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Editorial: Why Big Hero 6 Is Kinda Racist And That's Not Okay.
Is everyone sitting comfortably? Then let's begin.
Big Hero 6.
Big Hero 6, the upcoming movie by Disney and their first animated Marvel adaptation, tells the story of six Japanese youths in Tokyo as they form a superhero team under the direction of the Japanese government and former X-Man Sunfire to battle crime and the forces of e – oh, what's that? They're … they're not … ?
Um. Okay. Let's … do that again … I guess …
Big Hero 6, the, er, the upcoming movie by Disney and their first animated Marvel adaptation, tells the story of two Japanese-American youths, two white American kids, and one very awesome looking black American kid in, um, in … San Fransokyo … as they form a superhero team to battle crime and the forces of evil. Or something.
|I - huh.|
Let's make one thing clear here before I talk about whitewashing and – what I can only refer to as culture-washing: Big Hero 6 the comic book series has been noted multiple times in the past to be intensely problematic, and with good reason. It came out in the early 2000s to cash in on the current ninja trend and the rising popularity of anime, and it is every bit the shameless cash-grab that that description would suggest. It is not good. It is not progressive, not by today's standards or by the standards of the time. It is truly atrocious as far as its representation of Japan and Japanese people goes.
That having been said, and ignoring entirely the fact that out of all of Marvel's many and varied properties – this is a company that is prolific in its production of comic books and comic book series, and has several prominent youth teams like the Runaways and the Young Avengers, both of which Disney has the rights to now, and its proverbial fingers in some early tokusatsu – Disney is not exactly doing well with making this horrifyingly racist comic series any less racist in its movie adaptation form. It is actually making it worse.
|I see Rapunzel is back.|
Let's talk about Fred. Let's exclusively talk about Fred, actually, amongst the cast of characters, because he is the best and most striking example of the whitewashing problem I'm talking about.
In the original comic book series, Fred is an Ainu. The Ainu are the indigenous people of Hokkaido (and a few Russian islands) who historically have suffered severe discrimination and oppression – severe enough that it concerned Oda Nobunaga. It was only in 1997 that Japanese courts recognised the right of the Ainu to enjoy their own culture, after almost a century of a policy of forced assimilation in which their lands were occupied, they were legally denied any status as an indigenous group, and their culture was systematically suppressed in a manner startlingly similar to how the US has historically attempted to suppress or criminalise Native American culture.
So, obviously, Disney would be respectful of this. This is an ethnic group that has had a long history of being culturally suppressed and politically discriminated against, and which has nearly no representation in media in Japan or abroad, so it would be ridiculous if they then - …
|... What a suspiciously pale Ainu lad.|
Ah, yes. The white American dude. Has there ever been a more marginalised group. You did well there, Disney. You're not contributing to an ongoing problem at all.
I'm not saying that Disney would have needed to include a massive spiel about Fred's Ainu-ness and his Ainu history. Just to have kept him Ainu. Have visual cues through his clothing that he's an Ainu, or have him just say – it doesn't need to be a big deal, it shouldn't be a big deal, and if you're worrying about it being confusing for kids? I call bull, because kids are a) Smart enough to spell 'Ainu', and b) Have grown up with the internet.
What is a big deal, though, is looking at an extremely marginalised group and going 'Okay, what we really need now is to completely erase this dude's background as part of a persecuted ethnic group and make him white.'
Fred the Ainu now being Fred the Kinda Douchey Looking White Kid really gets my goat. It gets my sheep, and my cow. It gets all of my farm animals.
(For some reason – okay, we know why, so that he's 'not too foreign', they also made the main character, Hiro, half-Japanese instead of just – Japanese. One of their less offensive changes, in that I'm just kind of baffled.)
Let's also talk about 'San Fransokyo.'
San Fransokyo is San Francisco with a few aesthetic elements of Japan thrown in to look cool. Don't do this. Don't take a culture and reduce it down to the basest and most easily recognisable aesthetic quirks, and then stick it onto an American city so that people can go 'Ooh, how exotic,' without being threatened by the Scary Foreign Thing.
Here's a novel idea: Set it in Tokyo. Where the original is set. Don't do this halfway house pandering where you go 'ooh, oooooh, it's sort of like Tokyo, if Tokyo was safely and unthreateningly American, ooooooooh-aaaaaaaaaaaah you won't ever have to acknowledge that a world outside of America exists, my ducklings.'
If Disney had wanted a more diverse cast, then sure. Keep Wasabi (that name makes me cringe, and that one isn't actually Disney's fault, and actually may be part of their reason for making him in particular not Japanese) as a black dude. Maybe even keep Honey Lemon as a white girl (Note: Since writing this editorial, it has been revealed that Honey Lemon is Latina, so that, at least, is a plus), if you're absolutely set on having white people in your film. But Fred. Making Fred a white dude is absolutely beyond the pale, and 'San Fransokyo' is just creepy.
Now, for some of the responses to this controversy that I've seen around the internet!
I don't really care about whitewashing, I just, like, factor it into my suspension of disbelief.
Good for you, I guess, although I think you might need to check the definition of 'suspension of disbelief', people are annoyed, not disbelieving.
Disney's a profit-making company, and merchandise of white people sells better.
Capitalism should not trump ethics.
Well, people would just find something else to complain about.
That's very true, but it doesn't mean that the criticism isn't valid.
Eat more filling food, like bread or crackers.
|Cream crackers are called such because they are made with the|
creaming process, giving them their distinctive texture.
But I'm excited about this film!
Personal excitement should also not trump ethics, and it's possible to like something and acknowledge where it's problematic.
It's a more diverse film now!
Diversity is admirable! Diversity at the cost of turning characters from marginalised groups into white people is not, and I think a quick glance at the pattern of Hollywood in this regard – making Khan in Star Trek a white dude, having Johnny Depp play a Native American – shows that this probably isn't driven by a desire for diversity, but by a belief that American audiences find people who aren't white and American threatening.
I had some crackers and I'm still hungry.
You may be suffering from tapeworms. It is too late for you.
I just don't care, this film is going to be terrible anyway.
Undoubtedly true, but even terrible films need to be held to account for their problematic shenanigans. Otherwise we'd just let M. Night Shyalaman off the hook for The Last Airbender, and we will never do that. We will never do that. N-e-v-e-r.
What are the symptoms of tapeworms?
I'm sorry, this is a review blog. You've – you've come to the wrong place, unfortunately, but they're probably going to eat you from the inside before you can get to a hospital. Tapeworms have jaws. It is known.