Personal Apocalypse in Revolutionary Girl Utena

Recently, I sat with my pastors and a few other congregants after church as we had one of many ongoing discussions about the #MeToo movement. We based our discussion on an article by Nadia Bolz-Weber called “We’re in the midst of an apocalypse. And that’s a good thing” published in The Washington Post. If you’re not already familiar with Bolz-Weber’s work, I highly recommend it. She brings an element of grace and humor to her cynicism that is difficult to find.

As my church family and I delved into discussion, we focused for several minutes on the meaning of apocalypse. The word has one meaning in mainstream culture and a more specific, nuanced meaning in Christian theology. Mainstream culture generally thinks of apocalypse as a huge, world-ending event that destroys everything we know. Books, TV shows, and films abound with these bleak images of a society attempting to carry on after this huge collapse. In some Christian theology, the meaning is a little different. I like the way Bolz-Weber articulates it: “a big, hope-filled idea that dominant powers are not ultimate powers.”

If apocalypse is an undoing of dominant powers and systems, then depending on our privileges and perspectives, we as individuals undergo apocalypse daily. When ugly mindsets and behaviors are uncovered, either personally or collectively in the public eye, then a shift occurs into a better way of being. In this sense, an apocalypse can be a very personal experience. Rather than thinking of apocalypse as the end of society as we know it, our small group discussed apocalypse as the end of our own personal ways of ordering and understanding the world.

While we did move on to other discussion points from Bolz-Weber’s article, I sat there fascinated with this particular use of apocalypse and immediately connected it with Revolutionary Girl Utena.

Of all anime I’ve seen, Revolutionary Girl Utena does one of the best jobs in making the best of needing to repeat footage episode after episode. The nature of the story and characters makes it easier to glean meaning from the ritualistic repetition. Perhaps the most memorable repeated sequence is when Utena makes her way to the dueling arena in each episode. The catchy song, “Absolute Destiny: Apocalypse,” evokes unsettling and sometimes contradictory imagery (“day and night turning back on one another,” ; “the darkness of Sodom, the darkness of light”).

Apocalypse is all over Revolutionary Girl Utena and it struck me that for most of the series, we see the characters undergo personal apocalypses. Sometimes, they’re very painful and disturbing. For most of the series, it’s Utena’s opponent whose particular way of thinking or brand of darkness rises to the surface and then, once Utena defeats that person in the duel, it marks the beginning of their change. This article gives some examples of these changes and how they at least point to a possibility of betterment even after breaking away from abuse.

Then, it’s Utena’s turn for her own apocalypse. Even though she is on one level a catalyst for apocalypse for other characters and even the system of Ohtori Academy itself, she also has certain mindsets and behaviors that play into the very cycle keeping Anthy under Akio’s abusive control. She is so determined to be a prince generally and, as the series goes on, to be Anthy’s prince and savior specifically. While this is certainly a challenge to a heteronormative way of operating in the world, it is still an attempt to fit into a role in a system that inherently continues a cycle of abuse. But this dominant power is not an ultimate power, and the way Utena understands her relationship with Anthy has to be undone. At one point in the later episodes, she does apologize to Anthy, but that can’t stop the total unraveling in the series finale. After all, the absolute destiny is apocalypse. Everything Utena believes about being a prince, finding a prince, and saving Anthy is brutally and painfully torn away. There is a very symbolic yet obvious uncovering and peeling away as the castle and dueling arena collapses into nothingness. Afterward, Utena is “dead” yet other characters talk about her as if she transferred or left school for some other reason. However, it is this very crumbling that finally gives Anthy the space to leave Ohtori and find Utena, which represents breaking out of a cycle and framework.

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Perhaps Utena “dies” because she is too determined to fit into a prince role that is about to collapse as the apocalypse occurs, and there will be no such role left after the apocalypse is finished. More optimistically, Utena is so revolutionary that she brings this last apocalypse and breaks beyond it so much that she literally cannot exist in any form of Ohtori Academy anymore, even this new one that Anthy now has the power to walk away from. Either way, all of the apocalypses in Revolutionary Girl Utena mark a change that looks forward to a bright, hopeful future, even though the collapsing of the familiar is terrifying and painful.


