Four years ago, I remember watching the Oscars ceremony with the hopeful inspiration that fills many filmmakers as they watch the awards show. However, there was one disappointing fact staring me in the face the entire time of the show – only one black woman was nominated for an award, and it happened to be that of a maid (Octavia Spencer for Best Supporting Actress in The Help). After the ceremony ended, I also found out that there have only been two black females who have won for Best Lead Actress, and only four black women have won Best Supporting Actress. On the other side of gender, only two black men have won Best Actor, while three black actors have won Best Supporting Actor (Denzel being in both categories, which brings the total actually to four). These depressing statistics gave me the motivation to try and become a writer/director/producer who will create movies with more diverse roles that are taken more seriously and considered for an Oscar nomination and potential win.
Being a BIG fan of BIGBANG (ha) I of course have watched most of the member’s solo videos. Something odd I repeatedly notice is their use of non-Asians in their videos and how they are usually objectified.
Let’s take TOP for example. In all of his solo videos, he has a white woman somewhere. But what’s interesting is how the women seem to be used more as accessories to the set rather than interactive beings.
Even when there is some level of interaction, there still seems to be
Even when there is some level of interaction, there still seems to be a sort of objectification seen. Here as he interacts with the woman on his lap, he makes the motion of playing her as a keyboard, which turns her more into an object than an human.
Moving on to G-Dragon, in his video “One of a Kind”, there are three black children (note the use of children instead of adults). This particular video seems the most influenced by black culture, and the presence of black children seem to be to add more credibility and make the video seem more “hip”
So you may say what about “Crooked” which was filled with white and black people. Then again this video was filmed in London so it would be pretty hard to not have people who are not East Asian in the video.
But then again at least these people are actually seen for a good amount of time, unlike in Taeyang’s new video “Ringa Linga”
If you watch the video, you may not even notice these two black men since they are on screen for less than a quarter of a second. But there is a subsequent video that shows the dance performance of Ringa Linga and surprisingly enough there’s black men. Because everyone knows if you want a good dance video, you need black people because we are so naturally able to move our bodies in such a rhythmic manner.
But maybe I’m just over reading the presence of minorities in music videos. But let’s not forget a comment made by Seungri, where he mentioned that following an argument, he was glad the person was white instead of black because had the person been black, he would have been shot. The reasoning of course being that all black people carry guns and are willing to shoot anyone at a drop of a second.
Further examining portrayals of race in South Korean TV shows, there have been a number of missteps along the way that typically involve blackface. Although there was a past questionable occurrence of G-Dragon in blackface (that later turned out to be a misunderstanding of sorts), there is still the question of race portrayals in Korean media.
Comparing this to another idea, one should also examine Korean dramas. Personally I have watched many Korean dramas (and by many I mean like ten). However, the only time I have seen a black person in a drama was One Fine Day, and this character was waving around a gun and demanding money from the title character. But don’t worry, it wasn’t for his own personal gain; he was just a henchman for a gang that was headed by a white man. So to recap the only image of a black person I’ve personally seen was as a gun-waving thug who was not even in a position of power. It’s also interesting to examine why they chose to use a black male in this role instead of a white male. Does a black male present a more threatening presence?
There are also white people included in dramas, but they are usually business people. Oddly enough, they are also involved in shady activity and brought in by a Korean character (Save the Last Dance for Me, Something happened in Bali) to help bring down a major Korean organization. So there is still a sense of these people being used in a manner of sorts, whether it be to seen as a threatening or shady presence.
Also all of this is personal speculation and definitely up for discussion.
So far Disney’s The Princess and the Frog stands as the only Disney movie to have a black “princess” in its lead role. Considering this fact, this movie seems to really let down the audience, especially in terms of its potential. This movie could have served as a positive model for young black girls growing up in a still largely Eurocentric country.
Disney as a company has had problems with racism, so it’s not the biggest surprise that this movie would be a disappointment. There are still issues with princesses of minority races in their movies – there has yet to be a Hispanic princess and they have chosen to settle with a Chinese princess as a sort of catch-all Asian princess.
Moving to Princess and the Frog, my biggest problem with this movie is the fact that for their only movie starring a black princess, they chose to portray her as an animal for most of the movie. Tiana is only seen as human towards the beginning and at the very end. What message does this send to the young black girls watching this movie? They can’t even view a princess in their likeness for an entire film.
