Douchebag Decree: Disney's Grab for Dia de Los Muertos and Half-Assed Apology


Oh, Disney.  We don’t always want to hate on you. Sometimes we even debate whether your princesses have gotten better over the years. But now you want to trademark the phrase “Dia de los Muertos”?!

That’s right, Disney is back at it again—aiming to appropriate cultures for mass consumption and commoditization.  For that, Disney has officially attained the honor of being decreed biggest douchebag of the week.

Although Dia de los Muertos is a widely celebrated holiday throughout Mexico and much of Latin America, earlier this month the Walt Disney Company submitted their application to own the term and any associated products.  That means that Disney wanted to make sure others didn’t ever try to produce any cosmetics, breakfast cereals, bags, books, photographs, key chains, clothing, Christmas stockings, magnets, fanny packs, or over 70 other items with the words “Dia de los Muertos.”  As to be expected when companies try to pull ridiculous stunts, the news spread like a wildfire all over social media yesterday, and people were rightfully pissed.  One petition on the subject received over 20,000 signatures within 24 hours.  By the end of the day, Fronteras published a statement they received from Disney, announcing their decision to retract their trademark application:

“As we have previously announced, Disney-Pixar is developing an animated feature inspired by the Mexican holiday Día de los Muertos. Disney’s trademark filing was intended to protect any potential title for our film and related activities. It has since been determined that the title of the film will change and therefore we are withdrawing our trademark filing.”

While it’s great to hear that Disney has backed off, as they should, the statement given completely disregards the real issues at the heart of many of the protests. Instead of issuing an apology for their immense cultural insensitivity, the company instead chose to cite their decision on the change of the potential title for their film.

Disney doesn’t acknowledge that the “movie title” it was trying to acquire and prevent others from “owning” is actually Dia de los Muertos.  You know, that sacred and deeply religious holiday that’s not like Halloween?  The two-day tradition honoring lost loved ones is a celebration rooted in centuries of history.  If the copyright had gone through, it could have arguably become illegal to label and sell some the holiday’s traditional foods as being part of Dia de los Muertos.

So even though Disney upset many Mexicans and Latin Americans, such as myself, we were given a half-ass excuse when an apology is what was actually in order.  Sweeping shit under the rug may work for now, but it probably won’t work so well when we’re all graced with the film “inspired by the Mexican holiday” in 2016. 

Did we already forget how well Disney has chosen to portray Latin American characters in the past?  Why should we trust Lee Unkrich, the white American director behind Toy Story 3, to do a better job at portraying an entire culture’s tradition and rituals?  IF this film does get made, (which, let’s be real, it probably shouldn’t because it’s a terrible idea) let’s hope Disney-Pixar and the creators behind it do better than Panchito Gonzales and Papi the Chihuahua.

by Emilly Prado
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Emilly Prado is a writer, educator, and interim director of Youth Programs at Literary Arts in Portland, Oregon. When not writing or teaching, Emilly moonlights as DJ Mami Miami with Noche Libre, the Latinx DJ collective she cofounded in 2017. Learn more at or @emillygprado on Twitter and Instagram.

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