My blackout poetry collection, Forgive Us Our Trespasses is available as a paperback and an ebook! The poems explore faith, doubt, lament, and hope. Check it out and discover why readers have called it “pithy,” “insightful,” “visually stunning,” and “emotionally challenging.” Be sure to add the book to your Goodreads list and leave a review when you’re finished!

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Anorexia/Nervosa: 10 Years Later

In high school and college, I had a tight circle of friends that gushed about Christian hardcore music. These bands weren’t the contemporary praise and worship groups we heard in church. They screamed, they had odd vocal styles, and they spun some of the most creative and disturbing lyrics I’d yet heard in religious music. To this day, I cite these bands as major influences in my college years and now I take a look back at the first album that exposed me to this world: Showbread’s Anorexia/Nervosa.

Anorexia/Nervosa is a double album. It tells the stories of two sisters who manufacture their own depravity and then experience salvation. Anorexia’s aim in life is to build a tower to reach the sky. Nervosa’s is to dig a hole deep into the earth.

Each CD’s lyric insert booklet contains a story that you read along while listening to the music. Both stories are largely metaphorical, but there are flashes of real-world accounts aligned with most songs. For Anorexia, it’s her tireless work clamoring for the spotlight in creating a nonprofit children’s hospital. For Nervosa, it’s working at a strip club/slaughter house.

The booklets contain time stamps for each track directing you when to read each part of the story as you listen. The full experience of these albums is jarring, disturbing, uplifting, and still intensely emotional after all these years.

Anorexia hit me hardest when I first got into Showbread, and it still has the same effect. I cried ten years ago and I cried again when I re-experienced the album more recently. In her real-world story, Anorexia is doing this supposedly selfless thing by opening a nonprofit for children, but the entire time she only cares about the acclamation she’ll receive for doing such great work. She overexerts herself building this legacy that will surpass all the crap in the world. When children die, she espouses a Calvinist “only some of us are chosen to thrive” mentality, so her sense of her own greatness overpowers the compassion she should have in those moments. Anorexia finally gets the legacy she wants when a child stabs her with an infected needle and she contracts a deadly disease. She’s dying, but church buildings and streets will be named after her.

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From “The Pig” (Anorexia)

The tie to the metaphorical story about building a tower is clear–it’s all about creating something larger than herself to be elevated above the rest of the world and last well beyond her. The part that cuts me each time is when Anorexia believes she has finally finished her tower only to look over the edge and find that she is barely an inch above ground. The real-world story also ends at this point, with Anorexia relishing in the promise of a movie made about her life.

The metaphorical story continues, however, and Anorexia is carried away from her so-called tower by a small Lamb, who dies from the burden of removing her from her own mess. The Lamb is obvious symbolism for Christ, and not only does his work completely restore Anorexia, but it also reunites her with her sister. It’s quite a happy ending for such an intense story.

Anorexia speaks to a very deep part of myself that on one hand wants to build a legacy but on the other hand is terrified of becoming too prideful. When I first experienced this album in 2008, it was one year after a spiritual crisis I endured in China the summer before where my pride came crashing down. It was painful and one result was that I physically destroyed several notebooks full of an epic story I had been writing because, in my theology at the time, I had made it a false idol.

So Anorexia really resonates with me and I want her to be totally alive and saved at the end of her story because that is just such a powerful tale of redemption. Yet now another reading has presented itself to me.

I now see a strong interplay between the real-world story about starting the children’s hospital and the metaphorical story about building a tower such that Anorexia may very well die in body, but live in spirit. This is not nearly as optimistic as I had once seen this story, and if I’m honest it has discolored the sense of joy I once had when reaching the end of this album. I used to think that both Anorexia and Nervosa are bodily saved in the end of their stories, but I now I’m not 100% certain that that’s the true outcome. It may well be that the Lamb meets Anorexia in her metaphorical story to carry her to heaven/safety as she dies physically.

Nervosa begins her story wanting to discover everything within the depths of the earth so that she might feel something. So, she begins digging a hole in her metaphorical story and in her real-world story, she works as a stripper despite admonishment from her sister. She projects an air of excitement, but we quickly see that her behavior spawns from a deep sense of emptiness. The tracks on Nervosa have the same titles as those on Anorexia, but the lyrics and music are different. Nervosa even meets the same characters Anorexia does, but has vastly different interactions, some of which are sexual assault.

