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Disney's newest animated spectacle, Moana, is set to hit theaters in just a couple months. However, the movie is already having to do damage control following a merchandise controversy. After comments that a Halloween costume of the character of Maui from the film could be viewed as offensive if worn under the wrong circumstances, Disney has pulled the costume, and a similar pajama set, off of their website.
The child's costume depicts the character of Maui, who will be voiced by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson in the film. Because Maui is covered with tattoos, the costume is a full body suit in order to properly depict the look. Unfortunately, this means that any child with a skin tone other than that of the costume is going to look like they're dressed in "brownface." Disney told the Huffington Post that the team behind Moana has taken great care to respect the pacific island cultures depicted in the film, and they are removing the costume.
This was almost certainly the right move by Disney. While the offense was clearly unintentional, the potential for issues was just as clearly there. Certainly, there will be kids of all ethnicities who take a look at Maui in the trailers for Moana and think that guy looks cool. They'd love to be him for Halloween. The cultural appropriation wouldn't be intentional, but it would still be there. Kids wouldn't even understand why mom and dad were saying no to that particular costume, yet that's really what needs to be said. Even worse, would be a situation where mom and dad didn't see the issue until it was too late.
The problem is that, as the animators of Moana have discussed, Maui's look isn't an outfit, it's his body. He wears a grass skirt, but that's the only clothing the character has. The outfit turns the culture, not the clothing, into a costume. The costume to dress as Moana herself is still available on Disney's website, as it's simply the tank top and skirt that the character wears in the movie. Any child can wear that without issue. Maui's look is just a little more complicated than that.
As Moana is the first Disney animated feature to deal with pacific islander cultures, it's important that these issues be handled properly. Disney is a huge cultural influence on the world and so the way that they choose to depict the people of Moana really does have an impact. Everything in the film so far looks like Disney is putting their best foot forward. They just tripped up a bit on the merchandise side of things.
Do you think Disney made the right call pulling the Maui costume? Let us know in the comments.