Vote 2020 graphic
Everything you need to know about and expect during
the most important election of our lifetimes

Disney Does Brownface in Moana Costume Misfire

Credit: Disney
Credit: Disney

Disney’s latest film Moana is a celebration of Polynesian culture that, by all appearances, is aiming to be mindful and diverse. Sadly, it doesn’t look like the Halloween costume department got the memo.

Advertisement
Credit: Disney
Credit: Disney

Disney has released its line of clothing, toys, and accessories for Moana, and the company decided to make Maui’s costume full-on “brownface.” The full-body children’s suit is designed to look just like the Polynesian demigod, voiced by Dwayne Johnson, including tattoos, grass skirt, and, yes, brown skin.

Advertisement
Credit: Disney
Credit: Disney

The costume looks great on the young male model because he has a similar complexion, but you can’t escape the fact that a white boy or girl is going to be in brownface. Just because you don’t darken the face itself doesn’t mean it’s not offensive and wrong. Speaking of which, what about the face? If the kid darkens their skin at all, to better match the costume, we could see an “Obama” brown face-paint situation, which only makes a bad situation worse.

That doesn’t mean children shouldn’t dress as characters that are different ethnicities, but typically changing your skin color to do so is considered inappropriate. Some have pointed out that the costume can be viewed as something more for children of color, which is understandable, but there’s also the issue of cultural identity. Some have criticized the costume for turning centuries of their Pacific Islander culture into “just a cartoon.”

Advertisement

It’s not just the costume. While most of the female clothing options simply involve Moana’s stylish tank top and skirt, some of the boys’ and men’s clothing (like t-shirts and pajamas) simulate Maui’s brown skin and tattoos.

People of color have been fighting for white people to stop appropriating and stereotyping their cultures with blackface, brownface, or yellowface costumes. It’s about time companies like Disney actually listen and stop making outfits that cross the line from cosplay to The Jazz Singer.

Advertisement

That’s not to say Disney shouldn’t make a Maui costume at all, but it could be more respectful to make a costume overlay that puts the tattoos on the child’s own skin color, and they wear a t-shirt and leggings to match. However, that would not address the larger cultural appropriation issue that’s been brought up by some critics.

Moana arrives in theaters November 23.

[Disney Store]

Update: Added response regarding cultural representation, and clarification on representation in costumes.

Advertisement

Video Editor and Staff Writer at io9. My doppelganger is that rebelling greeting card from Futurama.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter

DISCUSSION

legokirk42
LegoKirk42

Sorry I really don’t see the problem with this.... If there is an issue can someone please explain it to me.