Usually, when we talk about people donning the identities of marginalized people for a cheap laugh, we’re speaking about adults who’ve gone out of their ways to ignore the historical legacy of things like brownface. This Halloween, though, kids can get in on the tone-deaf fun thanks to the folks over at Disney, who greenlit the production of this seriously misguided full-body costume from its upcoming film Moana.
In Moana, Maui, a Polynesian demigod voiced by Dwayne Johnson, accompanies the movie’s titular heroine as she embarks on an adventure to save her family. Like most of Moana‘s characters, Maui is depicted as a brown-skinned Polynesian man with flowing hair and a number of striking tattoos that cover his body. Disney’s official Maui costume features a wig and a brown body suit close to Maui’s in tone complete with “the demigod’s signature tattoos, rope necklace and island-style skirt.”
While the model featured on Disney’s website is (thankfully?) a person of color who could very well be Polynesian, there’s every indication that this costume is more or less full-body brown face.
While there were a handful of people who didn’t see what all the fuss was about concerning the costume, a number of decidedly more woke folks didn’t hesitate to explain how literally inviting children to wear the skin of a character of color (let alone a religious figure) was offensive as hell.
Disney has yet to publicly comment about the controversy.
As one of the company’s few princess-focused movies to feature a female lead of color (and the studio’s first film inspired by Polynesian culture), Moana is something of a milestone that many interpreted as Disney making a significant step forward towards its goal of telling a broader variety of racially-diverse stories. This costume, though, is a disappointing reminder that for all the good will and intentions that may go into projects like this, the industry is still largely guided by financial interests and cash grabs (see: merchandise) that don’t necessarily get the same careful thought before they get to market.