Disney is under fire again, this time for a Halloween costume design

Posted September 27

Disney's "Moana" opens in U.S. theaters on Nov. 23, 2016. (Deseret Photo)

A Halloween costume to promote Disney’s next hit film has fallen under fire in the last week because of its apparent racial undertones.

As BuzzFeed reported, Disney is currently selling a brown-skin costume for the character Maui, a demigod in the upcoming film “Moana,” who travels alongside a teenage girl on an island and ocean adventure.

The costume, which is meant to dress children up as the character voiced by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, comes with tattoo art, an island skirt and padded arms that make youngsters appear more muscular than they are.

The Maui costume — which costs between $44.95 and $49.95, according to the Disney Store — has been criticized recently though because of its cultural significance.

In fact, it “has left many people wondering whether it should be considered a celebration of culture or is just a very offensive example of cultural appropriation,” BuzzFeed reported.

It’s because of these sensitivities that parents should exercise caution over buying the costume, according to Gizmodo.

“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,” Gizmodo reported. “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.’”

Most costume critics shared their opinions on social media. Samoa Planet, a news and analysis website of Samoa news asked its Twitter followers if they thought the costume was offensive or not.

Some, like the Twitter account @nerdypoc, said that the costume truly is offensive to certain cultures.

Others pointed out that Samoans and those associated with the Samoan culture have taken issue with the “Moana” film for potential fat-shaming, since several characters in the film appear overweight (though, at the same time, reviewers have said the film portrays its main character in realistic fashion, which is a positive decision).

But this recent controversy is just another example of Disney falling under fire for some of its character marketing and design decisions.

Disney’s costumes also caused controversy about a year ago when the company decided to ban gender labels on its kid's costumes, according to MoviePilot, a Hollywood entertainment news website. The company ditched gender labels so that children could dress up as any character they want.

“Personally, I think this is an absolutely awesome step for Disney to take, and it's so refreshing to me that the company is trying it's best to be accessible and make Halloween magical for all children,” Moviepilot’s Karly Rayner wrote.

Of course, some felt differently about the decision, according to The Independent Journal Review.

Disney’s controversies aren’t isolated to just consume decisions, but the way it portrays its characters to the media.

For example, in 2013, Disney’s latest princess, Merida, the tomboy Scottish princess with an apt for archery, got a glamorous remodel on the company’s website, according to The Guardian. The makeover showed her with more makeup, flowing red locks and a more curved figure than what the Disney audience was used to from the film.

But more than 200,000 people signed a petition on to switch her appearance back to its original design. The movie’s creator, Brenda Chapman, also condemned the makeover, which eventually inspired Disney to remove the newer version of the princess.

Chapman said the newer, glammed-up version of Merida set a bad precedent for girls everywhere.

"When little girls say they like it because it's more sparkly, that's all fine and good but, subconsciously, they are soaking in the sexy 'come-hither' look and the skinny aspect of the new version," Chapman said, according to The Guardian. "It's horrible. Merida was created to break that mould. … To give young girls a better, stronger role model, a more attainable role model; something of substance, not just a pretty face that waits around for romance."

More recently, “Frozen” felt the burn from social media. As my colleague Brittany Binowski reported, the Disney film was the subject of the trending hashtag #GiveElsaAGirlfriend earlier this summer, where the Twitterverse called for Disney to give Elsa a same-sex love interest in the upcoming sequel to the hit 2014 film. But some said the decision to give Elsa a girlfriend would create controversy for young girls.

“Frozen” was also caught up in campaign-related controversy because a board game associated with the film had a star on it that was not unlike one Donald Trump used during his campaign. Trump’s star had been under fire for appearing anti-Semitic.

Despite the hiccups, there are parents who think children should still be free to watch Disney movies. Jill Robbins, a mother and writer for The Huffington Post, said she lets her daughter watch “The Little Mermaid” despite some criticisms that Disney is too sexualized or offensive.

She said parents need to talk to their children about any potential issues that arise in a Disney film to make it a worthwhile experience.

“Here’s the thing, parents: you have to decide what’s OK for your kids to watch,” she wrote. “If you think the Little Mermaid sends a bad social message (I can’t type that with a straight face) then watch something else. Don’t let them watch until they’re older ... or talk to them about what they’re seeing and find out if they have questions. It seems pretty simple to me."

Herb Scribner is a writer for Deseret Digital Media.


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