Do we need better South Asian Representation?

         Hello! I am writing about how I believe South Asian Representation needs to change. If someone asked me a ten years ago who are some famous South Asian / Indian actors, the only actor that would come to mind is Dev Patel from Slumdog Millionaire. This movie wont 8 academy awards, yet I have never another movie like this. Five, if someone asked me name famous South Asian actors, not too many would come to mind. I would think of side characters such as Aziz Ansari from Parks and Rec, Mindy Kaling from the Office, and Kal Penn who appeared in couple of How I Met Your Mother episodes. Now, if someone asked me who are some famous South Asian actors, I can say that Mindy Kaling, Hasan Minhaj, and Priyanka Chopra are stars in a show. As time has progressed, there has been some changes with the South Asian representation, but there definitely room for improvement.

         Growing up there were rarely anyone who looked like me in the films and showed I watched, which to an extent, I was okay with. But, what bothered me the most is when I would see South Asian actors forced to reduce themselves to a stereotypical character. Such as the man who drives the taxi cab, the math genius, the 7/11 owner, etc. I remember when I was in elementary school, there was a show on Disney Channel called “Jessie,” where one of the adopted children name was Ravi. His character role had every single possible stereotype. He was supposedly adopted from India, so he had a fake Indian accent and it bothered that he was the only child in the show that had to have an accent. The show was based in New York, so having a character with an accent from India was really not necessary. He was also portrayed as a nerd, socially awkward, bullied at school, and terrible at sports. He would be embarrassed a lot at school and by his brother Luke. This is not the only example of stereotypes Disney had made. In an animated show called Phineas and Ferb, they had an Indian friend named Baljeet who was nerdy and loved math. He also had an accent, was bullied, and talked about math a lot. I remember feeling so awkward watching that as a child because in my mind I would think, is that how the rest of America really views Indians? I rarely watched the shows Phineas and Ferb and Jessie because they would purposely make the Indian character be lame. It irritates me when shows or movies specifically point out that person has brown skin. These are just few examples. There is a stereotypical Indian character on Big Bang Theory named Raj. In Mean Girls, there was a math genius named Kevin G. Etc.

         Growing up and even now, it makes my face light up whenever I see someone on TV that looks like me who is addressed as a normal person. I remember I was thrilled to see an Indian character in the movie Pitch Perfect, where he was portrayed as a popular kid and a really good rapper. Originally, the role was meant for Donald Glover, who was a black artist. The actor who played the role in Pitch Perfect, Utkarsh Ambudkar, stated, “I rarely go in and book a role for an Indian character, because Hollywood’s idea of Indian men is very nerdy, emasculated, and safe…When a dude like me comes in with studs and has clearly had sex .. I’m constantly having to prove something different.” Even though many statistics state that Asians will probably make up more of the US population than Whites in the upcoming years, Asians make up only 3.1% of all top film roles. While people are attempting to give more roles to minority groups, especially after the #metoo movement, there is still a lot of troubles due to our political climate. I remember being worried about the minority groups after listening to Trump’s speech, but the fact that Hasan Minhaj spoke at the White House Correspondent dinner was great because it was a time America was very sensitive on race.

         While I am assuming most South Asians want to be actors that don’t play the stereotypical role, I think I need to also consider that at the end of they day people need a job. That is why they chose to play that nerdy character, the terrorist, or force themselves to have an accent. I am glad there is some progress in the industry with the Mindy Project and Hasan Minhaj’s Homecoming King. Priyanka Chopra was the star of ABC’s Quantico, but it ended only after 3 seasons. I personally have never watched Quantico, but I know there has been some controversies that offended some people.

I so happy that Crazy Rich Asians and Fresh Off the Boat is successful, but I would also like to see Asians who have brown skin like myself to have their own show or movie. There has not been a show or movie that I can think of that had an all South Asian cast. I mean it only makes sense to me as India is the second most populated country in the world. I’m still waiting for the day there can be an all Indian cast show that does not include any types of stereotypes. I want to see a show or a movie where I can really see myself, as an American Indian, on screen. Not even just on television or movies, but also in video games and animated shows.

            In conclusion, growing up I was usually almost always offended with the stereotypical characters Indians were given. There has been some progress, but I would love to see a lot more.

https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/paxx4n/south-asian-actors-are-fighting-hollywoods-racism

Netflix Animation: Challenging the Status Quos of the Industry

With the rise of online streaming, cable TV networks as well as some feature film companies are extremely challenged, and are trying to figure out how to handle the rapidly-changing market. In animation especially, streaming has shaken the industry entirely, paving new paths with promising outcomes for creators and audiences. While there are animated series available exclusively on streaming services, only recently have streaming services began seriously considering the creative power they have with the medium. Most notably, Netflix recently announced the creation of its animation department, through a Youtube video called, Drawing Netflix. Unlike the past, where Netflix would only buy the distribution rights to an animated series, the company is beginning the journey of creating original properties. Before the major announcement that was universally shared, I vaguely heard talk about Netflix animation through creators I followed on social media. Hush-hush talk about “all the great things netflix is doing right now” was the only thing that was really being said, but now it seems that the cat is completely out of the bag. Multiple notable creators of different backgrounds, such as Glen Keane, James Baxter, Craig McCracken, Jorge Gutierrez, and Alex Hirsch are just some of the notable creators who were once loyal to big-name companies, who have made the switch to Netflix animation. Throughout Drawing Netflix, each individual raved about some things in particular: the creative freedom and trust the creatives receive at Netflix, and the diversity of employees. These factors I believe are why so many animators are coming to the company, and why the business model will ultimately succeed within the animation industry.

