Moana broke the mold with its portrayal of Polynesian culture on the big screen. 

In New Zealand, this celebration of heritage is having a real impact, where a translated version of the movie is helping make the Māori language appealing to young people, according to a report in The New York Times.

Once the predominant language in New Zealand, the Māori language (te reo) was gradually pushed out as English speakers settled in the country, according to Te Ara

Speaking te reo was officially discouraged by the late 19th century, eventually leading to the language’s decline, and the fear te reo would die out in the mid-20th century. By the 1970s, Māori reasserted their identity and pushed for the language to be taught in schools.

There are currently 148,000 people who can speak the Māori language — 3.7 per cent of the country’s population, according to New Zealand’s Ministry of Social Development. A popular movie like Moana could be the key to making the language appealing again to young people in the country.

Taika Waititi, New Zealand director of blockbuster films like Thor: Ragnorok, approached Disney to translate the film — with his sister Tweedie producing the translated version. Moana reo Māori went on to screen for free at 30 cinemas around the country, selling out. 

“Language is the expression of a culture and a race of people,” Haami Piripi, the former head of the country’s Maori Language Commission told the news outlet. 

“To retain your language is an emblem of survival through history. If you’ve still got your language now, you have the key to your culture.”



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