Maui is a demigod in Polynesian mythology and is featured in the upcoming movie “Moana.” The costume is a long-sleeve brown shirt and long pants featuring full-body tattoos.
Polynesians and other Pacific Islanders are speaking out against the costume, saying it’s off-putting to have a child wear the skin of another race.
Native Hawaiian college student Chelsie Haunani Fairchild says “Polyface is Disney’s new version of blackface.”
Disney said in a statement today that it regretted offending some with the outfit. It said the team behind the “Moana” movie had taken great care to respect the cultures of the Pacific that inspired the film.
The company’s marketing was criticised elsewhere for being offensive.
Marama Fox, co-leader of New Zealand’s Maori Party, accused Disney of aiming to “make a profit off the back of another culture’s beliefs and history”.
“(It’s) no different to putting the image of one of our ancestors on a shower curtain or a beer bottle,” she said.
On Twitter, @SamoaPlanet posed the question: “Is this cultural appropriation at its most offensive worst? #BrownFace OR just a fun celebration of Pasifika?”
Others on social media described the faux-skin costume as “creepy” and called for its withdrawal.
The New Zealand Human Rights Commission called on Disney to take note. “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,” it told the stuff.co.nz news website.
“We hope Disney listens to the views of the communities and people whose cultures their movie is based upon.”
It is not the first time “Moana”, a retelling of Polynesian mythology due for release in November, has offended Pacific activists.
When a trailer was released in June, the Maui character voiced by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was slammed for being obese.
Critics said it “fat-shamed” Polynesians and reinforced stereotypes of the island nations, which have some of the world’s highest obesity rates.
However, the movie does have some defenders, including Madeleine Chapman, a New Zealand-based journalist of Samoan descent.
Writing in thespinoff.co.nz, she admitted “my knee-jerk reaction was to recoil” upon first seeing the skin costume.
But she said she changed her mind after reflecting on the issue and discussing it with relatives.
“After years and years of seeing Samoan Spiderman and Brown Batman at little kids’ birthday parties, how incredible it would be to see white kids looking up to and wanting to be like the Polynesian hero in the movies?” she said.