Another fault of the movie that has been pointed out repeatedly is the absence of a Black prince. Prince Naveen has a noticeable Latin accent, straight hair, and a Brazilian voice actor. Not to mention his Disneyworld counterpart is not black.
There’s nothing wrong with interracial marriage in children’s movies (unless it’s in the case of the bastardized account of Pocahontas). But why in this case? Could it be because when Disney develops a prince, they expect their viewers to not only dream about being princesses, but to be with a prince (not in a literal hentai esque way) Did they not want little (white) girls to fantasize about being the princess to a black prince? (Although they were perfectly fine with casting a Afro-Creole man as the villain.)
This almost leads to the next problem of this movie – the inspiration. This movie was based on The Frog Prince, a German tale originally created by the Brothers Grimm. Couldn’t Disney have put in the extra effort to find a traditional African tale? Most of the other Disney tales tend to take place in the country of origin, yet this movie decides to stay in America for their black princess. Did Disney not want to venture into that territory and instead chose a cop-out with a “friendlier” African-American image?
Lastly, Tiana seems to be the only princess who doesn’t end up in a castle with her prince. Although it’s beautiful she ended up fulfilling her lifelong dream of owning a restaurant of her own. However, why is she the only princess to not have her happily ever after living as a princess? Although it is more progressive to show a woman working instead of being at the right hand of a prince, there’s also the problem of Tiana not being seen as a true princess. There’s no castle waiting for her and her (broke) prince.
In conclusion, Disney could have done a better job if they had made a movie based off an African tale starring a black couple that’s human for most of the movie.
Side note – Another interesting conflict is the use of voodoo in this movie. Looking at the villain of the movie “The Shadow Man” Doctor Facillier portrays voodoo as something evil that will lock you into unfortunate curses and for some reason practices tarot reading (a more Romani practice). Mama Odie on the other hand shows a truer side of voodoo; one as more of a form of religion. However, it’s interesting to note the use of color here. Whereas The Shadow Man was enshrouded in black and other dark colors, Mama Odie, the one seen as more kind and moral, was clothed in a white dress. Just try and guess the symbolism here.
All images are from Google. I retain no rights.
This is a question that used to run through my mind repeatedly when I first started watching anime. Even my mom would point out the unusual features of these characters, figuring their big eyes conveyed contempt for the typical smaller eyes many East Asians have. There would be other comments along these lines that would make one think the Japanese hated their appearances in favor for for a more European look.
Though after visiting the city of Tokyo, this has made me change perspectives somewhat. I have to admit there is a large influence from the Western world (shops, frequent use of English, music). However, there never seemed to be the idea of self hatred, or the drive to become white. While over there, I was taking a few summer classes, and one of my teachers commented on this. Briefly she mentioned “Please don’t think that anime characters are trying to look Western. The large eyes are meant to convey emotion.” Although if you look in the history of anime, the image of big eyes were largely borrowed from the cartoon Betty Boop and the animation of Walt Disney. So you may think to yourself why didn’t they take these white characters and make their features look more Asian? Well if you look at the history of Japan, you notice there were many different aspects borrowed from other countries (mainly Ancient Chinese and Korean civilizations) with their original form somewhat intact. For example, let’s examine the Japanese language. Much of the written language is borrowed from traditional Chinese characters (kanji) with different pronunciations added to them. Some words may have also came from Korean, which was brought there from early travelers. So there seems to be a sense of blending different aspects of culture into the Japanese way of life (Sounds familiar America?)
But think about it (especially in Betty Boop’s case), do you realistically see white people with eyes that large?
Think about it, what type of shows do you typically see characters with big eyes? Comedies, romances, other less serious genres. But for thrillers and mysteries, you would typically see characters with smaller eyes. What does this say?
Yes there were products that were designed to make eyes bigger, but when one stops to think about it, it doesn’t seem to imitate white features so much as imitating the features of a young girl (think about it – how many white people do you see with eyes that cover half their face).
If you look at any small child around the area, their eyes were typically larger and rounder, which leads to a more innocent look. People who are familiar with this Japanese pop culture see a large influence of this cutesy “kawaii” look everywhere; there is a small cute mascot for almost every business and city, the “innocent” look is popular for women, along with the incredibly high pitched voice many women adopt. So rather than women trying to imitate a European look, it seems more like there is a strive to look more innocent and childlike. This leads to another question as to why images of innocence is often associated with a sort of sexual thrill (many hentai anime/manga featured girls who looked somewhat young), but that shall be for another day.