As an animation student who is on social media often, I tend to hear about the happenings of industry creatives. When I heard that Alex Hirsch, along with a fair share of people were leaving Disney TV Animation to Netflix, it was something that initially caught me by surprise. Following Hirsch’s departure, it seemed that almost every “notable” creator from multiple networks was flocking to Netflix, doing “something amazing”. Not knowing that there was a Netflix Animation yet, I questioned what exactly made so many people attracted to it. It was something barely in fruition, wouldn’t it be risky or sketchy? Once I watched the video however, everything became much more clear. Throughout the video, multiple employees raved about how fresh the environment was, and the creative freedom they were able to have. Specifically, Craig McCracken expressed that “… [Netflix] trust[s] us, they trust the creative people who are gonna make the content”. Compared to Nickelodeon, who axed Glitch Techs in January for being a “financial risk”, Cartoon Network, where a shallow Powerpuff Girls remake without consulting Craig McCracken (the creator) was made, and Disney, where remakes and sequels are in constant demand by executives, the contrast of animated content and how creatives are treated through streaming companies is now much more apparent. Time and time again, it appears that executives in charge of TV and feature animation have the most power, and use creative talents who are eager to make something new and fresh create “safe” content with no real fulfillment. The creator’s opinions are given less priority, and executives don’t want to be involved with projects that would create a risk factor. On the contrary, Netflix willingly takes risks, partly because of the “binge model” they created. With binging content, the viewer chooses what to watch, therefore, more niche content can be made to support the wants of the viewer. Netflix prides itself with having a variety of content, so it is not surprising that they want to delve into a new medium. Additionally, throughout the video, the diversity within the studio was very apparent and refreshing. As said by Megan Dong, an Asian-American creator, “coming to Netflix was an opportunity to come to a place that was really embracing different voices from different types of creators, and telling different kinds of stories”. Netflix has individuals of different gender identities, ages, and races creating content for the animation studio, and it is something that has felt like a necessity for the industry that has taken forever to come to fruition. Contrary to TV animation studios or feature studios who face major issues with sexism, ageism, and cherry-picking employees from certain art schools, Netflix is starting off with a bang, and giving people with a variety of backgrounds a platform to share the stories they want to tell.

While companies such as Cartoon Network have embraced the use of streaming platforms, and are finally green lighting unique shows with diverse cats and messages, other companies such as Nickelodeon have executives scratching their heads, wondering why they’re falling behind with their competitors. Ultimately, what keeps TV and feature animation companies struggling to evolve with the times is their fear of risk, and having the voices of executives take precedent over the creators. Every single individual in Netflix’s video raved about how much freedom they have, so it is obvious how much of a disconnect there is between executives and creatives at competing companies. If competitors truly want to compete at the same caliber as Netflix, they will ultimately have to respect the creators and their ideas more, and be open to change.

Love and Other Unanswered Questions in Anderson’s Isle of Dogs (2018), a Discussion of Cultural Appropriation

One would probably not cite Wes Anderson as an all-too subtle filmmaker. His style is loud, freakishly consistent, and oddly mesmerizing. Nonetheless, it is too easy to confuse Anderson’s frankness for a lack of emotional truth or nuance. Thinking about how Anderson expresses emotion is realizing a very unique, but strange juxtaposition, between specificity and broad strokes, nuance and bluntness. Examine, briefly, Richie Tenenbaum’s bathroom scene in The Royal Tenenbaums (2001). In this scene Richie goes into the bathroom and cuts himself before being rushed to the hospital. On the one hand, the scene is overwhelmingly blue. An Elliot Smith song plays in the background. He whispers to himself that he’s going to kill himself. The blood flows out over his palms and the sink. It’s clear. It’s honest. And it’s not subtle. Richie Tenenbaum is sad and nearly kills himself. But at the same time there’s enough there to argue for its subtlety. He doesn’t just march in and slit his wrists. His mannerisms are firm. He looks in the mirror at us and we look back at him. There’s a confidence there. A certainty. He shaves himself, almost as a symbol of self-purification (the cutting of one’s hair in media often symbolizes a major character change). We look at all his messy hair spread about as his hands rest firmly over the sink so it’ll catch the blood. When he falls to the side he doesn’t just collapse. He sets himself down on the floor, quiet and maintaining the same degree of stark solidity in his face as he maintains for the entirety of the scene. This scene is a microcosm for part of what makes Anderson great. He takes the broadest strokes of what makes certain emotional elements plain and specific ones that only he could’ve really come up with and places them side-by-side. You can see this all across his work like say from when Zero tells Gustave the tribulations he had gone through as the result of being an immigrant, in Grand Budapest Hotel (2014). Or, when Mrs. Fox loses her temper and slashes Mr. Fox after he endangers their family in Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009). The latter is a great example for subverting expectations making it as funny as it is sad. It’s two parents getting in a fight, but instead of yelling Mrs. Fox just admits she’s going to lose her temper and bluntly slashes Mr. Fox. There’s no back-and-forth aggression or over-the-top arguing. It’s a scene some might know all too well but told with the blunt specificity only Anderson could deliver.

            And so that brings us to 2018’s Isle of Dogs. I’d be hard-pressed to say Anderson never considers where he sets his films. In Rushmore (1998), for instance, we get a healthy dose of all the clubs Max is involved in at his school and over the course of the film become thoroughly familiar with the place as much as its inhabitants. In Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) there’s discussion of real-estate, local grouches, the local economy, etc. His locales are his own and they are explored thoroughly. Not to mention the care Anderson always has for making his settings unique. No Anderson setting, even if it has clear, real-world ties, looks like any real-world setting. And that’s where the complications begin with Anderson’s latest feature. As critic Justin Chang of the LA Times points out “the weakness for racial stereotyping that has sometimes marred his work comes to the fore.” Most damning of Chang’s points comes at the use of language. While there are a handful of English speakers in the film the setting is a Japanese one, the retro-future city of Megasaki. Furthermore, the Japanese characters speak in their native language as do the English ones (the dogs also speak English). Chang points out “all these coy linguistic layers amount to their own form of marginalization, effectively reducing the hapless, unsuspecting people of Megasaki to foreigners in their own city.” So, it becomes clear very quickly that where the film struggles is in depicting a people white viewers can understand with more complexity and nuance to their behavior as well as a place with more visual nuance as well. Many common cultural icons appear in Megasaki including sushi, sumo, robots, pagodas and of course, Mt. Fuji. And so, the bluntness I discussed in Anderson’s stylistic dichotomy of loud and soft, is very much present and the latter is sorely lost, especially for those who desire a more complex and well-researched depiction of their home and culture.

