Disney’s Maui costume from ‘Moana’ is basically brownface and super racist
Disney’s officially licensed costume line for Moana is here, so now your kids can dress as Moana or the demigod Maui — but maybe not with these outfits, because the Moana Maui costume is ridiculously racist. From the trailers, we know Maui wears a skirt made of leaves and a necklace of animal teeth. Oh, and he’s covered in tattoos. The leaf skirt and animal teeth necklace are pretty distinctive, so that should work, right? If only Disney had stopped there. In reality, the main focus of the Maui costume is his tattooed brown skin, which your child can wear as a full-body suit. Treating Pacific Islander skin as a costume? This is brownface in all but name.
People of Pacific Islander descent called out the costume’s racism on social media, pointing out that the only reason to wear someone’s skin as a costume is if you think they’re less than human (unless you’re a serial killer, I guess). In a recent post, Tumblr user and Māori woman Anarchacannibalism described the Maui skin suit as “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.”
Yeah. This is one million percent not OK. By basically selling Pacific Islander skin as a costume, Disney is aligning itself with a horrifying history of murder and oppression.
Disney’s decision regarding the Maui costume is even more bewildering when you consider that the Moana costume is just a cute tank top and skirt resembling her outfit from the trailer, with no brownface included. Sure, Maui’s tattoos are a very distinctive part of his look, but they’re ON HIS SKIN. And skin is NOT A COSTUME.
Before the racism advocates chime in, this is in no way similar to, for instance, Hulk costumes that mimic green skin, because a) there’s no history of people with green skin being oppressed and b) I don’t remember the Hulk showing up in any myths or legends. Moana’s Maui may be a fictional character, but he’s based on a figure of great cultural and spiritual importance to a number of Pacific Island and Polynesian cultures. In many of these cultures, tattoos carry serious traditional and sacred significance as well, which adds to the disrespect on Disney’s part. If Disney is going to be part of treating people of colors’ bodies as objects to be bought and sold, this raises major doubts as to just how culturally sensitive Moana will be.