A feature (or bug, depending on your worldview) of my home is the near-constant Moana karaoke provided by my daughters. For those who may not know, Disney released an animated musical feature in 2016 called Moana. Inspired by Polynesian folklore, the movie tells the tale of a young woman, the daughter of her island-village’s chief, who perilously traverses the ocean to find the Demi-God Maui (brilliantly voiced by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) who can help her to save her home (and the world) by restoring the Goddess Te Fiti’s heart. Mad Max-esque pirate coconuts, a beloved grandmother, a clueless rainbow-feathered chicken, and a gilded crab in the style of Frank-N-Furter round out the adventure. Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of In the Heights and Hamilton, wrote the songs so they’re catchy as hell.
The film’s central question concerns Moana’s identity. Is she her own person or is she who others want her to be (e.g., dutiful daughter, future chief, wayfinder and voyager)? Personally, my favorite character is the crab, but that may just be me.
In some ways, we are all Moana. Or maybe I’m just projecting. I identify with Moana in her quest to figure out who she is apart from the expectations foisted upon her by others. It feels like I’ve spent most of this year focused on this question. That said, I don’t know that I’m closer to an answer now than I was in January.
At the end of her story, Moana lists (in song, of course) all of the dimensions of her identity ranging from daughter to someone who loves the sea and is called by it. The note she ends on (sorry, I can’t help myself) is that she is ultimately herself. A collection of contradictions and paradoxes, a living history and an as-yet unrealized future.
And maybe that’s the lesson. When all is said and done, I’m just myself. And that is more than enough.