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With Halloween a week away, parents all over the country are scrambling to find costumes for their kids. But they might want to stay clear of Moana, the main character in Disney’s 2016 hit movie of the same name. A controversy swept through the web last month when writer Sachi Feris published a now-viral article titled “Moana, Elsa, And Halloween” about why Feris wouldn’t let her daughter dress up as the Polynesian princess.
In a conversation about cultural appropriation with her 5-year-old daughter, Feris said: “Moana is based on real history and a real group of people…if we are going to dress up a real person, we have to make sure we are doing it in a way that is respectful. Otherwise, it is like we are making fun of someone else’s culture.”
Last year, her daughter dressed up as Elsa from Disney’s 2013 blockbuster Frozen, which she felt comfortable with because, she wrote, “Elsa is an imaginary or made-up character,” adding: “A child whose family is Polynesian could dress up using that type of traditional clothing, but Moana’s culture is not our culture.”
After the post went viral, parents all over the country weighed in. Many applauded Feris’s decision, including one who wrote: “I admire your perseverance in interacting with your daughter. I realize talking about race and culture is an ongoing deeply important conversation. You…have given her essential values along with guidelines, so she has the opportunity to grow, be creative, learn and find her way in the world with many ways to celebrate and play with her own race.”
Others thought it was over the top to politicize a favorite kid holiday. “I really feel like more and more it’s adults that are ruining things like Halloween for children by injecting their own internal racism or insecurities,” another griped. “I think some would like to see all races and cultures completely segregated again, where we live in our own bubbles and neighborhoods. We should be encouraging kids to appreciate other cultures, not making them feel guilty for wanting to emulate others.”
“My standard has been that it is ok to dress up as a character but not as a culture,” wrote a mom who seemed to straddle the line between both points of view. “So you could dress up as Pocahontas or Tiger Lily, but not as a Native American.”
At the end of her essay, which generated crucial conversations online, Feris promised to keep the dialogue between herself and her daughter going. “One thing is for sure,” she wrote, “our discussions around appropriate and inappropriate Halloween costumes will continue.”