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Opinion: Jason Momoa's Aquaman is a superhero that our Polynesian boys can finally relate to

DC's latest superhero movie Aquaman has smashed a New Zealand box office record, becoming the highest grossing Boxing Day opening movie of all time, and that's definitely worth celebrating.

Aquaman has topped $US600 million ($NZ890 million) worldwide becoming Warner Bros. biggest global grosser of 2018, according to Forbes.

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 incarnation was a blonde haired, fair, white-skinned Caucasian man.

Momoa’s character is marked with tā moko and he wears a pounamu - one of the most prized treasures in Māori culture.

Having a Polynesian superhero in Aquaman is ground breaking and the film can be parralled with Marvel’s Black Panther superhero played by African American actor Chadwick Boseman.

Both films break the stereotypical look of a superhero which has been a white male. 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, the place where our people lived in tune with 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.

But let’s not forget Disney’s movie Moana which paved the way. It also features 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 fishhook - matau just like him too.

Te Whānau-a-Āpanui director Taika Waititi has also made his mark in Hollywood with last year’s blockbuster - Marvel’s Thor:Ragnorok -  whose cast also included New Zealand actors. And lest we forget Marvel’s Deadpool 2, which featured a teenage mutant character played by our very own Ngāti Hāua descendant, 16-year old actor Julian Dennison.

Returning to Aquaman, you can see the influence of Māori culture throughout. Aquaman’s mortal dad is played by Temuera Morrison who greets his son (played by Momoa) with a hongi.

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    The Aquaman star might not be Māori, but he shares a passion for staying strong to Pacific roots, performer Shannon Borrell tells TVNZ’s Te Karere. Source: Te Karere

    Momoa’s character uses a common Māori colloquial saying "ana tōkai!’ - It serves you right! during a fighting scene. The way he wields his trident echoes the use of the taiaha.

    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. It’s something not normally seen unless you live in the Pacific or have seen our All Blacks team perform it.

    And just this week Momoa revealed his genealogical links to Aotearoa, lifting the Pacific's profile to the rest of the world.

    Aquaman brings a superhero that our Polynesian boys can finally relate to 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."

    No doubt we'll be seeing our boys including my own 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!

    By Te Karere reporter Te Rina Kowhai


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