Disney Blasted for Cultural Appropriation Over 'The Lion King' 'Hakuna Matata' Trademark

As the live-action adaptation of The Lion King approaches, fans are looking with a bit more scrutiny at Disney's trademark on the phrase "hakuna matata."

Disney has held a trademark on the kiSwahili phrase "hakuna matata" — meaning "no trouble" — for decades. It plays heavily into the 1994 animated version, holds a central role in one of the big musical numbers, and for most western viewers, the phrase immediately evokes the movie.

Still, for native speakers of kiSwahili, there is something very wrong about an American company holding a patent on their language. A new online petition asks Disney to give up its trademark, considering it did not invent the phrase or the language.

"Hakuna Matata has been used by most kiSwahili-speaking countries such as Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Mozambique, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo," it explains. "Disney can't be allowed to trademark something that it didn't invent."

The petition's author, Shelton Mpala, reasons that Disney has no legitimate creative write to the trademark, which has essentially commercialized a common East African phrase. Beyond that, Mpala says that the trademark is an egregious form of cultural appropriation.

"The decision to trademark 'Hakuna Matata' is predicated purely on greed and is an insult not only the spirit of the Swahili people but also, Africa as a whole," the petition reads. "The movie is set in Africa and the characters have African names which further makes the decision to implement the trademark a perplexing one."

"The term 'Hakuna Matata' is not a Disney creation hence not an infringement on intellectual or creative property, but an assault on the Swahili people and Africa as a whole," it goes on. "It sets a terrible precedence and sullies the very spirit of the term to begin with."

At the time of this writing, the petition has received just under 158,000 signatures in three weeks. It has a goal of 200,000 signatures, however the movement has already gotten massive exposure thanks to international news coverage.

So far, Disney has not made any public response to Mpala or the petition. The company applied for the trademark back in 1994, and it was officially registered in 2003. To this day, it mandates that no one except for Disney can use the phrase for commercial purposes.

"At a time when divisiveness has taken over the world, one would think re-releasing a movie that celebrates the unlikely friendships, acceptance, and unity, Disney would make a decision that goes completely against these values," the petition concludes.


The Lion King remake hits theaters on July 19, 2019.