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From “The Pig” (Nervosa)

 

Unlike Anorexia, Nervosa’s default perception of herself is that she is lacking. The chorus of this album’s first track says, “Yeah, I am the empty, empty. Yeah, I am the nothing in me.” In the real-world story, she doesn’t seem to be as aware of her sense of lacking, and has a mindset of “why try being perfect? I’m gonna have fun and experience the world instead.” Metaphorically, she wants the adventure of digging and can’t believe there might be horrible things deep in the earth unless she experiences them first-hand. She also compares herself to Anorexia. This is evident in the song lyrics on the third track, “you are the queen of clean; I am the world’s trash” and the story text where she looks at the sky and sees her opportunity to be something wonderful fade away.

“…something inside Nervosa wilted, and she relinquished any hope of the sky or even a life outside of the hole she was digging.”

Over the course of her real-world story, Nervosa takes a new job at a particularly disturbing strip club with a transparent dance floor that allows patrons to view animal slaughter that occurs on the bottom floor.

“The next night I’m dancing and when I look down over my body I can see the death and it looks good.”

It’s in this job that Nervosa hits her lowest point. She becomes pregnant after a rich patron assaults her and then she gets an unsafe, back alley abortion. The real-world story ends there with ambiguity about whether she survives the procedure unharmed. There isn’t as much of a sense that she might be dead as there is with Anorexia, but it’s still a possibility.

The metaphorical story continues graphically with Nervosa nearly rotting in dirt and darkness before the Lamb appears to carry her to the surface, out of the dirt, away from the hole, and back to her sister.

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From “The Pig” (Nervosa)

Whether Anorexia and Nervosa die is ambiguous enough that you can come away with multiple readings, and that’s part of the unsettling nature of these albums. Regardless, each story has a few hopeful threads woven in the narratives and the music. One is the intermissions. Musically, these tracks are soft and melodic, a stark contrast to the heavy screaming in every other song. In the narratives, these are pauses in the chaos where “the Lamb knocks.” God meekly and quietly attempts to cut through the noise of the sisters’ self-destruction. We hear this clearly as listeners, but Anorexia and Nervosa don’t. They only notice the Lamb when they are on the verge of “death.”

Additionally, the music often weaves in “When I Survey The Wondrous Cross” as a refrain that signifies both the helplessness Anorexia and Nervosa reach at their lowest points and the salvation they ultimately experience. Now that I’m in a high church tradition, the presence of this classic hymn has a deeper significance to me.

The juxtaposition of graphic imagery and God’s presence in these albums is still refreshing to me now because they were my first exposure to an expression of God and Christianity that truly meets us in the depravity of the human existence.


My blackout poetry collection, Forgive Us Our Trespasses is available as a paperback and an ebook! The poems explore faith, doubt, lament, and hope. Check it out and discover why readers have called it “pithy,” “insightful,” “visually stunning,” and “emotionally challenging.” Be sure to add the book to your Goodreads list and leave a review when you’re finished!

What I Learned from Publishing My First Book

Finishing and publishing my first book has been an immensely rewarding experience, and helped me increase my focus on current and future projects.

Of course, I learned much about the process of creating and publishing a book by doing most of the work myself. For both the ebook and paperback of Forgive Us Our Trespasses, I went through a lot of trial and error to make the book as best I could. Here are some of the challenges I faced.

Challenge #1: Kindles are Not Kind to Images

Making an ebook full of images probably sounds like a crazy idea and it is, but I did it anyway. Kindle Comic Creator made it possible, though I went through a learning curve as I got used to the program. I lost track of how many .mobi files I built and how many times I sent those files as personal documents to my own Kindle to test the display, but I knew I had the wherewithal to figure it out. I wasn’t sure how much I could trust the book’s appearance in Kindle Previewer, which is why I wanted to look at the display on an actual Kindle.

Aiming for Consistent (or Near Consistent) Display

Every page in the book is an image and they’re all the exact same size, yet I found that when viewing the .mobi files as personal docs, some poems would fill the whole screen and others wouldn’t. I went through various cleanups in my images to try and correct this. It worked and the personal docs filled the screen.

