Disney accused of "cultural black face" over tie-in costume for new animated film

'Moana' tells the story of a Polynesian girl on a quest, but a costume of one of the characters has been called insensitive


The Maui costume includes simulated brown skin with Pacific Islander tribal tattoos [Disney]

On November 23rd, Disney will be hoping to unleash a new smash hit with its next animated feature film Moana. In doing so, the House of Mouse will also be welcoming a new princess into its canon of lucrative merchandising empire, adding the Polynesian teen to the ranks of Frozen’s Elsa, Cinderella, Belle, Ariel, and all of the rest of them. As such, a massive amount of new toys and clothes is on the way, and one of them has already fallen foul of cries of cultural appropriation and black face.

The film co-stars Dwayne Johnson as Maui, a demigod who guides Moana on her quest, and whose physical stature and skin colour has been replicated in a costume. The full body suit includes skin, tribal tattoos, and a grass skirt, and has been accused of being racially insensitive to Pacific Islander communities.

The children’s costume is worn by a model of Polynesian heritage in the publicity photo, but critics on Twitter have spoken out against what it means when a child of a different race wears it. “This is so disgusting,” one writes. “You can literally buy brown skin for $44.95. This is exactly why so many Pacific Islanders have been critical of Disney’s Moana – because this is the result. This is not ‘just a cartoon,’ this is our culture and how we are represented.”

The Maui costume and wig as seen in Disney's promotional material [Disney]

“This is where the politics of capitalist ‘representation’ get us,” said another. “Literally brown skin suits. This is the culmination of the historical process which saw the mutilated body parts of my exterminated ancestors preserved, stolen and mass marketed to Europeans in the 19th century. Now for kids.”

It is not only the Maui costume that some find offensive. While most of the female options are a version of Moana’s tank top and skirt, many of the men’s and boys’ clothing, including t-shirts and pyjamas, include simulations of Maui’s brown skin and tattoos.

This is also not the first controversy the animated film has faced; when a teaser trailer surfaced online two months ago, prominent figures in the South Pacific made clear they also had issues with the representation of Maui’s size in the film. Jenny Salesa, a member of the New Zealand parliament, said: “When we look at photos of Polynesian men and women from the last 100 to 200 years, most of our people were not overweight, and this negative stereotype of Maui is just not acceptable.”

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