writing: who you are

Back in the Dark Ages, some friends and I went to a sundance out in one of the Dakotas. On the way we were talking about how to be an ally to indigenous people, and how to tell their story. Friend says something like “but you can only tell stories about a girl from Dover…”

Me: …

Lemme ‘splain something here.

Writers, storytellers, artists etc have…

  • imagination: actors don’t act out only what they’ve experienced (oh sure, all those folks in Fury Road have lived through the Apocalypse, Jemaine Clement has been a giant shiny crab, Alan Tudyk has been a chicken, and Dwayne Johnson IS a demi-god…also Chris Hemsworth). Artists and writers use reference, research, listen to others’ stories, and then use imagination to put themselves in those characters’ places.
  • creativity: see above. You understand reality, then bend it like fence wire to make a point.
  • artistic license: you’re an artist, you create, no one can stop you, bwa haaa haaaaaaaa!
  • freedom of speech: unless you live in The Evil Empire, you get to say what you think. It helps if you fact check, do your research, use your brain and listen to others’ stories… then you don’t end up with Twicrap or Fifty Shades of Mysogynistic Evil.


Whatever story you tell, someone will love it, someone will hate it, for whatever reasons, sometimes just because it’s not their flavor (I personally can’t stand Picasso), or sometimes because they’re so elitist they think they’re smarter than everyone else and if it’s popular they hate it, you know, because. Popular.

Disney’s Moana has stirred the pot since anyone got wind of it. Folks of Polynesian ancestry leapt forth with everything from “I hope they get this right” to  “it’s my ball and you can’t play with it!”.

If someone is trying to tell your story, you need to grab them by the ear and make sure they get it right.

Image result for maui disney images

Or you can tell your own story. I give you Sherman Alexie, Smoke Signals, Powwow Highway, and Whale Rider.

And this: https://www.creativespirits.info/resources/books/

And this: http://muskratmagazine.com/fifteen-books-by-indigenous-authors-you-should-read/

But wait, there’s more (but you’re gonna google that yourself).

I personally loved Moana. I see Disney doing their research. I also see Disney doing Disney, which means a certain pattern and formula, because… hey, Disney. Having grown up with Disney, I will tell you they’ve shapeshifted over the decades, for the good.

(Like that Princess whose name, Tiana, sounds just like mine (but with different spelling, and she’s still prettier). WHY DID IT TAKE YOU SO LONG DISNEY TO DO A BLACK PRINCESS???? (says the middle aged white chick).)

I digress.

The Polynesian people involved in Moana, whether as the Oceanic Trust, or the actors, musicians etc. appear thrilled to be part of the Disney ohana, to have used their voices to make this a stronger vision of who they were… and are.

There will be naysayers. I’m haole, but I say, discuss what you didn’t like in an intelligent fashion. Tell your story. Change things. And go out and do your own book, film or other art.

For millions of people who’ve seen this film, for the kids who are now trying to wayfind across backyards and parks in pretend wa’as, for those heading out to the “line where the sky meets the sea” in real boats, for those of us trying to untangle Te Vaka’s Polynesian lyrics in Logo te Pate or We Know the Way, all the beautiful brown girls doing Moana cosplay, and the crowds greeting the real voyaging canoe Hokule’a, this film will have opened a door to a world too long suppressed and forgotten.

Carry on storytellers!



This ship looks like so much fun…



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