However, the conversion process a .mobi file undergoes when uploading to KDP must be different from what happens when you email a .mobi directly to your Kindle. The final version of the ebook does create white space around the poems when viewing on a Kindle. Of course, you can get the Kindle reader app for free on your computer and see much larger (and colorful) images.

Contrast and File Size

Kindle e-readers only display in black and white. This didn’t concern me as much because you can still read the poems, just not see the colors. However, I wanted the poems to show some contrast between the background color and the spray paint color, so I went through a revision round where I edited some poems for contrast.

An ebook full of images also results in a “heavy” file, and Amazon will charge you a “delivery fee” against your royalty if you choose the 70% option (which I didn’t for precisely this reason). I ended up with a 50MB file, and this was after using ImageOptim to strip each image of metadata and other junk that I didn’t need for my purposes.

Challenge #2: People Want a Paperback?

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You’re going to think me silly, but I initially intended Forgive Us Our Trespasses to just be an ebook release. I thought this for two reasons.

  1. Blackout and erasure poetry has always been a side project for me, something fun and quick to make. I am primarily a prose writer, and after my next poetry collection publishing later this year, all the projects in my queue are prose.
  2. Ebooks are everywhere and they’re not going away any time soon. I know people who almost exclusively read ebooks and I now read ebooks, so therefore I thought no one would want a paperback of my collection.

This means that all through my creation process, I really wasn’t thinking about print, even though I mimicked some aspects of print books like including page numbers on each poem and a table of contents.

Yet when the book published, I constantly had people ask for a paperback. At first I said I had no way to do it because I didn’t think Amazon’s KDP paperback process could print a color book or do it well. I thought it was much, much more bare bones than it is. I also didn’t think I’d be able to do it without InDesign, but I managed it in the end.

Manuscript PDF Creation

Once I looked into the paperback process on KDP, I found that it was actually feasible. All I needed to do was upload PDFs of the interior pages and a print-ready cover. I used a combination of Paint and Preview to edit the images as needed and resize them. Using Amazon’s guidelines, I calculated the size for a print-ready cover and asked my cover designer, Corrie Liotta, to work on that.

“Feasible” doesn’t mean I got it all together in one shot. Oh no, I had to make all of my images 300 dpi and change the dimensions to 8.5 x 11, my chosen trim size. These dimensions caused the least distortion of the original images.

Additionally, I made the images .jpgs so I could PDF them and changed the position of the page numbers on the even pages to follow correct verso/recto formatting. I also adjusted my front matter so that the first poem would be on a recto page (really, I just added an interior title page and that did the trick). All in all, I went through four full interior PDFs to fix display issues and errors that I got from Amazon’s book previewer.

KDP Errors

One of the first errors I received said that the book had no content. Yikes! Turns out I didn’t PDF the images with the correct settings. A quick Google search told me what boxes to check during the conversion process. Once I fixed that, the biggest error I received was not having enough room for bleed–puzzling since the large background space around each poem already accounted for that. I figured, though, that Amazon’s previewer had no way of knowing the content on my pages. It just saw files that left no room for the printer cutting the pages too close.

I changed my trim size from 8.5 x 11 to 8 x 10 and that solved the issue because my images were still 8.5 x 11. Therefore, they had plenty of room for bleed. Still, I then had to go back and edit all of my images to be within the safety zone that shows in the previewer. I did this by simply opening the poems in Paint, selecting the text, and dragging it down about an inch, as the length is cut from the top in Amazon’s system.

Lastly, I went through a few rounds of adjusting the cover size with Corrie since I kept getting errors about that through no fault of her own. Finally, I had no errors in the previewer and could approve my manuscript. Yay!

Yet just when I thought I was finally finished, I got an email from Amazon saying the spine text was too small. Thankfully, that was an easy fix–Corrie just got rid of it altogether.

KDP’s paperback previewer is meticulous, but it’s not the most difficult platform I’ve worked with. My day job has given me quite a high tolerance for troubleshooting and figuring out how platforms work. I’ve also worked on many print publishing projects for the day job, so I wasn’t totally clueless about publishing terms. I’m actually glad that the QA process is as rigorous as it is because you know what? My paperbacks turned out beautifully.

