Sunday, December 06, 2009

It's 2009, Mattel,

and Disney, too. Way to include black characters in a movie with outdated animation, while keeping the rest of your current slate of movies as pale as ever. Including Prince of Persia, and the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean coming in 2011? Really? I've never been to Persia, but I have been to the Caribbean, and I've seen some colorful people there.

Back to Mattel. I read this post on Jezebel--"Dear Mattel: This Is How How You Make Barbie More Diverse"--after I read another post on Jezebel, and the following post on Feministing: Real Talk about Barbie: When experience and narrative don't match up, by Ann referencing Latoya. Emphases mine.

Did Barbie impact me personally? Not really - I wasn't inclined to play with dolls, and I was conditioned to recognize when I was being sold something. I learned from a very early age that white beauty isn't the only beauty and there was no reason to feel bad about some white doll thing when there were so many other cool things in the world.

But that was my experience.

My cousin, who had dozens of Barbies and their cars and their dreamhouses thinks Barbies are wonderful toys for her four year old daughter. My cousin jokingly describes herself as looking for a Ken (we are both moving into our late 20s) and keeps her hair long and relaxed.

Unlike my cousin, I never hid under a towel at the pool to keep my skin from turning darker.

And unlike some of my friends, I never felt that sting of being passed over to play with Barbies because there weren't enough black one's to go around. I didn't walk around with a towel on my head swinging it around as if it was long flowing hair, and I didn't (as described in a seventeen magazine article that was published when I was still in the age range to read it) pump out lotion and leave it on my skin pretending I looked white.

I never felt that pain that one of my friends felt when her classmates teased her about having dark skin and short hair, even though it was relaxed and she used a variety of products to try to make it grow.

And I never felt the kind of pain one of my other friends felt when she went up to her white crush and confessed her feelings, only to have him reply "'re black." All the parental affirmation in the world was not helping then.

When you have children, you are their primary example. For a while. And then they go to school, they socialize with others, they pick up words, ideas, actions that you never would have dreamed they would. Some of my friends had color struck parents. And some of my friends just got caught up in a glossy, aspirational, media saturated world that paints a very clear picture of who in our society is beautiful and wanted and who is not. Barbie is a part of that. Hollywood is a part of that. TV is a part of that. Advertising is a part of that. And it is relentless and endless.

It might not make sense to some of you who have not felt the sting of feeling entire pieces of your identity excluded from view and representation. Who take for granted that while you may not relate to Blake Lively or Lauren Conrad that you can always turn on the television and see someone of your race and your gender doing all kinds of activities and seen in all sorts of contexts.

If you felt like you could relate heavily to Daria and Jane but you were still thankful for the one time Jodie made a speech about being the only black kid at Lawndale, if you watched The Craft because it was awesome, but you always remember that it was Rochelle who got told that her "little nappy hairs" looked like "pubic hairs" or you just realized that the only "role"for black girls in society was as the silent/funny/pathetic side kick in a white girl's story then you understand.

I still identify with Daria more than Jodie, because although Jodie was black and ambitious (like me!), Daria was well-read and ostracized by her classmates due to her honest points-of-view (like me!). I liked that Jodie wasn't anyone's sassy black friend. Her character had development and a purpose, like most of the characters in Daria did, regardless of gender. Those people had distinct, meaningful personalities.

That's one of the things I don't like about The Office. I was happy about the "Scott's Tots" episode this week, because who doesn't like dancing children who are going to college? I liked that Erin was featured more in this episode, although she was functioning as a less cynical version of the old Pam, conscripted to assist Michael in another embarrassing endeavor.

I don't like how Pam has transformed from Fancy New Beesly--the aspiring artist who is taking charge of her life--to Pam Halpert--Jim's wife/baby mama who traded her art career for a position as a mediocre salesperson in a bankrupt paper company.

I don't like that you can count the colorful people at Dunder Mifflin on one hand, and if you blink, you'll miss them. I don't like that the women on the show haven't been humorous on their own in a while. I don't like that all of Michael's love interests have been carbon copies of Steve Carell's blond wife (who now goes by Nancy Carell), with no discernible personalities of their own aside from their inexplicable infatuation with Michael. Though I did like crazy Jan and her baby created from super sperm.

This is probably why both Sherri and Parks and Recreation have grown me, with their somewhat diverse casts and their funny female characters. Although, they could both use some more, or any, Asian and Latino people.

In conclusion, I need some black friends to talk with about the above issues. Or, if you're not black, but you would still like to talk with me, let me know. I'm a nice lady!



Stephanie said...

"outdated animation" - They wanted to go with hand drawn animation because it's the traditional Disney 2D movie. They are planning on releasing a 2D movie every 2 years (or so) because fans missed the hand drawn element.

Also, are we watching the same episodes on The Office? How are Amy Ryan's character and Pam's Mom the same? And how are they the same as his wife?

You do realize it's a show about a Paper Company? If Pam left..she would not be on the show anymore. I think it's awesome that she's got promoted. She took a risk leaving w/ Michael and then got her job back and promoted. Plus she is pregnant and just bought a house. I don't think she should be quitting. I like sassier Pam!

Bianca Reagan said...

Thank you for your comment, Stephanie!

Amy Ryan, Pam's Mom (who has changed since the "Sexual Harassment" episode in Season Two), and Steve's wife all look the same. Also, their characters' primarily exist to be Michael's love interest. Unlike Andy or Darryl, supporting characters who have been--and have had--love interests in the office. But Andy and Darryl are not defined by those relationships. Holly, Pam's Mom, and Carol all disappeared after their relationships ended with Michael; the writers conveniently no longer had any need for them.

I like sassier Pam, too, and I like that she got a promotion. But I don't like that she is always a level below Jim (so as not to upset the gender imbalance), and that lately her interests mostly have been related to getting married or being pregnant. Also, she didn't buy a house. She moved into a house that Jim "purchased" from his parents without asking her.

Smiley face! :)

Asian Americanist said...

Pirates of the Caribbean has had a fairly diverse cast, even if they weren't leads. The main draw was Depp, so unless they decide to have Will Smith in there too, what are you going to do?

Of course, Lou Diamond Phillips and Jamil Walker Smith have decent-sized roles on TV now.