Happy March, everybody!
I’ve been doing my best to do things with this blog despite how busy I’ve been and dealing with some things in my offline life. Like the last few lists I’ve done, I’m going for the positive route for the sake of my mental health. I do think people like my positive Top 7 lists anyway, so why the heck not?
As many of you know who have followed me over the past few years (especially over 3-4 years), I’ve been talking about ethnic representation as well as calling out racist garbage in various movies or series. This has happened in my reviews and even in a few of my Top 7 lists. Will I still call out problematic stuff when I see it? Absolutely. I’m not going to change that. To make sure my blood pressure doesn’t get raised, I thought I would give credit where credit is due even if it involves things I wouldn’t review on the blog. Yes, I focus on obscure works anyway, but I’ve mentioned mainstream examples in previous lists and some examples were even positive examples. Since this is Iridium Eye, I tend to take things from a far different angle and talk about aspects of various topics that most bloggers don’t even cover. This time, I’m going to base this list on the Deggans Rule/Deggans Test.
I’ve mentioned that media litmus test in a few reviews in the past before and I think it should be in the same conversation as the Bechdel Test which has become more mainstream over the past few years. Like how the Bechdel Test was for female characterization, representation, and dialogue, the Deggans Test is for characters who are ethnic minorities. In case you didn’t know, it’s named after Eric Deggans who is an author, journalist, and media theorist. Here’s a little more information about him if you’re curious. For those that don’t know the guidelines, it goes a little something like this…
1. The movie or show has to have at least two non-white human characters in the story.
2. The plot is NOT about race or ethnicity.
What if I told you that over half of movies and TV shows absolutely fail this test? I’m actually surprised this isn’t brought up more often, especially after 2020. Don’t get it twisted, this isn’t going to end bigotry anytime soon, but I want to see characters of different ethnic groups being taken seriously. Sadly, most mainstream examples cut corners or pass the test only as lip service or by technicalities. With that said, I’m feeling a bit generous though. I’m going to bring up examples of animated movies or shows that do pass, but this is because of some halfway decent portrayals or maybe some accidental genius on the part of the creators. For my list, I’m following the two rules of the Deggans Test (obviously), adjusting demographics based on the country it originated from since not every example is from America, and I try to bring up examples that people don’t even think about when it comes to ethnic representation. I wouldn’t say I’m a fan of everything on the list and not everything is perfect involving the things I like or liked, but I am someone who gives credit where credit is due. Trust me, you’ll be surprised with some of my picks and I know you’ve seen some or even all of these examples at some point in your life.
Let’s see how people respond to these examples that people don’t realize passed Eric Deggan’s little guidelines.
7: Lilo and Stitch series
GREAT GOOGLY MOOGLY! I, a vocal critic of Disney am putting something from their beloved Animated Canon on this list?! Holy crap, I even surprise myself when I make these lists!
Don’t call me a fan of this 00s Disney movie franchise. Consider me throwing a freaking bone to the fan base because I’m not some hater blinded by vitriol ALL the time, people. I’m not giving the House of Mouse a get out of jail free card with their company at large, but at least they did something right with Lilo and Stitch. I’m more familiar with the original movie and not the TV series or the direct-to-DVD sequels, but I underestimated the ethnic representation and I don’t think the higher-ups at the so-called Happiest Place on Earth may have realized it. Obviously, the story takes place in Hawaii, so there’s no excuse to have a diverse population especially since that state is the only one in America where Caucasians are not the majority (22.9% according to the 2020 census). It only made perfect sense for the Pelekai family to be Hawaiian since it is their homeland after all colonization or not. You even have Cobra Bubbles who is one of the few Black male characters in the Animated Canon. Race doesn’t play an issue with the overall plot at all and the characters are busy living life even with aliens landing in The Aloha State. Okay, they did need to tone down the Elvis stuff, but I appreciate how the human characters are actually taken seriously and don’t play up any racist stereotypes. I wish Disney would be more consistent across the board, but I will give the mouse-eared devil his due when I see good. It’s something I can rarely say about that company, so you know I’m being serious about my observations.
Now, if Disney would stop gentrifying the Native Hawaiian areas with the Aulani resort and not appropriate aspects of Polynesian culture, that would be a good start.