This leads to another question of the potential infantizing of women, which is a theory that can also be applied to American culture. Big eyes, smooth hairless legs, and the idea of being more submissive are all popular beauty standards American women here are expected to adopt. So why don’t we assert the argument that many white women wish they were children?
You may also ask “Well what about the pale skin of anime characters?”. First off most Japanese people tend to be pale (unless they are from the country). You may also point out that whitening creams are popular in Japan, and I have to admit I have seen whitening creams (along with the option to whiten oneself in those purikura machines). However, if you look historically at courtesans and geishas, they would also paint their faces white (with lead based paint unfortunately). Would we say Geishas are trying to be white? Or maybe there is another culture significance of white skin? Could it be that it signaled royalty, for a women who was a part of the royal court would often times spend their days inside the palace. As a result of this, they may be a bit pale. Either way, historically pale skin has been a beauty standard in Japan.
“Well what about the blonde hair that so many characters seem to have?” First off let’s examine these anime shows: do they involve other characters with unnatural shades of hair and fantastical scenarios that involve small creatures, robots, aliens, talking animals, etc? If so, this is not a realistic depiction of everyday life. Keeping this in mind, why would you expect the characters in the show to have realistic appearances?
Now let’s consider more realistic anime:
What do the above people have in common? Let’s examine someone with blonde hair in a manga that has a more realistic premise:
What sort of words run through your head when you look at this character? Something along the lines of “I don’t exactly want him teaching my kids or really leave him alone with any children.” In contemporary Japanese society, having blonde hair tends to denote the idea “that person is trouble,” “they’re probably an gangster”, “let’s hide our money from them”, etc. This is more of a thought held by many older Japanese people, but it is still a popular association, much like tattoos are still associated with the yakuza. Black and dark brown hairdos that are both common natural colors for the average Japanese person, so consequently any other color is still seen as “odd” much like it is in America. Take a look at any other realistic manga/anime: Ikigami, Monster, Battle Royale, etc. What do they have in common? They feature more realistic plot lines (which for the most part are also quite solemn) that feature characters with dark brown/black hair.
Let’s examine blogger Julian Abagond’s take on this subject in his article “Why Do the Japanese Draw Themselves as White?” In this he points out “The Japanese see anime characters as being Japanese. It is Americans who think they are white. Why? Because to them white is the Default Human Being.”
For example, if you look at this figure of a stick man, what race do you assume him to be? Most likely a white man, even though there are no features to tell you otherwise. That’s because in our Eurocentric culture, whiteness is seen as the default race. Any other has to be explicitly stated. Similarly, in (homogenous) Japan, a Japanese person would automatically assume that figure is Japanese. Why? Because there the default race is Japanese. Americans would have to add slanted eyes or some other stereotypical feature. Abagond goes on to say “So they feel no need to make their characters “look Asian”. They just have to make them look like people and everyone in Japan will assume they are Japanese – no matter how improbable their physical appearance.”
As shown above, when there are foreigners in anime there is usually a marker to indicate this “otherness”. The white characters have features typically associated with white people – wide nose, chiseled jaw, larger ears, blonde hair. The character of Hispanic descent looks hispanic – larger lips, higher cheekbones, and dark skin.
So why is it that people assume that anime characters look white? In my personal opinion, this could possible result from a colonized way of thinking. Being under the rule of Western Imperialism, minorities would often try and imitate their oppressors, often times to gain a better standing in society. If you look more like your oppressors, you would be viewed upon more favorably by those around you. However, Japan was never colonized by European countries. They instead chose to close their borders and reject any type of foreign influence. All of this changed during the Meiji Restoration, but one has to realize the Japanese did not have to deal with this burden of self hatred. They may not feel the constant pressure of looking like another culture as minorities who live here may.
It seems Abagond put it best “Some Americans….want to think the Japanese worship America or worship whiteness and use anime to prove it. But they seem to be driven more by their own racism and nationalism than anything else.”
Although I’m not going to touch the trend of many South Korean women getting double eyelid surgery.
All images are from Google. I retain no rights.