Roar deal: Disney mauled for ‘stealing’ Lion King catchphrase
Hollywood giant accused of cultural appropriation over trademarking Swahili phrase 'hakuna matata'
Disney has been accused of “colonialism and robbery” for trademarking the Swahili phrase “hakuna matata”, made famous by The Lion King.
More than 60,000 people have so far signed a petition accusing the studio of cultural appropriation, and demanding it drop commercial rights to the words.
“Hakuna matata” means “no worries” or “no problem” and was the title of an Oscar-nominated song, written by Elton John and Tim Rice, for the 1994 film and sung by the characters Timon and Pumbaa. Disney will release a remake of the film next year featuring the voices of Beyoncé and Chiwetel Ejiofor, the British actor. That has led to a campaign aimed at forcing the studio to relinquish its control of the phrase.
Shelton Mpala, the Zimbabwean activist who started the petition, said: “I liken this to colonialism and robbery, the appropriation of something you have no right over.”
The petition claims the phrase has been used by countries including Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It adds: “Join us and say no to Disney or any corporations or individuals looking to trademark languages, terms or phrases they didn’t invent.”
According to the US patent and trademark office, Disney first applied to trademark the phrase in 1994, when The Lion King came out, and was granted rights to it in 2003. That trademark is still active and means Disney can sue other companies that use it on a T-shirt. It cannot sue people for using the phrase in speech.
Mpala said: “This plundered artwork serves to enrich or benefit these corporations and not the creators or people it’s derived from. A lot of Swahili speakers have been utterly shocked. They had no idea this was happening.”
The current controversy began in November in Kenya when Cathy Mputhia, founder of an intellectual property law firm, wrote an article in Business Daily, a Kenyan newspaper, citing “hakuna mutata” as an example of “pilferage of African culture”. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, a Kenyan professor at the University of California, called Disney’s legal appropriation of the words “horrifying”. He said: “It would be like trademarking ‘good morning’ or ‘it is raining cats and dogs’ in the case of English.”
Disney had no immediate comment.
– © The Daily Telegraph