In isolation, the Lilo and Stitch franchise might be underrated in racial representation with a company that has cheapened or disrespected other cultures, but this series does pass those guidelines.
6: Flying Rhino Junior High
Anything is possible at Flying Rhino Junior High! Including passing the Deggans Rule!
I actually remember watching some episodes of this show when I was a kid even though I rarely watched CBS Kids’ programming compared to Fox Kids or UPN back in the day. I was reminded of this cartoon the other day for some random reason, and I did a little research about this show. Going by my geography parameter rules, this example actually succeeds even more than I anticipated. Flying Rhino Junior High had a diverse character base of human and animal characters (the principal literally is a rhino pilot), and the ethnic representation of the main protagonists should be noted. You have TWO Black characters who are brother and sister (Marcus and Ruby Snarkis) and a Latina girl named Lydia Lopez alongside Billy O’Toole to round out the main four. Yes, it’s a silly cartoon and not very deep, but I appreciate them making Marcus a computer whiz or Lydia being a genius for example. The ethnic and geographic aspect gets stronger because I found out that this show is a Canadian production and takes place in that country! Wow, I have to give some props over there even with all the weird stuff I remembered from that show. It makes me wonder if a show like this would still hold up and it doesn’t strike me as a cartoon trying too hard to be woke enough. Even though I have issues with Nelvana like how they butchered Card Captor Sakura, at least I can say they did a little positive thing with one of their original animated works.
5: Gundam Wing series
More nostalgia flashbacks appear, but this time we’re talking about some old-school Toonami stuff from back in the day. I know my blog has attracted a LOT of anime fans whether they be casual viewers or other anibloggers on WordPress. To those of you who were getting into anime back in the late 90s and early 00s when you were kids, I know Gundam Wing was your first entry into Yoshiyuki Tomino’s decades-long anime franchise and most likely the first thing you saw involving giant robots that weren’t Power Rangers. Yes, I know Wing isn’t the best Gundam series by a longshot and there are definitely some issues with the plot or the morals in contrast to the Universal Century stuff, but this should still be on a list like this. Since we’re dealing with a Japanese work, we have to adjust the guidelines since we obviously have two Asian leads with the lead character Heero Yuy (of course) and the Chinese Gundam pilot Chang Wufei. Let’s talk about the other three and one example legit shocked me when I found out his ethnic background. Trowa Barton would actually be the only white member of the main 5 pilots. Quatre Raberba-Winner is actually of Arab descent even though I think he has albinism if I were to be brutally honest. The one that really surprised me that I didn’t know about back when I was a kid was that Duo Maxwell was NATIVE AMERICAN the whole time! What?!? Why didn’t anyone tell me this? Is Duo the first Indigenous Gundam pilot ever? Dang, I knew he was the only American in the group, but I didn’t know he wasn’t of the Caucasian persuasion. This slices up the Deggans Test faster than Deathscythe Hell Custom ever could with its titular weapon. Maybe if they get crazy enough to make a live-action remake, they could get actors of those ethnic groups to play the characters then.
4: Cyborg 009: Call of Justice
Now I get to something I already reviewed before. I know some anime fans are going to bring up some obvious things about the Cyborg 009’s origins with the manga, original series, and movies, and I’m going to counter that right now. This is only about the Netflix remake sequel and not the original anime or manga. There’s no way I would put those examples on a list like this, especially with the extremely problematic designs of the Native American 005 and Kenyan 008 for obvious reasons. At least Ishinomori Productions drastically improved their character designs even going back to the 2001 remake that was on Toonami (okay, 008 still wasn’t perfect, but he looked a heck of a lot better compared to the 60s!). This iteration wasn’t a masterpiece, but I did appreciate the effort in making the characters dynamic with this diverse cast. Even the white characters like the English 005 not having the alcoholism vice anymore and 002’s nose is a lot shorter. Race never plays a role in the whole plot and I like how the characters are actually seen as useful instead of 009 having all the glory. Also, I have to bring up that 009 himself is actually a biracial Japanese/white man who in his backstory was abused due to his mixed heritage (props to Fiddletwix for that fact), but even then it’s a rare fact unless you’re knee-deep in the Cyborg 009 lore. This modern attempt at Shotaro Ishinomori’s series should get credit for improving the character designs and not playing up some bigoted imagery.
