Disney’s Moana inspired millions of little girls and boys to seek adventure and be true to themselves after its fall 2016 release, which saw the film’s titular character sing her heart out about how far she would go.
Following her success in restoring the heart of Te Fiti alongside her new demigod friend Maui (and trusty-yet-not-entirely-intelligent rooster Heihei), Moana persuaded her entire village to tap into its voyaging past and take to the seas.
Understandably, many children have flocked to the shelves of Halloween stores, Target, the Disney Store and more to get their hands on Moana costumes and accessories — but there has been some controversyover parents allowing their children to dress up as their favorite Polynesian princess.
After a conversation about cultural appropriation with her 5-year-old daughter last year, writer Sachi Feris published a blog for Raising Race Conscious Children titled “Moana, Elsa, And Halloween” (which went viral at the time) about why she wouldn’t let her white daughter dress up as Moana.
“Moana is based on real history and a real group of people … if we are going to dress up a real person, we have to make sure we are doing it in a way that is respectful. Otherwise, it is like we are making fun of someone else’s culture,” Feris explained in the blog.
In 2016, her daughter dressed up as Elsa from Disney’s 2013 blockbuster Frozen, which she felt comfortable with because, as she wrote, “Elsa is an imaginary or made-up character,” adding, “A child whose family is Polynesian could dress up using that type of traditional clothing, but Moana’s culture is not our culture.”
Many readers took to the blog’s comments section to praise Feris for her dedication in educating her daughter about different cultures, with one writing, “I admire your perseverance in interacting with your daughter. I realize talking about race and culture is an ongoing deeply important conversation.”
Others had a different view. One commenter wrote, “The discouragement of cultural appropriation seems to assume very negative motives. Perhaps dressing up as someone from another culture is motivated by a desire to honor that culture.”
Another mused, “I think we have to look at history as the guide. In a country where people dressed in blackface and dressed as ‘Indians’ who were then shot by cowboys (a sterilized version of the genocide of the Native Americans), we continue with the trauma by dressing up as people of color. I think we have to be clear that this is the distinction: White people cannot dress up as people of color (whether they be real or imaginary) because it invokes the history of and current practice of racial oppression.”
In a follow-up piece from Redbook, the outlet opined that “You can (and should) strive to be better than you were 10, 20 or 30 years ago” in terms of cultural appropriation.
“If you missed the mark when you were younger, maybe think about using this Halloween as an opportunity to teach your kids about the importance of cultural sensitivity,” the article read.
“If your child’s dream costume feels questionable, don’t just throw up your hands and hand over your credit card. You’re the parent here, and the onus of what your child wears falls on you. If your kid wears a racist costume … you’re kind of wearing it too.”
Twitter users were divided on the subject, with one supporting the claim of cultural appropriation by writing, “I think Moana and Coco are different because ‘costumes’ of characters from those movies aren’t actually costumes. Those are real cultural practices of real people.”
Others were on the side of “let kids be kids” like a user who tweeted, “I’m sorry but why is it offensive for anyone to dress up as Moana, she’s a Disney princess for Christ sake. If a little girl or boy wants to dress up as their favorite Disney princess then they shouldn’t be made to feel like they’re in the wrong!”
A third chimed in, “I’m sorry, I hate to be a negative Nancy, but this Moana costume thing is so absurd. I’m a firm believer on respecting culture, and giving them the proper appropriation, but we do not need to be in a world where our kids’ imaginations can’t flourish.”
“This cultural appropriation stuff is getting out of hand,” wrote another. “I just read an article pleading adults not to dress their children as Moana. It finished by saying ‘the costume is okay I guess but don’t use face paint or stick on tattoos or colored body suits’ THEY’RE COSTUMES.”