NEW GENERATION POLYNESIAN SUPERHERO IS MAKING WAVES AROUND THE WORLD
Guest writer: TVNZ's Te Karere Reporter, Te Rina Kowhai
DC's latest superhero movie 'Aquaman' has smashed NZ's box office record with the highest Boxing Day opening movie of all time. And it’s with no surprise here, with Aotearoa being the Polynesian hub in the world. However the film is not only making waves in Aotearoa but the world is also embracing the first-ever Polynesian superhero.
Forbes listing that the movie has topped US $1 billion worldwide, becoming Warner Bros. biggest global grosser to date.
And we can thank leading man, Hawai’i born actor Jason Momoa, for taking up the role and embodying the DC character, Arthur Curry a.k.a Aquaman whose original adaptation is a blonde haired, fair, white-skinned Caucasian man. Now portrayed as a brown skinned 6 ft 4, the half breed, part Atlantean and part human is now also of Polynesian descent. Momoa’s character is culturally marked with tā moko – our traditional Polynesian tattoo’s mainly of genealogical significance, displayed all over his ripped muscly body while adorning a pounamu - a greenstone, one of the most prized treasures in Māori culture.
By having a Polynesian superhero, it’s ground breaking and a phenomenon in the superhero cinematic universe. In comparison, the movie can be themed alongside Marvel’s Black Panther superhero played by African American actor Chadwick Boseman. Basically, breaking the stereotypical look of a superhero which is predominantly portrayed as white. In fact, Aquaman’s nemesis, his brother King Orm who is of full Atlantean blood is depicted like the original Aquaman character as seen in the DC comic books.
A fan of superhero movies (and I can commend my upbringing with three brothers for that), I would have to say that this is a win for us here in the Polynesian triangle. The place where our ancestors navigated the vast ocean using only the stars, a place where our people lived in tune with the elements of nature, lived by our own gods and cultural traditions which included mythical creatures and beings, and traditional tales or folklore handed down through generations here in the Pacific.
However, let’s not forget Disney’s animated movie Moana who paved the way, also starring a strong male lead actor of Samoan descent Dwayne Johnson. Despite the demi-god Māui’s depiction as an oversized Polynesian which caused a stir, our young boys including my 4-year old at the time wanted to be like Māui and have a matau - a fishhook just like him too.
And Te Whānau-a-Āpanui director Taika Waititi also made his mark in Hollywood with last year’s blockbuster, Marvel’s Thor:Ragnorok whose cast also included NZ actors. And lest we forget Marvel’s Deadpool 2, NZ teenage mutant character played also by our very own Ngāti Hāua descendant, 16-year old actor Julian Dennison.
Returning underwater to the Aquaman film, you can see the influence of Māori culture throughout this origin Aquaman film. Firstly with Aquaman’s mortal dad played by Temuera Morrison who greets his son (played by Momoa) with a hongi - a traditional Māori greeting in which noses are pressed together to exchange the hā – the breath of life which is considered to come directly from the gods in Māori mythology.
Furthermore, Momoa’s character uses a common Māori colloquial saying ‘Ana Tōkai!’ - It serves you right! during a fighting scene. As well as that, wielding his trident with moves used just like our Māori weaponry, the taiaha - a wooden spear.
With this all in mind, it made sense that the Hawaiian Kanaka Māoli actor performed the haka on the press circuit and at the movie’s premiere in Hollywood.
Performing beside him a group of Māori and Pacific Island men all unifying as one, for the showing of this debutant Polynesian superhero. And the whole world was in awe of this - it’s something not normally seen unless you live in the Pacific or have seen our All Blacks team perform the traditional war dance. And just this week the actor admittingly revealed his spiritual connection and genealogy links to Aotearoa, raising the awareness of the Māori and Polynesian culture again into a positive light and lifting the profile of the Pacific to the rest of the world through mainstream film, television and media.
The first-ever Aquaman standalone feature coming in at #1 in it’s opening day in NZ starring a fictional superhero that is of Polynesian descent is definitely worth celebrating.
A role that Momoa says has been a great honour.
Finally…a new generation of superheroes, a superhero that our Polynesian boys can relate too and feel connected too in the superhero cinematic universe.
In Momoa’s words ‘we as Polynesians are not separated by land but we are all connected by water and that is who we truly are.’
And no doubt, will be seeing our boys including our boy (who is of Māori, Samoan, Cook Island and NZ European descent) dressed in an Aquaman costume in the coming year.
DC, well done! Okea ururoatia!