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I still have a lot to learn and a lot to look forward to in 2018, but I’m proud of myself for doing this!


My blackout poetry collection, Forgive Us Our Trespasses is available as a paperback and an ebook! The poems explore faith, doubt, lament, and hope. Check it out and discover why readers have called it “pithy,” “insightful,” “visually stunning,” and “emotionally challenging.” Be sure to add the book to your Goodreads list and leave a review when you’re finished!

Also, check out select poems on Redbubble, available as prints, stickers, and many other products. They make great gifts!

Goodreads Review–A Brief History of Theology

A Brief History of Theology: From the New Testament to Feminist TheologyA Brief History of Theology: From the New Testament to Feminist Theology by Derek Johnston

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this book, Johnston presents an accessible and clear overview of dominant, Western Christian thought from Paul through 20th and 21st century thinkers. It’s a useful resource for those who are new to Christian theology and want to understand some of its major developments. In other words, it’s a starting point, and Johnston is clear that it’s not comprehensive. For what it is, this book is helpful in summarizing the thought expressed in texts that might be difficult to comprehend if read unaided, as some of these ancient and metaphysical thinkers sometimes produced dense work. After reading this book, I now have a better understanding of theologians I already knew about and I’ve been introduced to theologians I hadn’t heard of. The book taken as a whole really illustrates that Christian thought has never been the stagnant, never-changing thing that some people believe it to be. Every supposedly timeless doctrine can be traced back to a person–a person who loved God and tried to articulate what it is to experience and believe in God.

Still, I was surprised that the author did not include a chapter on liberation theology or some better exposition of theology from the margins. He mentions it in passing in the sole feminist theology chapter, but doesn’t spend much time explaining it. I really think that a book aiming to survey the history of Christian theology should include such content, as there are certainly liberation theologians in the West that the author could have chosen to introduce readers to that approach to Christianity. So for people looking for an easy-to-follow introduction to liberation theology, I recommend Liberation Theology for Armchair Theologians.

Additionally, it’s sometimes obvious which thinkers the author prefers and which ones he’s more skeptical of in sections that are just meant to summarize the theologian’s life or thought. This didn’t really deter my enjoyment of the book; it was just something I noticed. One random thing I found hilarious, though, was his statement that Charles Wesley allegedly wrote over 9,000 hymns because now I will always associate Wesley with a classic Internet meme.

Lastly, the book could’ve used a copy edit. I often noticed unnecessary words in some sentences and punctuation errors that impacted flow.

Despite what I’ve noted here, I still found this to be a very informative and interesting book that has piqued my interest in the Bonhoeffer and Brueggemann books already in my library that I haven’t read yet.

View all my reviews


My blackout poetry collection, Forgive Us Our Trespasses is available as a paperback and an ebook! The poems explore faith, doubt, lament, and hope. Check it out and discover why readers have called it “pithy,” “insightful,” “visually stunning,” and “emotionally challenging.” Be sure to add the book to your Goodreads list and leave a review when you’re finished!

Also, check out select poems on Redbubble, available as prints, stickers, and many other products. They make great gifts!

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic: Where’s The LGBTQ Rep?

At last, I’ve caught up on season 7 of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. I thoroughly enjoyed the dips into Equestria’s ancient past and the character development of non-Mane Six ponies. I still thoroughly ship Rarijack and enjoyed the bread crumbs sprinkled upon us this season.

Because that’s all we got of any LGBTQ rep this season: bread crumbs.

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We’ve now gone through 7 seasons and there is no prominent, clear, or important representation of LGBTQ communities or identities. The only instances are background or implied, like Rainbow Dash, Lyra and BonBon, and stolen glances that are rife with subtext depending on how the viewer interprets the show. The most prominent trans rep is the one episode where Big Mac is Orchard Blossom, but that episode is controversial and Orchard Blossom hasn’t come up since.

I didn’t have an issue with the lack of clear LGBTQ rep in earlier seasons because romance in general wasn’t part of the show. However, more recent seasons have included some very explicit het romances like Cadence and Shining Armor, Big Mac and that sweet pony he delivers apples to, Twilight and Flash Sentry (Equestria Girls), and Applejack’s parents.

