Society's Need for Characters of Colour

by decemberlynn on November 25, 2015 - 1:20am

Society's Need for Characters of Colour

Studio arts is very broad; it has everything from cinema styles to digital arts to drawings and ideas.  But does it lack racial diversity? We live in a vibrant age for animated movies and TV shows, but there is one problem. There is a lack of representation for people of colour in mainstream animated media. Children can spend anywhere between 3 and 4 hours a day watching television—that is 28 hours of television a week (Schiau). We should make children’s media diverse because there is a diverse audience watching. Looking at the diversification of animated media for children through a deontological lens would tell us that the lack of representation of people of colour is wrong. This means that we are duty bound to change our ways because it is the right thing to do. The way children view race can be improved by including a more diverse staff and cast of animated films and television, which would result in more characters of colour in mainstream media.

 Some of the most recent and well known outrage sprouted from the 2013 Disney animated film Frozen. It has become the highest grossing animated film ever, earning over 1.072 billion dollars (Stedman). The problem with Frozen is that there is not one person of colour to be found, but note that there is a group of talking stone trolls. It seemed as though having someone of an ethnic background was too far-fetched but having a Queen who can shoot snow and ice from her hands and who can bring a snowman to life was completely reasonable.

Mainstream art in animated television and movies in the media seems to have a largely Eurocentric background. This does not allow children of colour to see themselves in or relate to the characters that the media offers them. As good as any animated movie or television show might be, when that child begins to realize that they do not look the same as their favourite character, there may be a disconnect and a feeling of isolation.  Such was the case with three-year-old Samara Muir who was confronted at a Disney event by a mother who was there with her two daughters.  This family was standing in front of Samara and her mother in line and Samara was dressed up as the character of Elsa from Frozen. They told her that her dark, aboriginal skin indicated that she couldn’t be Queen Elsa because “Queen Elsa isn’t black” and that “black is ugly”. The three year old subsequently kept trying to scrub off her skin or lather up in soap to try to turn her skin white (Carney).

In the many films Disney has created, an astonishing eighty-one percent of human characters are white (Diversity in Disney Films). On the Disney careers’ Culture and Diversity page, they make this claim: “Having a diverse workforce is critical to our business. We welcome a variety of opinions, ideas and perspectives to ensure we continue to top our own performance and represent our global marketplace” (Culture & Diversity). Sadly, one cannot represent a global marketplace if the representation is nearly entirely traditional European/Caucasian. There has to be a diverse workspace to create diverse work.

It is unfair to allow white people to play the roles of people of colour. For example, in the movie Aladdin, Linda Larkin and Scott Weinger—the actors who voiced Jasmine and Aladdin—were not Middle Eastern; they were white. Only Lea Salonga, the woman responsible for Jasmine’s singing voice, was a person of colour in the main cast. However, she is a Filipina, not Middle Eastern. One may want diversity but we all know that companies like Disney or DreamWorks are also looking to make profit.  So, the question is: does diversity sell?

A study done at UCLA found that live-action movies worldwide in 2012 with a cast of 40% or more racial diversity brought far better ratings than those with an all-white cast (Hunt). The public has shown to have a better response to live-action movies with a diverse cast, meaning that they will probably have just as good of a response to animated television shows and movies as well. But why haven’t animation companies caught up to the demand of the public yet? Is it laziness, racism, or simply negligence? A lot of it has to do with the staff.  If the people in the workspace are not diverse, the content they create will not be diverse either. As well, we as a modern society tend to think that we have taken giant leaps in being more inclusive and less racist. But, according to a social survey done by Washington Post, millennials’ views on blacks are nearly equal to the negative views of baby boomers. The data also suggested that white millennials had a more negative view of most minorities.  For example, at least 3 out of 10 thought of black people as being less hardworking and lazier than whites (Clements).

 

The overall lack of diversity in animated films can be contributed to workspaces that are not adequately diverse and are controlled by mainly Caucasian people.  Also, when there are films about people of colour they are sometimes voiced by Caucasian actors, therefore not allowing people of colour to voice their own nationality. This combination does not allow the workspace to grow and flourish. Furthermore, there are still racist views towards minorities that Caucasians still hold on to.  Even though the public is demanding more diverse films, Caucasians will continue to create stories about people of their own race. The diversification of animated films would allow for young children to understand different cultures from around the world. It would change the opinions of white children, making them aware of different ways that people live and allowing them to escape a narrow-minded approach to beauty and culture. More diversity in animated films would help to stop children like Samara from being bullied in public by strangers because of their appearance.  It would also allow them to grow up with characters to look up to and connect with.  Deontology tells us that, because of the significant influence media has on young children, companies like Disney need to improve their diversity so that the new generation can grow up in a more tolerant world.  It is, simply, the right thing to do.

Works Cited

Carney, John. "Aboriginal Girl, 3, 'tried to SCRUB Her Skin Off' after Being Told She Couldn't Be Queen Elsa from Frozen Because She Is Black." Mail Online. Associated Newspapers, 23 June 2015. Web. 24 Nov. 2015. <http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3135665/She-asking-baths-day-soa....

Clement, Scott. "Millennials Are Just about as Racist as Their Parents." Washington Post. The Washington Post, n.d. Web. 24 Nov. 2015. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/04/07/white-millennials....

"Culture & Diversity." Disney Careers. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Nov. 2015. <http://disneycareers.com/en/working-here/culture-diversity/>.

"Diversity in Disney Films." Google Books. Ed. Johnson Cheu. McFarland & Company, n.d. Web. 24 Nov. 2015. <https://books.google.ca/books?id=yAjjxpvxVDAC&pg=PA70&lpg=PA70&dq=percen.... Page 70

Hunt, Dr.Darnell, and Dr.Ana-Christina Ramon. "Fifty Hollywood Directors." Choice Reviews Online 53.02 (2015): 50-51. .bunchecenter.ucla.edu. Ralph J Brunche Center for African American Studies, Feb. 2015. Web. 24 Nov. 2015. <http://www.bunchecenter.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/2015-Hollywo....

Schiau, Sonia, Iuliana Plitea, Alexandra Gusita, Sandra Pjkeny, and Ioana Iancu. "How Do Cartoons Teach Children? A Comparative Analysis on Preschoolers and Schoolchildren." Www.questia.com. N.p., 1 Sept. 2013. Web. 25 Nov. 2015. <https://www.questia.com/library/journal/1P3-3163872091/how-do-cartoons-t....

Stedman, Alex. "'Frozen' Becomes the Highest-Grossing Animated Film Ever." Variety. N.p., 30 Mar. 2014. Web. 24 Nov. 2015. <http://variety.com/2014/film/news/frozen-becomes-the-highest-grossing-an....

Comments

I love your take on the issue. Indeed, too often are popular characters overwhelmingly unrepresentative of our current society, and it is horrible that children have to suffer in order to feel reflected by their favorite princesses. Even behind the soundstage of animated films and TV shows, there is a lack of employment opportunities for people of color.

However, I am encouraged to see change coming to this domain, especially in shows marketed towards young children, like Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe. As Andrea McNeil outlines in her article for FemBot Magazine, the show stars a wide cast of under-represented groups: non-binary characters, varied body types for male and female characters, as well as a majority of characters of color. Even more so, “over half of the cast of Steven Universe are people of color”!

Like many other shows which don’t focus exclusively on white people and characters – Empire and How to Get Away with Murder are the first that come to mind – Steven Universe has been greeted with exceptional success. Let’s hope this trend continues to grow in years to come!

(Read McNeil's article here: http://fembotmag.com/2015/05/19/steven-universe-a-great-start-for-an-int... )