This is an amazing speech my former professor and mentor, Dr. Louis Markos gave about love and friendship between the sexes. He addresses questions such as, “Can friends of the opposite sex ever just be friends?” as well as a lot good advice on marriage and relationships.
I recently watched the latest episode of Young Justice. I was suddenly struck by how diverse the cast is. What struck me even more is that it took me a while to notice it. Which means characters are never stereotyped. The focus is always story. It got me thinking back about some the history of diversity in animation.
While the United States grows increasingly diverse, most of the media remains predominantly white and male. The faces you see on TV rarely reflect the faces you see in your everyday life. On top of that, women are often portrayed as having no other goal in life than to find their guy. Now, I’m no supporter of feminism. I think modern feminism had done more harm to women than anything else. But the media is what’s largely fueling the fire of stereotypes. Some shows, like LOST have successfully broken many of those, but when there’s one that breaks the mold there are ten more to counter it. It used to be that animation was even farther behind in the realm of diversity with even fewer minorities and female characters. But lately, I’ve noticed a huge change in the trend. Now it seems animation is surpassing live action.
I started to notice it when I went back and watched some episodes of Pepper Ann. Pepper Ann was a city on hill in the 90s in terms of diversity.
A female lead. Two out of three of the main characters are female, and the male is Hawaiian. What I loved also, is that it could have easily taken the feminist route. Pepper Ann was very much a hipster show. But it didn’t. Pepper Ann didn’t ignore, but embraced true femininity. Pepper Ann is obviously infatuated by boys and is never unfeminine despite being a tomboy. Her story is also never solely focused on getting the guy. She has other goals in life. She wants to be a scientist, beat her rival, be a good friend, etc.
Following is one of my favorite movies ever: Lilo & Stitch. Hawaiian leads? No white main characters? The main human character is a child AND female? AND she actually acts like a real child? AND the movie is a huge hit? Hollywood, take note.
While there are many other examples, I’m moving on and focusing on those that have stood out to me. Enter: Young Justice. Andrea Romano has been great at trying to get diverse actors for the talent. The folks over at Warner Bros. have been moving in this direction for a while. But it has never before been so successful as Young Justice. First of all, I’m surprised that they’ve managed to have no single main character. This is normally thought to be death for childrens’ animation. But Young Justice pulls it off. Female characters are not just tokens. And neither are the minorities. Their first leader is cast as black (Aqualad). They’ve recently opted to include Rocket, a creation of the late Dwayne McDuffie. There are nine main characters, four of which are female, and five are non-white. That’s impressive. And again, you won’t even notice it unless you’re looking for it. Their ethnicity is never the focus; no stereotypes. The characters always have genuine conflict that is relatable to a general audience. I’m also excited that Artemis is portrayed as bi-racial (half Vietnamese). I’m bi-racial myself and most of my friends growing up are as well. (Though they probably should have made her hair a little browner. I don’t think the genes would allow for that bright a color. But whatever, it’s animation.)
Hollywood, are you watching?
And now, a sneak peek at the next season!