            But Anderson’s nuance is not entirely lost. And, what Megasaki represents is maybe more than just Anderson’s all-too-recognizable vision of Japan. The story reflects a lot of the political discourse in the US. A too-angry dictatorial mayor with shady business ties deports the lowly canine population to a trash island out of historical anxiety towards said house pets (the mayor and his family prefer cats). So, with that in mind what Megasaki becomes is not only a fictional Japanese city but a microcosm for the contemporary US. And, the characters we understand verbally in the film are the foreigners to the film’s setting, a white exchange student and the dogs (who are not technically a native animal but nonetheless have their own place in Megasaki). And, not only that, but the main character is a young Japanese boy seeking to save his guard dog Spots by journeying to trash island. The dog characters in the film seek to aid the boy along with a grouchy stray named Chief. All but Chief serve as the boy’s translators so we the audience can understand him verbally, but halfway through the film they all get separated from the boy while Chief remains. Chief prefers the mentality of keeping to oneself. But, as he’s forced to spend time with the boy in the other dogs’ absences, he learns how to communicate with him, and since he doesn’t speak his language not with words, but with actions. The boy, for instance gives Chief a bath and a doggie snack (which he was saving for his dog Spots) and throws him a bone (figuratively and literally even though literally it’s actually a piece of rubber tubing). So, the precedent for meaningful communication comes through action and not just words. And thus, it is with the actions of the boy Atari and the exchange student Tracy that they save the dogs of Megasaki. It becomes more than just a story of saving a dog, Spots, but saving all the dogs.

            But all this doting upon American politics has hardly anything to do with the literal, real-world Japan. And in that sense, it is not the real-world Japan. It is the Japan Anderson has cited from the movies he has come to love from the likes of Miyazaki Hayao and Kurosawa Akira (he also apparently visited Japan for the film). So, what it amounts to is not the Japan, but a Japan; one which only exists in the mind of Anderson. And, to be fair it is not without its intricacies. Take for instance the scene where the chef prepares the scientist Watanabe’s dinner, or the scenes of the mayoral council with the lavish paintings behind each member, or the beautiful cityscape. It’s difficult, because there was clearly a lot of pain-staking effort that went in to designing and bringing to life the fictional city of Megasaki. So, where do you draw that line of good representation and bad representation? When is cultural appropriation no longer done with dignity or understanding but with ignorance or outright disrespect? The truth is that clear delineation between good and bad does not exist. Some people were very fairly made to feel uncomfortable by Anderson’s idea of Japan. Others, weren’t. What I think one must keep in mind though is that while Anderson’s vision of the place is not representative of Japan it is extremely accurate (at least by my estimation) to what Anderson loves about Japan. And, Anderson, at least, did not get his ideas about Japan solely from a white-centric source but straight from Japanese filmmakers, one who’s works audiences from both Japan and America love and respect. To be fair though, respecting a culture through depiction and through love of its products are not the same thing. So, while Anderson might love what components of Japan he loves and have a deep and nuanced understanding of that love, one cannot dismiss entirely how that collides with the sophistication of the real-world Japan, and the difficulty one has in depicting said place even if it’s just an idea of that place and not the place itself. And one could so easily say he simply did not mean to make a real-world Japan, but just his own vision and that should be good enough, it neglects the context the movie exists in. It is a white man depicting a historically oppressed culture from his own culture’s vantage point. And for some people, that is not ok, and how he depicted it did not help. So, while I admittedly love the man and the film, it is neither fair nor correct of me to dismiss the people who did not like it for very valid reasons nor the shortcomings of the film to juggle crafting a unique setting and depicting a real-world one. I myself grew up with a half-Japanese mom who emigrated from Japan as a young girl and grew up in a distinctly Japanese household by virtue of having a 100% Japanese mom and a father who wasn’t there. I watched the film with her, and she enjoyed it, as did I. What I and my mom love about Japanese culture is not too different from what Anderson loves about it. The film is appropriately enough about unconditional love. Love a boy has for his dog and dog-kind and love dogs have for mankind, all out of good will and not for any contrived reason. It’s about extending your hand to another people you might not understand verbally, but emotionally, there’s much less of a distinction. And sure, that’s not a new theme, but it’s one which I hope outlives the films failures. The question is, is love enough? When is it love and when is it ignorance? I wish for the life of me that question had a simple answer, but I believe just as Anderson has proven again and again, it is a matter of loud and soft, bluntness and nuance, emotional truth and questions left forever unanswered.  

Sources:

https://japantoday.com/category/features/opinions/is-japan-really-racist

https://www.nippon.com/en/column/g00547/isle-of-dogs-a-view-from-japan.html

https://www.newyorker.com/culture/richard-brody/isle-of-dogs-is-a-stylish-revolt-against-american-political-madness

https://www.vulture.com/2018/03/what-its-like-to-watch-isle-of-dogs-as-a-japanese-speaker.html

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment/movies/la-et-mn-isle-of-dogs-review-20180321-story.html

Why do People Think Animation is Just for Kids?

Most of the time, when I tell people that I’m an Animation major, I get the same response: “Oh so you want to make kids’ movies?”. At first, that question didn’t bother me so much; but I found that the more often people asked it, the more irritated I got. At one point I wanted to yell back “Animation isn’t just for kids!’”. Yet the fact that so many people asked me this brought up a question of my own: Why is animation seen as a medium only for kids? Logically, I’m sure most people know that animation can be used for anything. But in most people’s minds, it is only used for children’s movies while live-action is for more mature audiences. On the other hand, when animation isn’t aimed at children, it’s aimed at adults (or at least this is how the general public sees it). For example, when looking at IMDB’s list of the top 25 highest grossing animated films; The Incredibles, The Lion King, and Toy Story are just a few among the many. But one similarity between every film on that list is that they’re categorized children’s films; even though most of them may actually be intended for all audiences. Even when looking at another IMDB list of the most popular animated series, many of those listed (such as Avatar: The Last Airbender, Family Guy, and SpongeBob SquarePants) are seen as either children’s shows or adult shows with nothing in the middle, even if some of the shows weren’t intended to be this way. So why is it that people have this belief?