3: The Magic School Bus
I never thought I would reference another show that was on PBS Kids during my childhood (yes, I remember it on Fox Kids later, too) for another Top 7 list after I mentioned Sesame Street in my Top 7 list of Movies and Series that Got Banned and/or Sabotaged for Stupid Reasons. I certainly remember watching the show and I read the books thanks to a Reading Rainbow episode before the cartoon ever existed when I was little. In hindsight, it was interesting learning about all these random subjects (mainly in the science field from most of the episodes), but what I never realized back then was how diverse the character cast was and how the ethnic aspects weren’t shown as a big deal. They just happened to be a multi-ethnic classroom. Wow, this show and books were more racially progressive than I thought. Let’s mention the non-white characters in the cartoon who was in Ms. Frizzle’s class at the time. We have two Black characters (Keesha and Tim), one Latino (Carlos), and one Chinese-American (Wanda) in the main cast. This was something I underestimated then and I’m glad no one was freaking out about it like people would today. Come on! What’s so offensive about The Magic School Bus? I guess it’s as good a time as any to give the flowers to a book/cartoon series that was a part of my childhood.
2: The Breadwinner
For those scoring at home, this is the second entry on this list involving something I reviewed on Iridium Eye. The Breadwinner is a curious case, but it’s an example that still counts for this list especially when you consider the national origin of where it was animated. Some might argue that a movie like this might be an example of a technicality with the whole plot taking place in Afghanistan, but I would argue that The Breadwinner is a better example of a Western animated studio handling a story that takes place in the Middle East compared to other movies I could mention. **cough** Thief and the Cobbler! **cough** Aladdin! **cough** Going back on topic, this movie does deal with serious topics that relate to the country’s sociopolitical issues that are still going on today. They are characters who are just living life and they are actually voiced by people of Afghan and Middle Eastern descent for this project. To anyone who’s never heard of that movie or read my review, this was created by Cartoon Saloon. That’s right, the Irish studio responsible for The Secret of Kells, Song of the Sea, and Wolfwalkers made this. I think this deserves a mention for this particular list and it’s a good movie to boot.
Here’s an anime that some of you might not have heard of or remember! I’d argue that this semi-obscure hard sci-fi series might be one of the more diverse works of Japanese animation. Planetes is a very creative work that uses real space physics and has one of the more believable futuristic environments while also showing how the present isn’t much different despite the technological advances. Shoot, even the rockets are silent when they go through space. Besides the animation quality and creative premise, there’s a very multiethnic cast for the main and supporting characters. Not only that but there are rarely any cases of racism besides Hachimaki (the lead character) being called a “samurai” by drunken idiots while on earth. I also like how there’s a mix of serious subject matter with some comedy and it never relies on any bigoted undertones or overtones with the characters. If I can make one critique, it would be the Space Defense Front subplot in the later episodes with who was revealed to be there, but I’m not going to spoil anything. The rest of the series more than makes up for that with the presentation of the characters shown in this series.
So what are your thoughts? Are there other animated series or movies that people wouldn’t think would pass the Deggans Rule?
All photos are property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws.
The ethnic hands are from Pixy.
Lilo and Stitch is property of The Walt Disney Company. The picture of the characters is from Wikipedia and is property of The Walt Disney Company.
Flying Rhino Junior High is property of Nelvana. The picture of the characters is from the Flying Rhino Junior High site and is the property of Nelvana.
Gundam Wing is property of Sunrise and Nozomi Entertainment. The picture of the characters from Gundam Wing Endless Waltz is from Zerochan and is property of Sunrise and Nozomi Entertainment.
Cyborg 009: Call of Justice is property of Netflix. The soundtrack album cover is from Film Music Site.
The Magic School Bus is property of Scholastic and Nelvana. The screenshot is from Fanpop and is property of Scholastic and Nelvana.
The Breadwinner is property of Cartoon Saloon and GKIDS. The screenshot is from Showtimes and is property of Cartoon Saloon and GKIDS.
Planetes is property of Sunrise. The screenshot is from Recommend Me Anime and is property of Sunrise.