Disney Stops Selling Costume After Cultural Appropriation Critiques Spark Outrage
It's official, we have our first maybe-not-so-great Halloween costume of the season. It's not the "Sexy Zika Nurse" that I was predicting, but a children's costume tied to an upcoming animated movie. Now, Disney has pulled the costume amid cultural appropriation complaints. Moana, set to premiere in November, tells the tale of a Polynesian girl who teams up with the demigod Maui to save her people. Great! Pacific Islanders are underrepresented in the media! But this costume... many people weren't impressed. In a statement provided to Romper, a Disney spokesperson said, "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. We sincerely apologize and are pulling the costume from our website and stores."
The costume in question is of Maui himself, and it's not hard to see where things went off the rails. Setting aside the fact that few children would be interested in paying $50 to dress up like a character they're not even familiar with (the movie comes out nearly a month after Halloween), I get that Disney is all about those fat stacks, and they're going to merchandise the hell out of every property they own. The problem here is that the character of Maui wears only a skirt made out of leaves, and a necklace. The most noteworthy aspect of his appearance? His full-body tattoos. That means, you guessed it, the Maui costume is essentially a skin suit – a brown skin suit.
I get where they were going with this (ka-ching), but did nobody stop to question whether Polynesians would be offended that children were being encouraged to literally wear their skin as a costume? Obviously, selling just the skirt and necklace wouldn't work out for practical reasons, but maybe just let this one go. I really can't imagine anyone bought the costume, anyway, and the optics are just terrible.
Writing for the BBC, Arieta Rika said, "As a Pacific person, I can't tell you how excited I am to see this movie," but the Maui costume goes too far. And it's not just the brown skin Rika said is offensive: "Tattoos are deeply meaningful to Pacific people," she wrote, and "It is considered taboo and extremely disrespectful in many Pacific cultures to wear the markings of a people or place that you are not spiritually or physically connected to." Furthermore, Maui isn't just another Disney character like Buzz Lightyear; he's a a Polynesian legend, considered both a demigod and an ancestor, and turning him into a costume trivializes Pacific culture. Rika is still looking forward to seeing Moana, but would rather children not wear her culture's skin while trick-or-treating. Seems pretty reasonable.