Looking back on a little bit of animation history, the medium was initially used for comedic shorts and propaganda played before feature films. These shorts would appear in front of audiences made mostly of adults; especially when they were propaganda for World War II, for example. Back then, animation did not yet have children automatically associated with it. So when did the change occur? Well I believe Television is what would ultimately change the game. Fast forwarding to the 80s, animation would be used a means of advertising toys; Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987) being a prime example. What were initially comic book characters would soon be made into popular action figures by Playmates Toys Inc, but not before the company requested a television deal first. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would then become a successful and popular series, making their action figures equally as successful. Now the toys were obviously aimed at children, therefore making the television series also aimed at children. And TNMT was not alone; shows such as the original Transformers (1984) and Voltron (1984) were also used in this way. It is during this time that animation began to be viewed mostly as means of creating children’s entertainment. Whether or not the animated films and series that followed were intended for children, most of the public would see them this way, and thus the belief was formed.

Fast forwarding to the present, it may be a bit obvious that most big-name animated films and series are in the family and comedy categories. The reason for this may be that major studios know that the safest bet when creating an animated work is sticking to what has worked the best. And when it comes to animation, comedy and family films/ shows have always been the most successful. This isn’t to say that animation intended for mature audiences (and not necessarily shows like Family Guy) can’t be just as well done or even better, but only independent studios are willing to take that risk. That being said, if I were to ask a random person what films came to mind when thinking of animation, they will most likely name a Disney film or another major studio’s film such as Hotel Transylvania or Kung Fu Panda. Whether or not well-known animated films are intended for children or not, most people tend to stay away from them because they believe that they’re only for children; and those films intended for mature audiences are usually not well known. Now don’t get me wrong; many of the films and shows that I’ve mentioned are some of my favorites. However, it is my hope that not only will general audiences see that animation can be for anyone, but that big-budget animated films released in the future will not solely stick to the comedic or family-oriented platform that is has done for so many years. Maybe then, animation will be seen as simply another form of storytelling, and not just a form a children’s storytelling.

 

Sources:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YxXIuVuttdg

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eA7EBI2SZ8Y

https://www.imdb.com/imdbpicks/top-25-highest-grossing-animated-movies/ls022124273/

https://www.imdb.com/search/title?genres=animation&amp&title_type=tv_series&amp&num_votes=1000,&amp&sort=user_rating,desc

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teenage_Mutant_Ninja_Turtles_(1987_TV_series)

Craig of the Creek and Reflecting For All: Can Inclusion Be Misused?

Representation matters. Hollywood knows that now more than ever before. But Hollywood is also cunning and exploitative, as we all know. People of all sexes and colors want a reflection on screen, and if it’s diversity that sells then it’s diversity we’ll get. Inclusion in many ways has just become another thing for filmmakers to either exploit or embrace. It’s a war between being thoughtless and being thoughtful. People of all types are actually getting screen time whereas they would not have before.

To bring this all into familiar territory for us animation students, let’s have a look at Cartoon Network’s Craig of the Creek: a cute, harmless show that turns the local woods into a mini world of gest and adventure for the local kids to explore. It’s Recess meets Lord of the Rings, essentially. What has people tied up about it is the fact that the show was created by two white guys (Matt Burnett and Ben Levin) but its protagonist, Craig, and his family are black.

Hey Arnold! and Recess are similar cartoons to Craig of the Creek in that they follow the suburban, slice-of-life adventures of kids helping others or getting into trouble. Arnold Shortman and T.J. Detweiler are the protagonists of each show, respectively. Both are white males with a black best friend. Gerald and Vince are great, but would it really hurt to make “the black guy” the protagonist, for once? Black kids growing up wouldn’t have to keep relating exclusively to side characters. Matt Burnett says, “I think more inclusivity and media and representing people that we haven’t usually seen on TV is really exciting.”

Craig of the Creek’s creek is in a modest, middle-class neighborhood, where Craig is treated no differently than any other of the diverse kids. He’s a middle child whose mother, father, and grandparents care for him. There’s no commentary on race or on growing up black in America within the show, but Craig of the Creek isn’t that kind of show anyways. It’s an innocent, wistful trip back to childhood whose protagonist happens to be black. There is no one way to grow up black in America, and Burnett and Levin make Craig fun and relatable as any kid. Burnett and Levin are Steven Universe veterans, so rest assured no one will misuse representation. Besides, if it weren’t for white filmmakers representing other races, we wouldn’t have strong minority characters like Moana or Miguel. 

It is worth noting that the show isn’t two white men assuming the black experience. Burnett and Levin have gathered a diverse crew to ensure that black voices are being heard from the show through their boards and words in the script. “We worked hard to put together the team that would help shape the show, a very diverse group of voices to add something that we needed that we couldn’t do on our own. That was always our goal when we decided to create the show, to work with a huge range of people and get their voices heard on TV,” says Burnett.

Choosing to represent those of us cast in others’ shadows, whether it be women or minorities, is a bold opportunity that can break grounds. Other times, it can be hasty and underhanded. Two of Pixar’s last films feature major female characters who were both male until late in production: Cruz Ramirez in Cars 3 and Evelyn Deavor in Incredibles 2 (Evelyn’s change came so late that her male version was already fully modeled, rigged, and textured). The filmmakers explain that Cruz was made a female to seem like an outsider in the male-dominated racing world and Evelyn was made female to give her a stronger relationship with Elastigirl: two women cast in men’s shadows. These last-minute changes aren’t malicious or anything, but they aren’t exactly noteworthy either. They seem hasty. They do have thought and nuance put into why they made their decision to make the change, though, it’s not like J.K. Rowling coming out saying “btw Dumbledore was gay.” And at the end of the day, kids have a Latina racer and female supervillian. 

Everyone wants a character to relate to and it’s disheartening when you can’t find yourself anywhere. Craig of the Creek isn’t exploiting Black America; it’s embracing childhood and diversity. Every day ends with Craig and his friends running home just in time for dinner, and every credit sequence is an intimate, warm look at Craig’s family dinner table. Melodic indie rock plays as we see the whole family together, just eating, happy together. Levin likes this moment and says of it, “People have pointed that out, like, ‘this is so refreshing to see on television.’ We’re looking to show those little moments. They’re not big political statements, but they can mean so much to people.” As groundbreaking as it may be, I don’t think the creators would want their show to be remembered just as “the one with the black kid.” Luckily, I think they have just enough fun and creativity within the show for it’s legacy to be broader than that. There’s something for everyone in Craig of the Creek, and that’s what makes diversity endearing.

