Disney moving to get a wider trademark on the Swahili phrase is being seen as cultural appropriation

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Published: December 25, 2018 3:31:13 AM

Disney, which is re-releasing The Lion King (a photorealistic remake) next year, however, seems to have bitten too much off in its attempt to cash in on the popularity of the original movie and the hype surrounding the upcoming re-release.

disney. disney newsDisney has technically “owned” the phrase since 1994, and the trade-mark, so far, applies only in the US and on usage in certain merchandise.

What did Disney really expect? That it would move to trade-mark the popular Swahili phrase hakuna matata that loosely translates to’no worries’ globally and no one would bat an eyelid? To be fair, the only reason why hakuna matata is part of banter in the UK, the US, India, West Asia, what-have-you, is because it was part of the dialogue, and a song, in The Lion King—the 1994 Disney animation feature that went on to be a, pardon the pun, roaring success.

Disney, which is re-releasing The Lion King (a photorealistic remake) next year, however, seems to have bitten too much off in its attempt to cash in on the popularity of the original movie and the hype surrounding the upcoming re-release. Hakuna matata is a commonly used phrase in eastern and southern Africa, and activists from across African nations have termed Disney’s move’cultural appropriation’.

* Companies trade-mark phrases all the time. After all, hasn’t Nike, for instance, trade-marked’Just do it’? There is a difference, however.

Hakuna matata was a common phrase in Africa much before The Lion King happened, and is more a cultural motif than just a widely-used phrase. Indeed, activists have called Disney’s move “an insult not only to the spirit of the Swahili people but also Africa as a whole” while a columnist in a widely-read newspaper in the continent writes about how “heritage that ought to belong to a certain group of people is instead pilfered using legal methods”.

Disney has technically “owned” the phrase since 1994, and the trade-mark, so far, applies only in the US and on usage in certain merchandise. But, the attempt for a wider trade-mark protection highlights the exploitation of African culture by Western corporations. Disney should just keep its paws off hakuna matata.

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