Children aspiring to be like their favourite Disney character or insensitive mockery of culture?

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For anyone who hasn’t yet heard of the movie ‘Moana’, it is a popular Disney movie which was released in in 2016. The story follows a young Polynesian girl who befriends Maui, a rather large, tattooed demigod whose voice is played by Dwayne Johnston. They then go on to return the heart of the ocean etc etc. (I have a three-year-old so I have only seen it 64,296 times.) ‘Moana’ was a massive hit with children everywhere. And therefore, without any hesitation the Disney store, designed costumes to replicate the characters from the movie. (I will be honest I may have purchased the over-price tiny piece of material for my daughter.)

All was well until Halloween last year, when it emerged in the newspapers that parents should not dress their children as a different race from their own as it could be deemed racist. This statement was specifically aimed at The Moana, Maui and the movie Frozens’ character Elsa’s costumes.

 

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It was suggested that Disney’s Moana who is seen as a Polynesian warrior should not be replicated unless the person dressing up is actually Polynesian. The same was suggested for Elsa from the Disney movie frozen, as dressing like her was seen to be promoting ‘white beauty’. So, do we now have to be dead to dress as a ghost? Or from Egypt to be a mummy at Halloween?

The initial blog actually suggested that dressing your children as though from a culture other than your own was ‘cultural appropriation’. In more understandable terms, this suggests that you are taking something from a culture which you don’t belong to and using it for a purpose it wasn’t meant for. Surely dressing as a fictional movie character cannot fall into this category, and is being blown way out of proportion?

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I believed that dressing children up as a character from their favourite movie, whether they are of a different race or not can cause no harm? WRONG, according to activists it is insensitive and can be seen as ‘making fun’ of someone else’s culture. I know I found this incredibly shocking as harming anyone’s feelings while watching my daughter prance around the living room singing ‘see the line where the sky meets the sea’ did not even cross my mind.

Surely, we should let children be children and if they like a movie they should be able to rein act it by dressing in a costume without being deemed as racist? I can definitely understand how we should be respectful of other people’s cultures and ethnicity but I’m pretty sure my three-year-old daughter does not care about race. All she cares about is looking like a strong-willed Polynesian princess or queen Elsa from Frozen and I most definitely am not going to stand in her way.

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On Halloween night, there were plenty of small children in masks at my door. Who knows whether under the masks if they were Black, White, Asian, Indian or any other race. It was Halloween and that is not what we should be thinking about. As long as the children get into a fun costume and go out and have a good time is what’s important. So, we should embrace our children’s innocence, let them wear the costumes, let them watch the movies, let them sing the songs. There is plenty of time to discuss race, power and privilege with them in the future.

Georgia McCalmont is a final year BSc in Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University.  She can be contacted on Twitter @04Georgia or Instagram @Georgiamac26