 

https://www.fastcompany.com/40551963/inside-cartoon-networks-racially-groundbreaking-show-craig-of-the-creek

https://nerdist.com/craig-of-the-creek-5-reasons-you-should-watch/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TWVfw-0qv6c

http://blacknerdproblems.com/craig-of-the-creek-review/

 

Asian American Representation and their Stereotypes

Asian representation in the American Entertainment industry has had some struggles showcasing Asian Americans in popular media. When someone is asked “Who is the most popular Asian actor or actress?” the response is usually Jackie Chan or Bruce Lee. These two men are well known for their physical abilities in martial arts and have received popular response from the American public. But does this limit the number of roles that Asian actors can have? Many asian lead roles in popular media have the character being portrayed as a martial arts expert, a nerd, or a doctor. In American entertainment, there has only been one film that showcases an asian male with a love interest in recent years who isn’t portrayed as a typical Asian stereotype. Many films and shows that do showcase asians as the lead roles usually come from asian countries.

In America, there is a diverse community that represents all cultures and ethnic backgrounds but the entertainment industry tends to overlook these minorities. In the youtube video “Why doesn’t Hollywood Cast Asian Actors”, one of the main ideas is that Hollywood is scared to take the risk of not having the bigger Hollywood names in their films, ultimately leading the film to make more in the Box Offices. This then brings up the problem of Asian American kids not having any source of relatability in the entertainment industry for a person of color that they can relate to. Not all shows do this poorly however. Shows like Fresh off the Boat is a great example of a first generation family trying to follow the American Dream and the struggles of being an Asian American in the 1990’s.  But what about the earlier family tv sit

Fresh off the Boat is an experience very similar to my own as an Asian American. The way that the Wong Family is portrayed is not only about an Asian family trying to make it in America, but how the main character, Eddie Wong, deals with being stereotyped as an asian and the difficulties that come with that because of moving to a Primarily white neighborhood. The show does showcase many asian tropes such as having an accent, living with a grandparent, and eating cultural foods. The way that the show is set up, none of these portray the asian culture in a negative spotlight, but how the family deals with difficulties that can be translated to any minority. The family consists of Louis Huang, the father trying to support his family; Jessica Huang, the tiger mom; Grandma Huang, the grandma who lives with the family; Eddie Huang, the rebellious chinese son; Emery Huang, the son who adjusts well to the white society; and Evan Huang, the good chinese son who does well in school. The family might consist of typical asian stereotypes, but there is much more to their characters than just the stereotypes given to them. Jessica might be a tiger mom, who pushes her family for greatness, but only because she wants what’s best for her kids, and there isn’t anything she wouldn’t do for them. Eddie, Emery, and Evan are all great representations of a Chinese American son. From personal experience, I always tried my best in school, but my grades didn’t always represent that. Early on in my life, I dealt with the classic asian stereotypes such as always being good in school, being a bad driver, stinky food, or eating domestic animals. I never let these comments get to me, but it was hard dealing with the prejudice showcased in popular media. If a show like Fresh off the Boat was around when I was younger, it would have given me a lot of advice on how to be proud of who you are and not let others ruin that for you, and also showcase the Asian American family as a normal family and not some crude representation often seen in popular media.

Going more in depth about asians in the film industry, many of these roles are seen as the talented instrumentalist nerdy type who is soft spoken, the brilliant surgeon, or a martial arts master. Crazy Rich Asians, is the first film in 25 years to have an all asian cast that isn’t a period piece. In the Washington Post article written by Allyson Chiu, she includes the positives and negatives of the movie in tweets from Asian Americans. None of the actors are “whitewashed” or played by a white actor, but the actors and actresses are all played by East Asian actors. In the American society, asians are generally clumped together into one word, “Asian” and most don’t make an effort to learn the difference in the cultures or will make assumptions on race. In Crazy Rich Asians, there is a lot of asian representation in the movie about culture and having a diverse cast, but there is no representation of Western Asian countries in the film. One of the tweets in Allyson’s article is tweeted by EJ Ramos David. He mentions how the film relates to most Western Films with an all white cast beside the one Black token character, and how in Crazy Rich Asians, there is a Brown Asian token character.  I feel that in the entertainment industry, it is hard to please the entire public, but they are making a step in the right direction on the representation of asian actors that transcend their stereotypes, which is what the film focuses on. The film breaks the stereotypes by having attractive asian male leads, but also showcases the geeky asian girl who has more to her character than just being the typical asian nerd. Variety’s youtube video “’Crazy Rich Asians’ Cast on Hollywood Stereotypes”, Ken Jeong, asian comedian and actor, mentions how the trend of more asian representation in entertainment all plays off of each other and that it is the first steps into more inclusion of asian roles that aren’t solely based around stereotypes.

With shows like Fresh off the Boat and movies like Crazy Rich Asians, the Asian American audience will have characters to relate to that aren’t based off of outlandish stereotypes, but have more depth and a deeper story to who they are as a person. Looking back on my childhood, I would have loved to have seen this movie and watch this show with my own family and how we see ourselves in the characters. I would like to see more in animated shows and video games, but in a few years, I can see this possibility becoming a reality if this trend continues. Check out the videos if you have the time because they go over some other interesting aspects that I did not go into depth on!

Happy Thanksgiving! 😀

Works Cited:

Why Doesn’t Hollywood Cast Asian Actors?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XkfrZ91jA_0

 

‘Crazy Rich Asians’ Cast on Hollywood Stereotypes

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2H4v2LdlXMc

 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2018/04/26/an-all-asian-cast-and-no-martial-arts-why-the-crazy-rich-asians-movie-matters/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.f6a41643bb93

 

American Shows, Korean Animation?

While fans of the popular American show, Bob’s Burgers may be highly knowledgeable of characters, narratives, and long-running jokes, there is lesser known knowledge about where the show is actually animated. South Korea is an answer that may surprise many, which begs the question: how many American shows or networks outsource their material to be animated abroad, and what might be some possible effects?

For one thing, it should be known that the largest driving force for creating material overseas is lower cost of production. Outsourcing was popularized in the 1970s when ABC, CBS, and NBC couldn’t meet demand for new episodes of popular shows such as Scooby-Doo and Fat Albert. Korean artists then proved to be technically proficient and quick, and became the new source for many projects (Mayes). Decreased costs are due to the fact that employees in places such as Soul do not have as many protected creative and working rights, therefore allowing for physical and financial exploitation. This poses an ethical dilemma about sacrificing fair working conditions for the sake of larger profit.  

