Disney came under fire recently for selling a racially insensitive kids costume to promote its upcoming film Moana.
Merchandise for the film, whose main character Maui is of South Pacific descent, basically boiled down to a brown skin bodysuit, complete with Polynesian-inspired tattoos, a fake shark-tooth necklace and a faux leaf skirt. A thick dark wig inspired by the character was also included.
Unsurprisingly, Disney has decided to pull the costumes less than a week after their debut amid allegations of "brownface."
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"The team behind Moana has taken great care to respect the cultures of the Pacific Islands that inspired the film," a representative from Disney told HuffPo. "We regret that the Maui costume has offended some. We sincerely apologize and are pulling the costume from our website and stores."
Even less surprising, Twitter's eruption into a hailstorm of criticism:
cosplaying things like moana is one thing - cosplay shouldn't be limited to what ur race is. but literally wearing a brown skin costume? no— ✨ hannah ✨ (@donnatroying) September 19, 2016
While #Moana might be progressive in some ways, it's still created by white people and has negative effects on the cultures 'represented'.— NPOC (@nerdypoc) September 18, 2016
You can LITERALLY buy brown skin with PI tattoos& a grass skirt for $44.95. This is exactly why so many PIs have been critical of #Moana— امنية (@NiaLole) September 18, 2016
Prior to the release of the costume, the film's trailers and images had already raised concern about cultural appropriation. Particularly in Oceanian communities (which refers to the region between Southeast Asia and the Americas and includes the Pacific islands Polynesia, Fiji, and Papua New Guinea), the film's portrayal of the characters can be read as racist. Case in point: Maui's "larger-than-life" portrayal which some say serves to perpetuate the stereotype that all Polynesian people are obese.
"Brownface" (or "Polyface") is in the same vein as Blackface and is just as offensive. From old-timey minstrel shows to ripped-from-the-headlines news stories about frat bros painting their faces with grease for "Bros and Hos" parties, the phenomenon of donning a different skin color is tinged with mocking and exploitation.
Disney's seemingly innocuous appropriation of brown skin and religious tattoos for white kids' enjoyment is a sign that Hollywood (and its marketing team) need to be more thoughtful in how it goes about packaging and selling other cultures on a grand scale. Especially when they're after our dollars.