Pasifika advocates call out Disney for appropriating Moana costume
The Human Rights Commission is calling for Disney to listen to concerns raised by the Pasifika community about its Moana costumes.
Disney has been accused of cultural appropriation for selling costumes for children based on the character of Maui, the Polynesian demigod voiced in the film by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.
The costumes, for sale from the Disney's online store, are a kind of zip-up skin featuring Maui's signature tattoos, rope necklace and island-style skirt.
Members of the Polynesian community, including Maori New Zealanders, have condemned the costumes as cultural appropriation.
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A Human Rights Commission spokesperson said it was important Disney listened to those concerns.
"Right now Polynesian people from across the Pacific region are voicing their views about this costume and it's their voices that are important right now. We hope Disney listens to the views of the communities and people whose cultures their movie is based upon," the spokesperson said.
Karaitiana Taiuru, a Christchuch-based advocate for Maori, was concerned the costumes could be the start of a fad for appropriating Polynesian cultures.
"We need to take a stand now and say, 'Look, this is not appropriate,' to prevent other entrepreneurs trying to do something similar. ... There are unlimited opportunities for discrimination and exploitation," he said.
Taiuru was worried Polynesian cultures could be appropriated and mocked like the cultures of Native Americans have been in the US. "I just wonder if this is going to be the start of a whole new range of products," he said.
Taiuru said awareness was the key to stopping that from happening as there was no legal protection for indigenous artworks like tattoos.
The Maui costume's appropriation of Pasifika tattoos was particularly problematic as it ignored the important meanings typically associated with Polynesian body art, Taiuru said.
"The tattoo is sacred and it's unique to the wearer. People don't just go and get some sort of design, in Maori culture you don't just go and get something that looks Maori. It's a form of identity, it's about your family origins and your achievements and your history. So to wear something like that would be I think ... not good. I'd almost liken it to taking the clothes off a dead person and putting them on, wearing their jewellery or something."
"It would be quite disturbing to see children think it's okay to wear those kinds of outfits. If parents realise the cultural issues of doing that, hopefully they might boycott the product."
On Sunday, Maori Party co-leader and MP Marama Fox said in her personal opinion Disney was looking to "make a profit off the back of another culture's beliefs and history".
"[Disney's Maui costumes are] no different to putting the image of one of our ancestors on a shower curtain or a beer bottle," she said.
I wanted Moana to be real. I wanted to feel relevant in the eyes of the general public, but no. I'm only a costume to them, and that's sad— hapa hoe™ (@finalgirljessie) September 19, 2016
Moana has already come under fire from Manukau East MP Jenny Salesa.
In June Salesa, who is of Tongan descent, complained Moana's sidekick in the fictional Pacific cartoon adventure set 2000 years ago, demi-god Maui, was obese and fat-shaming Polynesian kids.
The Moana controversies aren't the first time pop culture giant Disney has run into trouble over its depiction and use of ethnic identities to help generate multi-billion profits.
In July 2016, Guardian opinion writer Melissa Lozada-Oliva hit-out at Disney for its token efforts creating Hispanic characters by merely giving them brown complexions.