A large problem which Korean studios have also faced in recent years is a hesitance to turn from paper animation to digital. This is an issue posed in The Atlantic’s article, “A New Age of Animation” by Kate Torgovnick May which describes that the outsourcing has led to a technical divide which has decreased efficiency. Working on paper means that every frame must be scanned individually for delivery to American studios resulting in any revisions taking a week or more. Another problem is difficulty translating American cultural nuances for culturally different, Korean creators. Joel Kuwahara, co-founder of BentoBox Entertainment, a production company in Los Angeles that produced Bob’s Burgers, notes that, “It can be hard to communicate precisely what we want…It can be acting nuances- or dance moves…We have a different perception of humor… We have a different approach to everything, including body language and expressions” (May).   

Another issue that may come about is foreign countries’ lack of understanding about U.S. laws that protect intellectual properties, copyrights, etc (Mayes). This may result in copyright infringements or use of creative property which is not accessible for free use. A large problem that I am personally concerned with is the decreased value of production with foreign animators creating projects of lesser quality due to lack of resources, time, and labor.

The Korean animation industry today works with around 120 studios, including Fox, Dreamworks, Cartoon Network, and Nickelodeon (Mayes). This means that American audiences have a direct relationship to Korean animators, by consuming their work and acting as the main source of profit. American viewers should be aware and critical of the conditions under which their favorite shows were created. This is not to say that shows or networks should be blacklisted as unethical and never supported again, but rather to say that in order to consume media honestly, we must be socially aware of the entire production process. There should be an appreciation for the time, money, and effort put into creating these shows and people should be rewarded and credited in full for the work that was put in. 

While push for change and proactivity to apply these changes is slow, some have started to make the transition. The largest solution for the technical, cultural problems is to employ “overseas animation directors” to work in the Korean studios overseas and check any animation that is sent back to the U.S (Mayes). This allows for an American perspective to play an active role in the animation process. Others, such as Kuwahara have taken on a more active role. He has reached out to Toon Boom, creators of the software Harmony in order to improve functionality for Korean animators and encourage studios to make the change from paper to digital, which will open the doors for many young animators in Korea who are pulled to the digital aspect.

Overall, it appears that outsourcing American  shows is something which poses some conflict. On the one hand, Korean studios offer extra, quick labor, with the added benefit of decreased cost, while on the other hand this is a direct result of manual exploitation. At the same time, foreign studios face language and cultural barriers which can further prolong the process. Ultimately, it’s a tricky situation which many would rather ignore, but I propose that perhaps until working rights of foreign animators are fully protected, we had better keep animation production domestic.

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/why-outsourcing-animation-overseas-bad-idea-christina-mayes/

https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2016/05/a-new-age-of-animation/483342/

Lack of Representation in Tim Burton Films

 

 

 

 

 

Every year in October, I find myself watching a lot of Tim Burton movies to get into the Halloween spirit. I’ve always loved their creativity and eerie nature, but recently, along with many others, I have begun to notice the lack of diversity in the characters being portrayed. This lack of representation is present in both his live action and animated films such as Edward Scissorhands (1990), Corpse Bride (2005), Frankenweenie (2012), Sweeney Todd (2007) and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016) just to name a few. For a while this seemed to go unnoticed, but with the recent push for diversity in Hollywood, Burton’s films have started to become more scrutinized.

 

Samuel L. Jackson as Mr. Barron in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

 

Burton has made upwards of 25 movies now, and the only non-white actor in any major role is Samuel L. Jackson who plays the villain in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, which isn’t exactly a victory. The first time a Tim Burton movie has a black character, and he is absolutely evil. Yikes. In a 2016 interview with Bustle on the subject of why there is no diversity in his movies, Burton stated “Things either call for things or they don’t,” which is about the weakest and least articulate defense possible. Essentially, Burton recognizes his complete lack of diversity, but doesn’t plan on doing anything about it. It is not as though he is unaware of the problem, but rather he is making the conscious decision to only cast white people, and his only defense on the matter is basically the equivalent of “because I just feel like it.”

 

Johnny Depp as Sweeney Todd on the streets of Sweeney Todd’s fictional London

 

One could try to make the argument that many of Burton’s films take place in areas like Victorian London where it wouldn’t be historically accurate to include a racially diverse cast, but seeing as Burton’s films never even approach the idea of being normal or realistic, once again this would be a pretty weak response. If a man can have scissors for hands, Victorian London can have a diverse population. Since Burton’s films include themes of people being different or outcasts, it seems odd to have a cast of people that all look exactly the same.

 

More diversity in Hollywood starts with the people making the films, and people like Tim Burton are slowing down the process of incorporating more cultural representation into the media. It is one thing to not realize that what you are producing lacks diversity, but it is so much worse to be aware of what you are doing and not see a problem with it. I’m sure there are plenty of other directors and producers who share Burton’s mind set. Nothing is going to change unless the people with power in the film industry become aware of the need for diversity, and actually start caring.

Awareness of Exploitation of Women and gender non-conforming people in the Animation Workforce.

