Disney pulled their original Maui-themed Halloween costume following public controversy. courtesy Huffington Post

Socially-conscious Halloween costumes not always clear-cut

The Halloween season continues to blur lines of which costumes are culturally appropriate.

Every year toward the end of October, the discussion of cultural appropriation makes its return. Halloween presents a great opportunity to dress up and go out, but all too often, the invitation of a costume can become problematic.

It seems now as though it is easier to figure out what not to be for Halloween, with the public’s attention turned toward intersectional and all-encompassing political correctness. Cultural appropriation is not even the only problem; misogyny, ageism, classism and ableism all rear their ugly heads during Halloween.

It’s easy to be conscious enough not to buy a “sexy Indian maiden” or “men’s poncho costume,” but sometimes, the lines are blurred. One solution to avoiding wearing a problematic costume is to dress as a well-known character. However, some well-known characters could also become issues. For example, today, a Hannibal Lecter costume could be considered ableist because of the straitjacket.

The issue is even more ambiguous among kids’ costumes. What if a young white Disney Princess fan wanted to dress as Pocahontas, Mulan or Moana? Disney does sell costumes for each of the aforementioned princesses. They even sold a “Maui” costume when Moana came out, but pulled it after a week when met with a negative response. According to many online, the Maui costume not only made Brownface OK, but it also included full Polynesian-style tattoos on the sleeves and legs of the costume. The namesake of the movie, however, still has her costume on store shelves, and this week, Auli’i Cravalho, the Hawaiian actress who lent her voice to Moana in the film, publicly said it is OK for people to dress as her character.

Since Moana was released in 2016, many have said it is inappropriate for non-Polynesians to dress as characters of the film because of cultural appropriation. Cravalho, though, disagrees, saying, “I think it’s absolutely appropriate … It’s done in the spirit of love and for Disney and for the little ones who just want to dress up as their favorite heroine. I’m all for it.”

I agree with Cravalho. Young children who want to dress as Moana have good intentions and are not appropriating a culture so much as taking an opportunity to dress as a favorite character. Nonetheless, other culturally-appropriating costumes are still extremely inappropriate, especially for adults and specifically when they do not represent a certain character. I would say the Moana issue exists with Black Panther as well. Recently, I saw a young white boy in a Black Panther costume, and I wondered to myself if it was OK. Black Panther is a positive role model, and in all cases, a hero, so if a young white boy wants to dress as him, I think it is fine.

The lines still feel blurred by making exceptions for kids, and I anticipate that the conversation regarding socially-conscious costumes will persist for years. Gone are the days of cutting eye holes in a bedsheet.

Post Author: Will Gibson