Ah, it’s that time of year again. Temperatures are finally beginning to drop. Every product in every store smells like pumpkin. Grocery stores have devoted entire aisles to candy. And another new costume is stirring up controversy. That’s right — it’s Halloween.
Except this year, the company behind the offending costume is Walt Disney. When it comes to harmless fun and entertainment, it doesn’t get much better than Disney. So what could they have possibly done to create so much controversy around a Halloween costume?
Disney has a new animated movie coming out this November called Moana. (That’s “moe-ah-nah” by the way. Not “mona.”) The film takes place in the ancient Pacific ocean. It also features Disney’s first ever Polynesian princess. Generally, Moana has earned praise for its treatment of Polynesian culture and its lead character. Not only is Moana the first Polynesian Disney princess, she’s also the first that’s not a rail-thin waif.
So how could the same company being praised for its inclusiveness be responsible for such a controversial costume? It’s an irony that defies explanation.
Maui is More than an Island in Hawaii
The costume in question is based on the Moana character, Maui. Action star and former wrestler Dwayne Johnson gives voice to Maui in the film. The character is a demigod and is an important part of Polynesian culture.
Maui’s outfit in the film is not much to look at. The only clothing he wears is a grass skirt and a necklace. That didn’t stop Disney from creating a Halloween costume based on Maui, however. The problem is how they went about it.
The costume is a plush muscle suit that gives kids Maui’s strong physique. Unfortunately, it also gives them Maui’s brown skin and the many tattoos he sports.
Brownface and Cultural Appropriation
People of Polynesian descent did not appreciate what they considered an appropriation of their culture. The tattoos worn by Maui are sacred. Wearing them without the proper context would be considered insulting.
Even worse though is the costume’s brown skin. Polynesians considered it to be brownface, a term derived from blackface, the makeup used in old American minstrel shows.
The good news is that Disney heard the controversy and acted swiftly to rectify the situation. They removed the costume from Disney Stores around the country and the Disney Store website.
In addition, Disney issued an apology to its fans: “The team behind Moana has taken great care to respect the cultures of the Pacific Islands that inspired the film, and we regret that the Maui costume has offended some.”
Even More Maui Controversy
There was already some minor controversy over the depiction of Maui even before the costume debacle. Many were upset that at what they considered to be an obese version of the demigod. An overweight Polynesian character is considered to be a hurtful stereotype and caricature by many in the community.
What do you think? Do you find the Moana costume to be offensive? How could Disney have created a Maui costume that would not be offensive?