Hakuna Matata: Disney in 'Colonialism' Row Over its Trademark of Swahili Phrase
Disney was granted a US trademark of the phrase in 2003, protecting its use on clothing and footwear. Ironically the phrase itself comes from Swahili, which is widely spoken across East Africa and is a native and national language in countries like Kenya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Uganda.
International media conglomerate Disney has been hit by accusations of colonialism over its trademarking the phrase ‘Hakuna Matata’, ahead of the release of its motion-capture remake of The Lion King, set to come out in the summer of 2019. There now is an online petition, which is demanding that Disney abandon its rights to the phrase.
While the phrase, which is of Swahili origin and means “no problem”, was first popularized by Kenyan band Them Mushrooms when it was featured in their 1982 smash-hit single Jambo Bwana, it was really the 1994 single by the same name, written and performed by Elton John, from The Lion King which catapulted it into international consciousness.
The animated film, which tells the story of Simba, a young lion cub, being driven from his pride thanks to the machinations of his uncle Scar before returning from exile to take his place at its head, is one of Disney’s most valuable franchises of all time, spawning mucho merchandise dollars, a hit musical and its latest live remake, featuring the voice talents of Beyoncé, Chiwetel Ejiofor, James Earl Jones, Seth Rogen, and John Oliver, with Donald Glover lending his voice to Simba.
Disney was granted a US trademark of the phrase in 2003, protecting its use on clothing and footwear. Ironically, the phrase itself comes from Swahili, which is widely spoken across East Africa and is a native and national language in countries like Kenya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Uganda.
The petition was created by Shelton Mpala, who is accusing the company of cultural appropriation, writing, “Disney can’t be allowed to trademark something that it didn’t invent,” he wrote. The petition has been signed by close to 70,000 people at the time of this
Interestingly, this isn’t the first time that the American company has tried to turn a quick buck or a billion by appropriating the legacies of other cultures. It was more recently forced to drop its attempts to trademark the phrase “Dia de los Muertos”, which applies to the Mexican festival of the Day of the Dead, ahead of the release of its Pixar-animated film Coco, after furious online protests.
After dropping its trademark application for the same, Disney remarked it no longer had issues with rights to the phrase, as it had decided to change the name of its film. Or in other words, Hakuna Matata?
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