So what's got my anthropology geek dander up you ask? This completely moronic article on the i09 website complaining about a Maui (the demi-god sidekick to Moana, the title character in the upcoming Disney animated feature) Halloween costume being not only an example of the dreaded "cultural appropriation," but also.....gasp....tantamount to "brown-face." You get it, right? They refer to the old Vaudeville and minstrel show trope of the white guy in exaggerated make-up known as black-face. Only Maui isn't black, he's Polynesian. Hence, "Brown-face".
|This is black face. If you send little Johnny out as Maui, i09 thinks you're doing the Pacific Islander version of this|
Meanwhile, on Planet Earth, what Disney is doing is teaching about and paying tribute to the rich Polynesian culture in an entertaining and, my guess is, very popular manner. The film Moana is based upon one of the great cultural mysteries. Polynesians once roamed the Pacific Ocean in small sailboats, traveling hundreds or even thousands of miles of trackless sea with no compass, no chart, no astronomical book, no chronograph. They didn't get lost. They used tide and current and wind and weather and who knows what else to guide themselves. But then, for over a thousand years, they simply stopped. All of a sudden. No one knows why. Myths sprung up among the people of the South Pacific islands to explain the mystery, and this film is based upon a hodgepodge of those stories. Is it a stricly academic study of Pacific Island culture? No, it's a Disney movie with a pretty young girl as heroine and a big, strong, funny guy, demi-god played by Dwayne Johnson as her sidekick. There is music and magic and anthropomorphic critters. But what it is NOT is making fun of or belittleing in any way whatsoever the people of the South Pacific.
Disney once was criticized, and probably rightly so, for all it's "Princesses" being white Europeans. Lately the company has been making a concerted effort to be more inclusive of other cultures, which is good and makes perfect sense. All peoples of this Earth have stories and myths and legends, and Walt would be proud that today's movie makers are exporing new things and letting curiosity lead them down new paths. And it has a positive effect on audiences. Quite the opposite of the complaints.
No 8-year-old in suburban America was dressing as a Hawaiian demi-god last year. This year, I'm thinking quite a few will, and it will be because Disney ignited that spark in them and led them to open their little minds to a culture they would otherwise be unfamiliar with. How that can be a bad thing is a compete mystery to me.