In 1941 Disney animators protested Walt Disney Studios. They started the protest because it was impossible to live with the hours and pay Walt was offering. It wasn’t sustainable for their mental wellbeing or to support their families. The protests lasted nine weeks until Roy Disney had to give in because he was compelled by federal mediators, the boycotts, and his Bank of America Financier (Sito). He was forced to recognize the guild. After the guild was established everyone went back to work and money was doubled and the animators actually got screen credits. It is hard to believe there was a time where animators weren’t credited in the films they helped create (Sito).
The Screen Cartoonists guild made one of the largest impacts on the Hollywood animation scene. They helped pave the way for animators to earn a pension, medical insurance, and a higher standard of living (Sito). So, this must mean that, since the guild is in place, everything is fixed, correct? We all know this is false, the one thing they forgot about was women or gender non-conforming people and sexual harassment in the workplace.
After the #metoo movement, a lot of people’s eyes have been opened about the way Hollywood has been treating women. After the Harvey Weinstein scandal, many women in animation also stepped forward and have started talking about what has happened throughout their time in the animation field. The world has woken up to the fact that sexual harassment in every workplace is actually a thing, even in animation (wow shocker). Especially since the John Lasseter scandal, and especially since he has been fired from Disney and Pixar altogether. Since then, more and more people have spoken up and accused people who have sexually assaulted them, like the creator of The Ren & Stimpy Show was accused of systematic sexual harassment, exploitation, and abuse of teenage girls over the entirety of his animation career (The dot and line).  Also, Chris Savin who was the showrunner of The Loud House was fired a year ago because of allegations of sexual wrongdoing and threats of retribution (The dot and line).
More and more women are speaking up about sexual abuse in the workplace, which, even though it is difficult, they are making a difference by speaking about it. Studies show that one in three women experience sexual harassment in the workplace (Vagianos). That’s an insane amount of women who have gone through something like this. And sadly studies also show about only 29% of women actually report the harassment, and only 15% feel like they have been treated fairly (Vagianos). Those are staggering numbers. Which is why speaking up and giving a voice to other women is a brave and amazing thing to do and it can help create change. But speaking up can be hard especially from the fear of if you speak up you might be blacklisted. A woman who worked on Kick Buttowski: Suburban Daredevil in 2012 gave an account, at a Women in Animation panel, of what happened to her when she was sexually harassed, “she initially confided in a manager, who discouraged her from reporting the harassment to human resources. The Animation Guild former business agent offered no help, saying, “At least you have a job.” Once she finally met with human resources and sought assurances that she would not be blacklisted or fired for pursuing a complaint, she was told: “I can’t guarantee your job”” ( Chmielewski).
Since this woman was a single mom, and she needed to support her family, she really didn’t have a choice so she kept quiet. But she finally spoke out in 2017 and identified the man who sexually harassed her as Chris Savin, the now ex-creator of loud house ( Chmielewski). Times are changing, and women are a bit more comfortable speaking out especially after the #metoo movement ( even though they shouldn’t have to because knowing that you shouldn’t sexually harass people should be common sense). Such as the 200 female animators, who have spoken out and have written a letter to Hollywood executives insisting on an end to sexual harassment in the animation industry (Kew). This letter makes many demands to improve the workplace for women, including improving sexual harassment policies by amending the Animation Guild constitution to make sure that if someone is guilty of sexual assault they are properly punished for it (Kew). The letter also asked that men in the workplace start speaking up for the women around them if they are seeing them being harassed. Chris DeFaria, the CEO of Dreamworks, and Margie Cohn, head of Dreamworks TV, responded to the letter by reestablishing their policies on sexual misconduct in the workplace (Kew). This letter and people speaking out are taking amazing steps and making many opportunities for women in the animation industry to change the way men treat women in the office.
Change only happens when we band together and speak out. Just like the 1941 protests, the animators protesting knew that if they all didn’t band together and speak out as a whole union, change wouldn’t come if only a few of them stood together, If that happened the people who protested would run out of money would have to come crawling back to their old jobs, back to the old unfair intolerable status quo. But those protestors banded together and the majority supported the cause which caused a change in the industry. History does repeat itself, If we speak up about the sexual harassment in our field, band together and make sure this industry knows that their workforce won’t stand for this, then there is nothing we can’t achieve. I am attaching the note that those 200 women sent and signed, as well as a link to Women in Animation sexual assault resources. If you have been sexually harassed or assaulted you are not alone.
http://womeninanimation.org/sexualharassment/

An Open Letter to the Animation Community

We, the women and gender non-conforming people of the animation community, would like to address and highlight the pervasive problem of sexism and sexual harassment in our business. We write this letter with the hope that change is possible and ask that you listen to our stories and then make every effort to bring a real and lasting change to the culture of animation studios.

In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, many of the women who work in animation have begun discussing more openly issues that we have dealt with quietly throughout our careers. As we came together to share our stories of sexism, sexual harassment and, in some cases, sexual assault, we were struck by the pervasiveness of the problem. Every one of us has a story to share, from tossed-off comments about our body parts that were framed as “jokes” to women being cornered in dark rooms by male colleagues to criminal assault.

Our business has always been male-dominated. Women make up only 23% of union employees, so it’s no surprise that problems with sexism and sexual harassment exist. Sexual harassment and assault are widespread issues that primarily affect women, with women of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community and other marginalized groups affected at an even greater rate.

As more women have entered the animation workforce, it seems that some men have not embraced this change. They still frequently make crass sexual remarks that make it clear women are not welcome on their crews. Some have pressed colleagues for romantic or sexual relationships, despite our clear disinterest. And some have seen the entrance of more women into the industry as an opportunity to exploit and victimize younger workers on their crews who are looking for mentorship. In addition, when sexual predators are caught at one workplace, they seem to easily find a job at another studio, sometimes even following their victims from job to job. We are tired of relying on whisper networks to know who isn’t safe to meet with alone. We want our supervisors to protect us from harassment and assault.

This abuse has got to stop.

The signatories of this letter demand that you take sexual harassment seriously. We ask that:

1. Every studio puts in place clear and enforceable sexual harassment policies and takes every report seriously. It must be clear to studio leadership, including producers, that, no matter who the abuser is, they must investigate every report or face consequences themselves.

2. The Animation Guild adds language in our constitution that states that it can “censure, fine, suspend or expel any member of the guild who shall, in the opinion of the Executive Board, be found guilty of any act, omission, or conduct which is prejudicial to the welfare of the guild.” To craft and support the new language, we ask that an Anti-Harassment and Discrimination Committee be created to help educate and prevent future occurrences.

3. Our male colleagues start speaking up and standing up for us. When their co-workers make sexist remarks, or when they see sexual harassment happening, we expect them to say something. Stop making excuses for bad behavior in your friends and co-workers, and tell them what they are doing is wrong.

It has not been easy for us to share our stories with each other. Many of us were afraid because our victimizers are powerful or well-liked. Others were worried that if they came forward it would affect their careers. Some of us have come forward in the past, only to have our concerns brushed aside, or for our supervisors to tell us “he’s just from a different era.” All of us are saddened and disheartened to hear how widespread the problem of sexual harassment still is in the animation industry, and how many of our friends had been suffering in secret.

