Live-Action “Moana” Writer Recalls 'Weeping' at Original: 'What It Means to Be Pacific Islander' (Exclusive)

"I had never heard those sounds in a theater before," Dana Ledoux Miller recalls of seeing 2016's 'Moana'



Even though she was six months pregnant at the time, Samoan American screenwriter Dana Ledoux Miller doesn't blame hormones for why she burst into tears when watching the 2016 film Moana for the first time.

"I sat down in the theater and the first words in the song [that played during] the opening credits were in Samoan — and I just started weeping," Ledoux Miller, co-screenwriter on the upcoming live-action remake of Moana, tells PEOPLE. "I had never heard those sounds in a theater before."

Her emotions continued to stir as she watched the animated film starring Auli'i Cravalho and Dwayne Johnson, which ended up grossing $687 million worldwide and became the most-watched streaming movie across platforms in 2023.

"I just remember thinking, 'I don't know who this kid is that's going to come out of me, but the world is going to be a little different and things are going to be possible that weren't possible when I was growing up," she says.

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<p>Rodin Eckenroth/Getty</p>

Rodin Eckenroth/Getty

Related: Dwayne Johnson Announces Live-Action 'Moana' in the Works at Disney: 'So Excited and Happy'

Though she grew up in Long Beach, Calif., less than 30 miles away from Los Angeles, she couldn’t have felt more removed from Hollywood.

“Nobody in my family had ever worked in film and television,” says Ledoux Miller, 41, who was also the co-creator of Netflix’s acclaimed 2022 documentary series Thai Cave Rescue. “I didn’t think it was something someone like me could do.”

It wasn’t until she was a student at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa — and secured an internship on the set of Lost — that her dream felt more tenable.

"It was the first place that I had ever lived where I was just fully surrounded by people of mixed identity and mixed Pacific Islander identities," says Ledoux Miller.

"And they looked at me and they're like, 'You're enough.' That was something I always struggled with: 'Am I Samoan enough?' That created a community and space to have some self discovery and gave me the confidence to pursue this unlikely career."

After college Ledoux Miller returned to L.A. and landed writing jobs at The Newsroom and Narcos before Netflix green-lit Rescue.

“What I tell Pacific Islanders coming up in the business is to not be afraid to take up space,” says Ledoux Miller, who cofounded PEAK (Pasifika Entertainment Advancement Komiti), providing networking opportunities for Pacific Islander creatives.

“When you’re seen and celebrated in your fullness, it changes the way people perceive you. It creates empathy in a way that didn’t exist before.”

The live-action adaptation of Moana is expected in theaters July 10, 2026.

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