Welcome to Issue 67.1 of Digestable, your thrice-weekly mouthful of real things happening in the world, minus alarmist pandemic news.
Today’s news, fermented:
It’s Monday and there’s a billionaire in space, so here are some tweets about that.
I’m sorry, when a rich white man talks about his access to something as the predecessor to everyone else having access to it, all we have to do is look around and see that this has never worked because it does not work.
This whole situation is really infuriating, and I certainly spend enough time absorbing billionaire propaganda. Instead of wasting any more of my precious time on earth on this extra-terrestrial ignoramus, I’m going to turn my attention to this space program, the lyrics of which better sum up the absurdity of this situation than any rant of mine.
Here’s affirmation that there is plenty of new stuff to see on earth.
The Second Look
Half-baked cultural criticism from Gabriel Coleman.
Just a small heads up that this piece discusses harmful race and gender stereotypes in animation.
I’m in one of those places where I need to watch something completely brainless in the evening to create some kind of rhythm in my day and that’s how I ended up catching up on the second and third installments of the Despicable Me franchise (Despicable Me 2 and Minions). I wouldn’t say I enjoyed either film but it did the job of distracting me from my overwhelming sense of despair. But of course I couldn’t turn my brain off completely and as I watched I started to … notice things.
First off, the franchise is so white - like SO white. Here is the complete list of nonwhite characters I spotted:
Two children at Agnes’s birthday party (no spoken lines and no POC parents for some reason)
Two children in Gru’s childhood flashback (no lines)
A person doing yoga in the park (no lines)
A mom and her kid at Antonio’s cinco de mayo fiesta (no lines)
A person at Scarlet Overkill’s coronation (no lines)
A sumo-wrestler villain we see a couple times (some lines but only really there for sumo-wrestler jokes)
Oh and of course Eduardo Peréz - a light-skinned Mexican machismo stereotype who owns the restaurant Salsa & Salsa and who turns out to be Despicable Me 2’s main antagonist (his villain name is El Macho.) He’s played by 2nd gen Peruvian-American actor Benjamin Bratt but was originally going to be played by ...Al Pacino? Also Eduardo’s son Antonio, a stereotypical romantic-yet-manipulative Mexican heartthrob, played by 2nd generation Colombian actor Moisés Arias.
It’s not cool to have your only prominent nonwhite character be the antagonist—but to also make them a crude stereotype AND to cast a white actor to play them is, in a word, despicable. They pull the same trick in Minions too. Scarlet Overkill is introduced as the world’s first female supervillain and is adored by the supervillain community, but she turns out to be the primary antagonist and it’s heavily implied that she hires male henchfolk to run heists and takes credit for their work. Ugh. It seems like Universal has been able to get away with this stuff because it’s “just a kids movie” but isn’t that a reason to care more?
But Despicable Me has a bigger problem, and that’s the Minions. These wacky yellow boys have jumped off the screen and onto the facebook profile of your anti-vaxxer inlaws and I think there’s something behind that. Minions, to me, embody this desire to disguise the ugliest bits of our white heteropatriarchy behind something fantastical, alien, or otherworldly.
Let’s start with gender. All the minions are men - they have male names like Kevin and Bob. Though some engage in gender-play like Norbert wearing starfish on his chest in Minions and Phil wearing a maid costume in Despicable Me 2, this is played off as a joke because obviously they’re men. Minions definitely have butts but they have no genitals so… why are they so masc? I think it’s because it’s easier. If Minions were women, or multiple genders or even a completely different gender system then the writers would have to actually think about gender when writing the film - so might as well go with the default which of course is maleness.
And then there’s race. Minions are a different species of course, but that makes it even easier to make them a proxy for whiteness. Yellow skin, for some reason or another, has often been used to represent whiteness. The most notable example is The Simpsons, where all the white characters are painted yellow whereas darker skinned characters like Apu and Bumblebee Man are given natural human skin tones (see also: Lego people). East Asian characters in The Simpsons are sometimes painted yellow and sometimes given human skin tone. This reflects the weaponized stereotype of East Asian “yellow-ness” as well as their nonwhite status: since yellow belongs to the white characters they are sometimes depicted with human skin, but other times their stereotypical portrayal wins out and they are painted yellow.
Yellow also serves as a proxy for whiteness in the Emoji keyboard. The yellow emoji hands and characters are supposed to be universal - originating from the smiley face created by Harvey Ross Ball. But, as is the case with many things, universality really just ends up being whiteness. To further drive this point home we can look to another piece of trash childrens’ cinema, the Emoji Movie, whose overwhelmingly white cast underscores that those yellow faces under your thumb are really just white faces. The only person of color in the main cast is Maya Rudolph playing “Smiler,” an over-empowered woman-in-charge who ends up being the main antagonist. Didn’t we just go through this?
If you’re still not convinced that the Minions are white I have one last thing for ya. In Despicable Me 2 the doomsday weapon is a serum that turns normal animals into super strong rabid versions of themselves. Our lovely stereotypical restaurant owner Eduardo Peréz wants to use this serum on the minions to create an army of killing machines or something. Upon injection with the serum the minion’s yellow skin turns purple and their straight, flat hair grows and turns wiry. Mayyybe this is pushing it but the darker skin tone and hair texture change associated with wildness and danger just feeeeeeellls racist to me. Are you picking up on that?
Anyway, in conclusion minions are adored by facebooking trumpers and anti-vaxxers because they allow their white heteropatriarchal opinions to hide behind a guise of innocuous universal yellow cuteness. That’s my theory anyway! Also if the Minions weren’t hiding in an ice cave until the 1950’s they would have definitely been Nazis. Mmmkay byeeee!!
Brought to you by the superb Latifah Azlan.