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Molly of Denali's Culture is not a Halloween Costume

Kids across the country are embracing the new animated show “Molly of Denali” that launched this summer on PBS. It is the first children’s TV show with an Alaska Native lead character. Now some fans want to dress like their hero Molly for Halloween. The show’s producers want kids to have fun but not co-opt Molly’s Athabascan culture.

In the show, the titular character, Molly, and her friends Tooey and Trini, dress like typical Alaskan kids. But there are some distinctive details that bring out Molly’s Athabascan heritage.

Now the producers are seeing on social media, pictures from parents of kids dressing up like Molly, and they want to head off cultural appropriation and disrespect that often comes when non-Natives use Native dress as a costume. Princess Johnson of Fairbanks is the creative director of the program.

“And so we really wanted to get ahead of the curve, with Halloween coming up, and make a suggestion of what kids could wear, to dress up as Molly, without it being our culture on display, because our culture is not a costume.”

The show posted that people should refrain from wearing Molly's traditional Native regalia as a costume. And instead posted a meme; a drawing of Molly in her everyday wear, suggesting that kids could dress up in Molly’s blue jeans, or the blue winter hat she wears outdoors.

”Her kind of iconic hat that she has with the pom-pom on the top, and her jacket and boots and mittens. That was one of the suggestions. She only has so many changes of clothes! (laughs.) But definitely not her traditional dress. You’ve seen her in a couple of episodes; she has her moosehide dress. And that’s what we don’t want to see.”

The show already has millions of viewers, and the creative team wants to support kids honoring their cartoon hero without the harm that comes from trivializing her culture.

“We love that children across the nation are trying to emulate Molly, because she is emulating all of who we are as Alaska Native people, and emulating our values.”

The show is, like most PBS programming, an educational tool. Princess Johnson says several episodes have opened up conversations about race, historical violence and generational trauma. The Halloween costume issue is another teachable moment.

“Its an educational tool. It’s a wonderful way for us to have an open and honest dialogue about race, about culture, about … healing.”