Disney's Moana costume is called out for cultural appropriation

A new play suit made by Disney for its new movie ‘Moana’ has been slammed for its use of traditional Polynesian tribal tattoos.

The costume is an outfit for the character Maui, the demi-god, played by Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson in the film, and has got the Mouse House in hot water for cultural appropriation.

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Maori New Zealanders and members of the Polynesian community have spoken out about the outfit, being sold for $61 and which also features a rope necklace and a leaf skirt.

“Your little one will set off on adventures in this Maui Costume featuring the demigod’s signature tattoos, rope necklace and island-style skirt. Plus, padded arms and legs for mighty stature!” reads a description of the suit on the Disney website.

A spokesperson for the New Zealand Human Rights Commission said: “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.”

Karaitiana Taiuru, an advocate for Maori people based in Christchurch, added: “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.

“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.”

Many also took to Twitter to explain that the costume was culturally insensitive.

Earlier this year, following the movie’s first trailer, it was criticised by New Zealand MP Jenny Salesa, who is of Tongan heritage, for depicting Maui as obese, adding that he looked ‘half pig, half hippo‘.

“When we look at photos of Polynesian men & women from the last 100-200 years, most of our people were not overweight and this negative stereotype of Maui is just not acceptable – No thanks to Disney,” Salesa said.

The movie finds tribal princess Moana, played by Hawaiian-born actress Auli’i Cravalho, setting sail in search of a fabled island, teaming up with Maui along the way.

So far, Disney has not commented on the matter.

Image credits: Disney