Crossing the line from comedic to offensive


Halloween can be a fun time to dress up as something different, but some costumes cross the line

Sophie Long
News Writer

Halloween is a favourite holiday among both children and adults. For the young, the holiday is an opportunity to receive enough free candy to last until the New Year. For adults, it provides an opportunity to publicly play dress-up and relax during one of the busiest times of the year.

However, there are those who take ‘All Hallows Eve’ as an opportunity to wear as few clothes as possible, hide their identity during a night of mischief, and those who use their costumes to make others laugh.

Those who see Halloween as a comedic opportunity usually have some of the most entertaining costumes, but very few consider the implications of their costumes.

Unfortunately, many comedic costumes come at the expense of some ethnic groups, or religious beliefs. Barbara Dedi, director of Spring Free From Racism Regina explained where this comedic relief possibly comes from.

“Once upon a time, Halloween costumes were quite simple. Witches and ghosts and goblins were the most popular getup,” she explained. “People have now taken it to where they want to make statements with their costumes, and people have taken it to where these statements can be quite racist.”

For most people, seeing someone dressed as a “Mexican”, “Indian Princess” or “Geisha Girl” is just harmless fun. However, Dedi believes this brings about a huge contradiction.

“We can’t work all year and say that we respect cultures, and then one day of the year on Halloween decide that it’s OK to dress up as a Muslim, for example.”

One of the most notorious costumes in the west is the “Native Princess” or the Pocahontas image. Julianne Beaudin-Herney, a student activist in Regina, explains why this is especially offensive.

“[The costume is] based off the ‘savages’ in Peter Pan, and it fantasizes and romanticizes the image of [Aboriginal people],” she said. “When we look at that and relate it to the subjugation of women, we can look at it as an injustice.”    

Beaudin-Herney further explained that the issue becomes worse when students choose to wear the ‘Sassy Squaw’ costume to go out and party.

“They’re portraying a drunken Indian, essentially,” she said. “I [have] never seen an Indian girl wear this costume, and that should say something about that. It just shows [how] far we have to go.”

“Once upon a time, Halloween costumes were quite simple, and witches and ghosts and goblins were the most popular get up. People have now taken it to where they want to make statements with their costumes, and people have taken it to where these statements can be quite racist.” – Barbara Dedi 

Dedi believes that this idea of using costumes for comedy comes from the idea of using racism jokes in stand-up comedy. While it may get a few laughs, Didi says that it leaves many groups feeling isolated. 

“It is not okay, it is pure racism. I have walked out of shows because of comedians. It is not funny. You cannot continue to use racial discrimination as a joke,” she said.

 The problem is not just a national one, but a local one as well. Dedi explained that there are several groups in Regina that have expressed their concern about the issue, including those from Saudi Arabia and Latin America.

“Exchange students have told me that they’ve had their burqas stolen from their dorms for Halloween. They’re not costumes; that’s their culture,” she said.

Both Dedi and Beaudin-Herney believe that the best way to avoid causing problems with Halloween costumes is to think before deciding what to wear.

“Really think about what you’re doing before dressing up for Halloween, because so many [costumes] are based on stereotypes. We’re not always aware of cultures around us,” Dedi said. 

Wendy Brown from The Costume Emporium in Regina gave a list of the top costumes his year, which have mostly included TV and movie characters. The most demanded costumes sold at Costume Emporium so far have been The Flintstones, Super Mario, The Dark Knight and other superheroes.

But, just because Halloween costumes should be appropriate and culture sensitive, it doesn’t mean that celebrations have to be boring or that costumes cannot be funny. Dedi gave a few suggestions for altering costumes and plans to ensure that they are not offensive and still fun.

“While it’s not okay to dress as a black person, for example, I’ve seen someone dressed as Barack Obama, and I don’t see a problem with that,” she suggested.

Other suggestions included having group costumes or having themed parties.

“Halloween is a time where people should be able to become something that they’re not, but it should be more related to fantasy,” Beaudin Herney continued.

For students who want to have a fun Halloween weekend without being offensive, Dedi gave one piece of advice: “just be respectful when you consider what you want to wear.”