Earlier this month, the Walt Disney Company very quietly tried to put a trademark on “Dia de los Muertos” for an upcoming Pixar animated feature film.
Better known to English speakers as “the Day of the Dead”, Dia de los Muertos is an annual religious observance during which people in Mexico honor their ancestors and loved ones who have passed on. Though the celebration now coincides with the Catholic holidays of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day (November 1 and 2) Dia de los Muertos is at its roots an Aztec and Maya tradition.
Disney-Pixar didn’t have any interest in patenting the holiday itself; rather, they wanted to take ownership of the Spanish name it goes by; “Dia de los Muertos” was to be the name of their new film.
In Disney’s own words, the “trademark filing was intended to protect any potential title for our film and related activities.” According to the Guardian, those “related activities” included “fruit-based snack foods”, “Christmas-tree ornaments and decorations”, “decorative magnets”, “non-medicated toiletries” and “frozen meals consisting primarily of pasta or rice”.
After the public caught wind of the unethical-but-hardly-surprising attempt to co-opt the name, Disney was greeted with an impromptu social media smack-down.
ICYMI: Tell @Disney not to trademark Day of the Dead. Culture is NOT for sale! http://t.co/4yJOE2sQsA #Latism #p2
— Presente.Org (@PresenteOrg) May 8, 2013
The queation remains: Are we okay with @DisneyPixar commercializing our culture? http://t.co/yIQgNmNPyA #DiadelosMuertos
— ThinkMexican (@ThinkMexican) May 9, 2013
After considerable social media pressure, which included a successful petition and the now-legendary editorial cartoon “Muerto Mouse” by Lalo Alcaraz of Pocho.com, Disney casually withdrew the trademark application, explaining, “It has since been determined that the title of the film will change, and therefore we are withdrawing our trademark filing.”
And so, one short chapter in the horribly long book of who’s exploiting indigenous culture for the sake of profit, comes to an end.
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