STOP Animation Trope that Dehumanizes Black Characters

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Once is an accident, twice is a coincidence, three times is a pattern. Disney’s, Blue Sky’s, and now Pixar’s first black leading characters just can’t stay human.

Tiana from ‘The Princess and the Frog’ (2009) turned into a frog, black secret agent in ‘Spies in Disguise’ (2019) became a pigeon, and black musician in the upcoming Pixar’s ‘Soul’ (2020) transformed into a blob of a ghost. The disturbing trope of robbing non-white characters of much-needed representation screen time and detaching them from their racial and ethnic identities started with Disney’s ‘The Emperor's New Groove’ (2000) and ‘Brother Bear’ (2003), where Inca and Alaska Native human protagonists spent most of the film as animals.

As British critic Peter Bradshaw wrote, “Disney may wish to reach out to people of color—but the color green wasn’t what we had in mind.”

CHART: Transformations of human and human-like protagonists in Disney, Pixar, and Blue Sky studios

Defenders of this racial trope like to blame foreign moviegoers, especially the Chinese, who, supposedly, don’t watch movies with black leads. Never mind that black-led animated film ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ made more money in China ($62 mil) than ‘Incredibles 2’ ($51 mil), ‘Frozen’ ($48 mil), and ‘Toy Story 4’ ($29 mil), while ‘Black Panther’ ($105 mil) outsold both Star Wars Episode 8 ($42 mil) and Episode 9 ($20 mil). After all, the problem of racism in American film and animation goes back long before modern China appeared on the map and needs to be addressed on its own merits.

One way to fix representation of women and people of color on screen is to advance them to decision-making and executive roles and diversify the corporate boards of directors, so bad ideas don’t get green-lighted in the first place.

It is disrespectful and it is okay to not be satisfied with these crumbs of representation. Separating black characters from their black bodies and the inability to see their innate humanity need to stop. Demand that animation industry stops dehumanizing black people and sign this petition.

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