Now, that episode about Applejack’s parents meeting is one of my favorites of the entire season. As much as I enjoyed it, I also have to ask: why not have the same sort of adorable love story between two mares or two colts? Now that romance is an element in the series, we should see more than (presumed) het relationships or attractions.

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One argument against LGBTQ inclusion in children’s media is “it’s not appropriate for children,” but other cartoons/franchises aimed at children have included LGBTQ rep in appropriate ways, meaning it’s clear the couple is a couple, but no part of their relationship is graphic or sexual. These franchises include Legend of Korra and Steven Universe, both of which I’ve written extensively about on this blog. While these series could do better as well, they have cleared some ground in showing the wider world how to include LGBTQ rep in children’s cartoons.

Now, I also understand my place as an adult fan of a children’s franchise. The show is catering to kids’ interests and not mine. However, asking for LGBTQ rep in MLP is not a request that only caters to adult fans. I’m thinking of a little boy at my church who loves MLP and also has two moms. He should see something resembling his family in his favorite show.

The great thing is that there’s already so much groundwork laid for LGBTQ narratives in the series. Imagine a young romance that doubles as a “finding my cutie mark” story, or an actual, clear spark between any of the Mane Six who already seem well in tune with each other (personally, I see Rarijack and Pinkiedash as particularly compatible lately).

With a little thought, MLP could add itself to the list of children’s media that clearly and appropriately include LGBTQ narratives and characters.

Forgive Us Our Trespasses–Now in Paperback! Posters now on Redbubble!

Hello, Internet!

At long last, I’m stoked to announce that the paperback version of Forgive Us Our Trespasses is available on Amazon! Please buy, rate, and review it!

I was pleasantly surprised at the number of requests I received for a paperback and am glad I can offer that option.

In related news, I have a Redbubble store where you can buy posters of some poems from the collection!

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Thanks to all of you for your continued support!

I’ve Been Staring at the Edge of the Divine: Feminist Theology in Moana

Moana is Disney’s latest adventure that follows its new pattern of spinning narratives of female empowerment that appeal to growing mainstream feminist thought. We have a film without a single white person that tells the story of a young woman whose goal in life in no way, shape, or form includes romance with a man. She cares only about adventure, finding her purpose, and ultimately restoring her people’s lands and their sense of their own history. By itself, Moana presents viewers with a strong, ecofeminist message and portrays the meeting of the human feminine with the divine feminine as restorative. However, the film’s Disneyfication of Pacific Island cultures presents some issues when attempting to discuss feminist theology in its narrative (and in this piece I’m intentionally avoiding Christianizing this theology as the story uses a non-Christian/pre-Christian spiritual framework).

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In the moments after I finished watching Moana, I was filled with “warm, fuzzy, feminist feelings.” I had just experienced a quite inspiring and empowering story that ended with restoration for a community and for its deities. In the beginning, the fatherly expectation of Moana isn’t that she marries, but that she assumes her proper place as the chief of her people and swears to protect them just as all the previous chiefs have. Essentially, she is to continue the system as-is once it’s time for her to step up. No one questions that she’ll lead or doubts that she should lead. The problem comes from her desire to travel the sea and return the heart of Te Fiti to prevent her lands from dying. This desire goes against the rules previous generations established to keep their people safe from the dangers of the unknown world.

But Moana later learns that this rule is not eternal and that there’s a sort of collective amnesia about it. With help from her grandmother, she discovers giant rafts from her people’s ancient past and discovers that her people used to travel the sea all the time. Remembering and embodying this forgotten and hidden aspect of her culture gives Moana the determination (and equipment) necessary to successfully make the journey beyond the reef. It’s a powerful testament to the role of collective memory in a culture and women’s place as orators of this memory in history and post-colonial fiction.

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So Moana leaves her island with a clear mission to find the demigod Maui, who is responsible for stealing the heart of Te Fiti in the first place and unleashing the destruction that’s gradually killing the other islands. It is this male demigod’s greed and desire for power that began this desolation of the environment–the ecofeminist message is pretty clear here. Therefore, it is Moana’s responsibility to compel him to return the heart of Te Fiti and restore what he ruined.