It is with this in mind that we resolve to do everything we can to prevent anyone else from being victimized. We are united in our mission to wipe out sexual harassment in the animation industry, and we will no longer be silent.

Signed,

Abigail Davies
Ae Ri Yoon
Alejandra Quintas
Alex Mack
Alice Herring
Aliki Theofilopoulos
Allie Splain
Allison Kim
Allison Perry
Alyx Jolivet
Amalia Levari
Amanda Li
Amanda Turnage
Amber Vucinich
Amelia Lorenz
Aminder Dhaliwal
Angela Li
Angelina Ricardo
Anna Hollingsworth
Anna O’Brian
Anne Walker Farrell
Annisa Adjani
Arlyne Ramirez
Ashley Fisher
Ashley King
Ashlyn Anstee
Audrey Diehl
Aurry Tan
Becky Lau
Bethany Lo
Bri Neumann
Brianne Drouhard
Bridget Ore
Brittany Rochford
Cameron Butler
Careen Ingle
Carly SIlverman
Caroline Director
Caroline Foley
Carrie Liao
Casey Follen
Catharina Sukiman
Chelsea McAlarney
Cheyenne Curtis
Chivaun Fitzpatrick
Christina Faulkner
Christine Liu
Citlalli Anderson
Clio Chiang
Daniaelle Simonsen
Danielle Bonadona
Danny Ducker
Diana Huh
Diana Kidlaied
Diem Doan
Elaine Wu
Elisa Phillips
Elise Fachon
Elise Willis
Elizabeth (Betsy) Bauer
Elizabeth Ito
Elizabeth McMahill
Emily Brundige
Emily Rice
Emily Walus
Emily Quinn
Erin Kavanagh
Eunsoo Jeong
Evon Freeman
Faryn Pearl
Ginny Hawes
Gizelle Orbino
Grace Babineau
Grace Mi
grace young
Haley Mancini
Hannah Ayoubi
Heather Gregersen
Hilary Florido
Hillary Bradfield
Hsuan Ho
Ilana M Schwartz
Jackie Bae
Jacqueline Sheng
Jean Kang
Jen Bardekoff
Jen Bennett
Jenn Ely
Jenn Strickland
Jenna Boyd
Jenny Cho
Jess Marfisi
Jessica Gao
Jessica von Medicus
Jessie Greenberg
Jessie Wong
Jihyun Park
Jill Sanford
Joanna Leitch
Jocelyn Sepulveda
Jordan Rosato
Julia Kaye
Julia Layton
Julia Pott
Julia Srednicki
Julia Vickerman
Julianne Martin
Kaitlyn Ritter
Kaitrin Snodgrass
Karen C. Johnson
Kassandra Heller
Kat Good
Katie Rice
Kayla Carlisle
Kelly Gollogly
Kellye Perdue
Kelsey Norden
Kendra Melton
Kennedy Tarrell
Kiki Manrique
Kiley Vorndran
Kim Le
Kim Roberson
Kimberly Knoll
Kristen Gish
Kristen Morrison
Kristin Koch
Lacey Dyer
Lamb Chamberlin
Laura Hohman
Laura Sreebny
Lauren Duda
Lauren Faust
Lauren Patterson
Leah Artwick
Lily Williams
Lindsay Carrozza
Lindsey Pollard
Lisa Hanawalt
Lissa Treiman
Liz Climo
Lorraine Grate
Lorraine Howard
Lucyola Langi
Lynn Wang
Maaike Scherff
Madeline Queripel
Maggie Kang
Maha Tabikh
Mallory Carlson
Maria Nguyen
Mariah-Rose Marie M
Mariana Chan
Mary Nash
Mayumi Nose
McKenna Harris
Megan Dong
Megan Lloyd
Megan Phonesavanh
Megan Waldow
Megan Willoughby
Melissa Juarez
Melissa King
Melissa Levengood
Michelle Lin
Michelle Thies
Miho Tomimasu
Mingjue Chen
Minty Lewis
Mollie Freilich
Monica Davila
Monica DeStefano
Naomi Hicks
Natasha Kline
Nicole Rivera
Niki Lopez
Nooree Kim
Nora Meek
Patricia Burgos
Phylicia Fuentes
Rebecca Sugar
Rebecca Wallace
Reem S. Ali-adeeb
Rianna Liu
Rikke Asbjoern
Sabrina Cotugno
Sabine Doerstling
Sam King
Samantha Gray
Sarah Johnson
Sarah Marino
Sarah Oleksyk
Sarah Soh
Sarah Visel
Sasha Schotzko-Harris
Shadi Petosky
Sheri Wheeler
Sofia Alexander
Sona Sargsyan
Stacy Renfroe
Stephanie Gonzaga
Stephanie Simpson
Stephanie Stine
Su Moon
Sue Schaller
Sydney Sharp
Talia Ellis
Tara H.
Tara N Whitaker
Traci Honda
Tuna Bora
Valerie Schwarz
Victoria Harris
Wendy Molyneux
Yingjue Chen
Zabrina McIntyre
Zoe Miller

Bibliography

Chmielewski, Dawn C. “One Female Animator’s Emotional Story Punctuates Harassment Panel.” Deadline, 7 Dec. 2017, deadline.com/2017/12/women-in-animation-sexual-harassment-1202221766/.

Kew, Ben. “200 Female Animators Write Letter to Top Hollywood Executives Demanding End to ‘Widespread’ Sexual Harassment.” Breitbart, 21 Oct. 2017, www.breitbart.com/entertainment/2017/10/21/200-female-animators-write-letter-top-hollywood-executives-demanding-end-widespread-sexual-harassment/.

Sito, Tom. “The Disney Strike of 1941: How It Changed Animation & Comics.” Animation World Network, 19 July 2005, www.awn.com/animationworld/disney-strike-1941-how-it-changed-animation-comics.

The Dot and Line. “#MeToo Comes to Cartoons – The Dot and Line.” The Dot and Line, The Dot and Line, 30 Mar. 2018, dotandline.net/john-kricfalusi-sexual-abuse-ab30b6f53b6e.

Vagianos, Alanna. “1 In 3 Women Has Been Sexually Harassed At Work.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 7 Dec. 2017, www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02/19/1-in-3-women-sexually-harassed-work-cosmopolitan_n_6713814.html.