BYU comedy troupe axes ‘Moana’ mashup sketch after Pacific Islanders protest poster they say amounts to ‘brownface’

The production combined music from the Disney hit with the 1969 LDS Church produced short “Johnny Lingo.”

(Image taken from Facebook) This poster image, promoting a sketch show by the student troupe BYU's Divine Comedy, was pulled from circulation at Brigham Young Unviersity on Thursday, after complaints from members of Utah's Pacific Islander community.

A student comedy troupe at Brigham Young University has cut a sketch — a parody of Disney’s “Moana” and the LDS camp classic “Johnny Lingo” — from an upcoming production after complaints from members of Utah’s Pacific Islander community that it was offensive.

“They didn’t know the extent to which that would offend that population,” said George Nelson, a theater professor at BYU and faculty adviser to the student group, BYU’s Divine Comedy. BYU is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The sketch, “Moana You Ugly,” combined music from last year’s Disney hit and ideas from the 1969 LDS Church-produced short “Johnny Lingo.” The short film, once a staple of LDS lessons but now regarded as comically out-of-date, tells of a Polynesian woman, Mahana, who is deemed ugly and unmarriageable by her elders — until a trader offers the exorbitant sum of eight cows for her hand, thus raising her self-worth.

“Johnny Lingo” is loaded with racist stereotypes and romanticizes white colonialism of Pacific islands, said Heilala Potesio, an activist and a member of the Utah Pacific Islander Civic Engagement Coalition.

“With the political climate now, it’s not a good time to make a show to make light of what years of activism, years of civil rights have done,” said Potesio, who is of Tongan heritage.

Pacific Islanders and their allies took to Divine Comedy’s Facebook page Thursday to complain in particular about a poster promoting the show. The poster featured two members of the troupe, both Caucasian, in costumes resembling those of characters from “Moana.” Potesio and others said the poster image amounted to “brownface.”

Members of Divine Comedy passed out flyers with the poster image around the Provo campus earlier this week. After a slew of complaints on social media, Nelson said Thursday, the poster was pulled and the sketch canned.

The students “didn’t realize what would hit the fan when the poster went up,” Nelson said. “The students are beside themselves with the backlash.”

Divine Comedy’s fall show, minus the offending sketch, is set to be performed Oct. 13-14 in the Tanner building on the BYU campus.