A while back I read about some of the negative reactions to the Rue in The Hunger Games film. It seems the nut of the “fans'” argument was that the film would have been better if it was a little bit whiter in that they were expecting a totally white cast and they only got a 94% white cast. Now there’s no question that these are idiots, but I think there’s definitely something to their anger, however, misplaced and racists as it may be.
I actually think it issort of natural to picture yourself as whatever character you read in whatever book. My Mom, for instance, when she read Twilight, pictured Edward as a short, older Asian gentleman with neatly parted hair and glasses because that’s what she pictures when she pictures a sexy man (my Dad). So, it goes without saying she was a little disappointed when Robert Pattinson was neither old, Asian, or bespectacled. However, rationally, she knew that’s not how the character was written.
The characters in The Hunger Games were actually written as non-white or, at least, some sort of future gray. All those Hunger Games readers should have just spent a little more time actually reading the books instead of burning them (that's a Nazi reference for any historical fans our there, or it's an Indiana Jones for everyone else). Still I do think there is a legitimate argument in there somewhere. Let me start by saying I don’t condone racism. Racism is bad, mmm’kay. But I also don’t want to be forced into political correctness. There’s something almost patronizing about multicultural programing. It’s too well thought out and scientific to be sincere.
Take the Justice League cartoon of a few years ago. Why use John Stewart, arguably the worst Green Lantern? Why pick him over Hal Jordan, the most popular Green Lantern, or Kyle Rayner, the then current Green Lantern in the Green Lantern comics. Even Guy Gardner would be a better choice because he’s, at least, interesting. Maybe, the problem is simply a lack of iconic characters of color in comic book chronology (I couldn’t help myself). Perhaps, comic book writers and artists are so afraid of being accused of racism, that they instead make characters like John Stewart, characters completely devoid of personality, either good or bad.
Or, maybe, they don’t want to unleash more Black Vulcans, Apache Chiefs, or Samurais on the world. Those being characters who were obviously conceived to capture waning demographics. Or take Aqualad in the latest Young Justice incarnation; a character created for the show, which was then retroactively introduced to the comics to make it seem not quite so blatant because, hey, it’s in the comic, too, so it can’t be an entirely bad. Can it? Or, perhaps, a better example is Spike from X-Men: Evolution. There are thousands of mutants in the comics, yet they made up a mutant (Storm’s nephew) instead of using one of the established characters at their disposal. Why? Is someone that much more likely to watch a cartoon that features one character who looks like them? Sadly, yes.
I suppose it works though. As an Asian man of a certain age demographic, do I care more about Ernie Reyes Jr., Jonathan Ke Quan, or Danté Basco than Bruce Leeroy, Sean Astin, or Robin Williams? You bet I do. However, those characters seemed organic to the process, and not something crammed down our throats. But are they really any better than Apache Chief? Are these really great characters or have I been duped?
Which brings us to the multicultural action squad. The multicultural action squad is a group heroes (usually of teens or pre-teens) brought together from across different ethnic and social backgrounds. The squad is almost always composed of one black male, one Asian female, a white male, a white female (60% chance of being blonde), and one random character, most likely a nerd of some sort. Now when I pointed out the racism in Nickelodeon’s Doug the most prevalent argument is that it’s a kid's show and I’m making too much of it. And, it goes without saying that I’m definitely making too much of every issue, but I’m also not making this stuff up. It’s there for anyone to see.
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers
The perfect breakdown: Billy (Nerd), Trini (Asian), Jason (White), Kimberly (White), Zack (Black). Now the real question is did they even stop to think before they made the Asian girl the Yellow Ranger and the black guy the Black Ranger?
Captain Planet and the Planeteers
The Planateers were a who’s who of diversity: Linka (Russian/blonde), Kwame (African), Gi (Thai), Wheeler (American/ginger), Ma-Ti (South American). Ma-Ti is sort of the odd man out in this breakdown and he also got the odd man out power, too: heart (which allowed him to talk to monkeys… I think).
Magic School Bus
It’s hard to point figures at The Magic School Bus because they got a little of everything. But it still manages to fit. Also, the Magic School Bus kids went on to become the Planeteers, it's true.
Another black guy (Vince) and Asian girl (Spinelli), however, Recess did play with the stereotypes a tiny bit. Spinelli was tough a tough as nails, tomboy, and even though Gus wore glasses he wasn’t technically a nerd. Also, Spinelli’s parents are Italian, but she’s clearly Asian, and it’s never really talked about. I actually liked Recess more because of this, it wasn’t trying to have a message, it was just a slice of life.
Aqualad, as I mentioned before, was a black character created for the show. And Artemis is both blonde and Asian so she fills two roles. Which is also interesting that they decided to change the ethnicity of a villain and make her Green Arrow's sidekick instead of using Mia Dearden’s Speedy who would have been virtually the same character but less Asian and more HIV filled.
Those are a lot of kids hanging out with Mr. T. Also, three versions of Mr. T: Mr. T “Mr. T,” little white boy “Mr. T,” and bulldog “Mr. T.”
More kids, more diversity. Another African American boy (Gerald) and Asian American girl (Phoebe) in a sea of white kids.
Godzilla: The Series
I don’t remember the movie or the TV show, but I’m fairly certain the movie wasn’t as diverse as the cartoon show.
Alienators, like Godzilla, is another cartoon based on a film no one watched: Evolution. And like Godzilla also suddenly much more diverse than the parent material.
Pete Ross was typically drawn as white in the comics, but was black in the TV show. While, Lana was always a sassy red head, and now she’s some sort of Asian (which was never explained or talked about on the show because her parents weren't Asian).
If these are just random selections, why is it always the same? Why does it always have to be black guy? why does it always have to be an Asian girl? Could it really just be chance? And is it just as racist to create a prefabricated politically correct society if every move has to be forced? Also, interesting to note is the number of straight-laced African American characters on these shows. It’s as if to avoid being some thug life stereotype they went in the Carlton Banks direction, which if done enough doesn’t that become a stereotype in and of itself?
But let’s look at one last example…
Apparently, three nerdy white guys and a black guy, don’t appeal to enough demographics. While, it doesn’t fit the exact criteria of black guy, Asian girl, white guy, blonde girl… it has just about everything else. Goth girl, Latino slacker “dude,” black nerd, and extreme sports paraplegic. Yes, an extreme sports paraplegic. I mean I guess they can bust ghosts, too, but come one! Who you gonna call? FOCUS GROUP! I think this is what people really have a problem with. It’s not that they have a problem with diversity, it’s being force fed diversity. I'm not promoting ethnic cleansing in cartoons—diversity is great and should be present—I just don't want diversity for the sake of diversity.
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