie develops with Diana going to the Western Front during World War I. And through her experiences and the experiences of those around her, comes to understand that humans are much more complicated that merely good and evil. But what truly matters is love. Love is the answer and the only path to truly stop war, violence, and hatred. One of the most important things about this film is that it is told by Diana. She is her own narrator, the master of her story, fate, and destiny.
The film, directed by Patty Jenkins -another accolade of being the first superhero blockbuster being directed by a woman, was a fan of Wonder Woman and it shows. The film does justice to the island of Themyscira, in the fierce some warriors there, to Diana’s origin story, and to not overly sexualizing her. There is no female nude scene, there is no sex scene and Diana’s outfit and armor show functionality and not “Americana femininity.
We can also thank the success and fan culture of Xena, Warrior Princess for the different take on Wonder Woman’s battle attire.
The opening weekend say Wonder Woman pull in $103.3 million. To date, it has grossed over $765.9 million. It has continued to break records. It is the most tweeted movie in 2017.
These two movies combine have started to prove that female centric story lines can be highly successful. That these films do not need a romance to be its foundation, but that they are powerful enough being simply a story about a lady finding her destiny AND saving the world.
While Wonder Woman does have a love interest, in Chris Pine’s character Steve Trevor, the film is about the journey that Diana must take. These films have been a light in the darkness when the world around seemed to be reverted back to the ‘dark ages’ when women didn’t have a voice, a vote, the designation of non-person. They have spark discussions about the positive, creative, and powerful ways that representation plays in our lives.
It is easy to see the connections between the two films. My favorite is taking the music from Moana and placing it onto the scenes from Wonder Woman. They are showing us the way, the way to the day that films won’t be judged on what gender is the leading actor, what storylines get passed up due to being the ‘wrong gender, the wrong race.’ Both Moana and Diana are becoming icons for the coming generations of what it means to be a strong, courageous and compassion person.
They are also a reminder that we still have a long way to go, we still must stand up to injustices, to inadequate representations.