Yet in the end, it’s Moana who restores the heart, not Maui. This squarely places femininity as the agent of restoration. Additionally, we learn that the lava monster Moana and Maui believe they need to destroy to get to Te Fiti is actually Te Fiti, showcasing how masculine greed taking something vital from a feminine deity–her very heart–causes destruction.

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However, the restoration does not stop with Te Fiti and Moana. It ultimately extends to Maui as well, who by now has changed as a result of his journey with Moana. When we first meet him, he is arrogant and egotistical. He refuses to teach Moana the art of wayfinding and spends a good deal of time trying to trap or deceive her. We also learn that he is burying his feelings and running away from his past. He creates for himself a seemingly strong front, free of negative emotions just as toxic masculinity would have men do. But by the time Maui is face-to-face with a restored Te Fiti, he has not only dealt with these emotions, but also stepped aside to trust Moana’s leadership. Finally able to push his own ego out of the way, Maui is restored when Te Fiti gives him a new cane that’s even more powerful than his old one. In Moana, restoration really does extend everywhere–the human and the spirit, the individual and the community, the environment, the feminine, and the masculine.

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For a western, American audience that earnestly wants better stories about girls, especially girls of color, Moana resonates and its messages have no doubt had a positive impact on little girls (and little boys) everywhere. However, no Disney rendition of anything has been without its problems, especially when those renditions depict non-white cultures.

If our feminism aims to be intersectional, then we have to understand the real-world effects of the creation, distribution, and marketing of these stories on indigenous people. Two major problems arise with Moana in this regard:

  1. The question of cultural authenticity
  2. White people’s use of a living culture’s actual deities for profit-making endeavors that harm the environment, thereby undermining the film’s ecological message

In the first five minutes of her video essay on Pocahontas, Lindsay Ellis does an apt and humorous comparison of Pocahontas and Moana, highlighting mainstream media’s tendency to portray indigenous people in palatable ways to white people. This inevitably leads to inaccuracies, missed details, and messages that, after some digging, aren’t as positive as they seem.

While Disney’s depiction of non-white cultures in its films has improved in some ways over the years, there is that constant tension that Moana is ultimately a story about an indigenous culture told by white people. The company supposedly formed a board tasked with ensuring and validating a respectful, accurate representation of Pacific Island cultures for this film, but some have criticized that effort as Disney deciding what “cultural authenticity” is and whether or not they succeed at it.

The film may have great messages, but Disney ultimately profits from the production of plastic toys and other merchandise that causes pollution, and increased tourism to Hawaii and Polynesian islands, which includes branding initiatives on jet planes that release pollutants into the atmosphere.

Sticking the film’s portrayal of Maui on a jet plane is ironic, and not in a good way. Are the Polynesian people to whom Maui belongs benefiting from this marketing effort? Other than those individuals directly involved in the creation of Moana, I’m not sure. Additionally, using someone’s deity to encourage tourism and make a few bucks isn’t considerate of whether that culture’s theology even allows for such a thing. In the case of Maui, everything I’ve read has said “no,” especially since that increased tourism causes more pollution and funnels more money into tourism that has drastically changed how indigenous people live their lives.

On a more positive note, a Maori translation of Moana has had a positive impact on indigenous Polynesian people who probably for the first time are seeing themselves on screen and hearing their language spoken in a major film.

In highlighting a feminist theology in Moana, I intentionally avoided Christian language because as a Christian I always attempt to be cognizant of my faith’s colonizing past, especially regarding indigenous cultures. To me, being careful of this is part of loving my neighbor. Restoration and re-memberment within a community are most certainly experiences we discuss in the Church all the time. So in a very general sense, Moana speaks to a familiar theological reality to me. At the same time, many Christian churches and denominations are quite concerned with damage to the environment and being good stewards of the Earth. At General Synod, the United Church of Christ passed an emergency resolution about environmental stewardship. The UCC has also shown increased solidarity with indigenous people over the years, such as renouncing Manifest Destiny and standing with Standing Rock.

In the end, I do think we can celebrate good, powerful messages in fiction when we see them while also contextualizing our reception with real-world effects. Coming short of this would leave us with a rather incomplete feminist theology.


My new blackout poetry collection, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, is out now! Please buy, rate, and review it!