This Disney Costume Is Racist – and We Need to Talk to Our Kids About It

Disney Maui costume

In anticipation of the premiere of its latest animated feature, Moana, Disney has rolled out a new kids' costume just in time for Halloween. The costume is of the character Maui, a Polynesian demigod, and features his long black curly hair, his leaf skirt, and ... his skin. Yes. Your child can literally put on the tattooed brown skin of a Disney character. Newsflash: This isn't a costume, but rather cultural appropriation, and it's not okay.


When it comes to Halloween, there's no scarcity when it comes to awful, racist, culturally appropriative costumes from "Indian Princesses" to "Mexican" (sorry, "Tequila Dude"). Dressing up for fun as another culture is not an honorable thing or something done in reverence. It is, at its worst, perpetuating horribly racist stereotypes (again, looking at you, "Tequila Dude"), and at its best ... well, there really is no positive side to stealing another culture's identity to play dress up.

It's an extra slap to the face when Disney -- a company with a long history of catering solely to its white audiences -- releases a movie with an empowering young female lead of color only to then offer up a pretty offensive costume.

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The costume of Maui (voiced by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson in the movies) includes a brown body suit with the demigod's signature tattoos, ones that are special and sacred to the Polynesian people. Basically, Disney is offering a costume that essentially allows you to skip the brown face/body makeup because it's built into the costume! Making racism easier for everyone.


I'm not saying that little white kids who go to see Moana and fall in love with Maui shouldn't dress up as him for Halloween, but they can certainly do so without putting on brown skin. Wear the curly hair, wear a leaf skirt, carry his oversized fishing hook, but under no circumstances is it okay to darken your skin in order to look like him. It is akin to blackface, which has a very real and very painful history.

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And as parents, especially if we are white parents, we have a duty to talk to our kids about why it's not okay to change our skin color for a costume; to explain that skin color is not something that we can take on or off in our day-to-day lives, and that some people are being hurt just because of their darker skin color. To then wear it as a costume is just wrong, plain and simple. 

Kids will get it. I promise you. The young kids I know are more excited about repeating their favorite lines or wielding the weapon or wand of their favorite characters than shading their skin to match these characters. They will be okay spending a Halloween NOT in blackface. I promise. You will not ruin your little one's Halloween by refusing to buy this costume. (And honestly, for over $50? That's some pricey racism.)

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Just as its our duty as parents to expose our children to all the diverse cultures around the world, it is also our responsibility to teach our children how to learn about and from them without appropriating them. 

After all, black and brown children have been dressing up as their favorite Disney princesses and characters without painting their skin white for decades, so I know white parents can figure out a way for their children to make a Maui costume work without literally wearing his brown skin.


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