Disney has decided to withdraw a children’s costume promoting its Moana animation movie, after accusations of cultural appropriation.
Moana “brownface” costume, a full-body suit with brown skin, traditional tattoos, grass skirt and bone necklace, represents the character Maui, considered a demi-god and ancestor by many Polynesians.
Activists said it was “brownface”, or mocking of the culture by creating stereotypes.
Disney said in a statement it regretted any offence: “The team behind Moana has taken great care to respect the cultures of the Pacific Islands that inspired the film, and we regret that the Maui costume has offended some.
Moana, due for release in November, tells the story of a young girl who teams up with the demi-god Maui to make an ocean voyage and save her people.
The character of Moana has been widely welcomed because she is feisty, independent and with a more realistic body shape than most Disney female leads.
Moana also has no love interest in the story, which was written by New Zealand Maori film-maker Taika Waititi.
When the trailer for Moana was released in June, many people were offended by the depiction of Maui, saying he was an “obese” caricature of Polynesian men.
Among the merchandise promoting Moana was the Maui costume, on sale for about $44.
The costume was advertised as helping children “set off on adventures”, with his “signature tattoos” and clothing.
Among the angry responses were people saying “our skin is not a costume”, and pointing out that white-skin outfits are never sold for white characters.