A few days ago, actress Teyonah Parris shared the following image on her instagram page:

Representation Matters.

A photo posted by Teyonah Parris (@teyonahparris) on

If you’re unfamiliar, the little natural pictured is standing next to an ad for the new animated film, Home. The film is a product of Dreamworks and features their first black animated character, Tip, who is voiced by Rihanna.

Credit:FashionBombDaily
Credit:FashionBombDaily

We’re super excited to see the main character is not only a black girl but one with natural hair. This is all well and good but…the way the film has been promoted seems to dismiss the existence of the black character altogether. Some posters don’t even mention Rihanna’s name. In fact, if you’re driving down the ritzy parts of Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, you’ll see this ad:

Home billboard
DailyBillboardblog.blogspot.com

The billboard features the other main character Oh, voiced by Jim Parsons, and a cat. These ads — which fail to mention Rihanna’s character — are all over Los Angeles. One writer took on the task of locating ads that prominently feature the black character:

What she found was interesting: ads featuring the black character were only displayed in neighborhoods that had a mostly black demographic. In all other areas, the only ads displayed were that of the alien and the cat. It’s 2015. You’ve made the monumental stride of producing a film that centers around a black character, why take a step back and fail to make ads that reflect this? This is similar to what happened with the release of Annie. Some billboards simply said “Annie” and nothing else.

Annie 2014 movie billboard
dailybillboardblog.blogspot.com

No mention of young Quvenzhané Wallis. Let’s also not forget that Target completely scrubbed the image of Quvenzhané’s Annie in it’s film merchandise.

Target3-624x343
ChicagoNow

Then there’s Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave somehow advertised overseas in Italy as a movie featuring white actors:

12_Years_Italian_Promo
Kermito

They have Chiwetel Ejiofor’s character — the main character — Solomon Northrup playing second fiddle to Michael Fassbender and Brad Pitt as if the film was about them. The film was called 12 Years a Slave not “12 Years of Being a White Guy in the Antebellum South.” And does anyone even recall how long Brad Pitt was on screen?

Does Hollywood think people won’t spend their hard earned coins on a production because there’s a *gasp* black person in it? Have they seen the record-breaking ratings for Empire?

Representation matters. You better recognize.

Have you seen promos for the film, Home in your area? What type of ad is displayed? How do you feel about the blanket “colorless” marketing strategy?

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118 Comments on "Representation Matters: Why is DreamWorks Hiding Their First Black Main Character?"

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xzebra

Yes, there is racist movie marketing, the examples above clearly show that. HOWEVER, when it comes to kids’ movies, the cute, non-human character often takes precedence over the human child characters in the marketing. Examples: Lilo and Stitch (little blue monster), Frozen (the snowman Olaf), the minions in Depsciable Me, not to mention Sesame Street, children’s cereals…the list goes on. In the era of Doc McStuffins and Dora the Explorer, where little brown girls are center stage, I am hestiant to call the marketing for Home “racist”, per se. Just my 2 cents.

EllieLo

You were right in all of those examples except Frozen. All I saw were Elsa and Anna all over the place. Olaf was there, but the main character(s) represented were the human princesses.

KM

Actually, Disney’s original marketing campaign for FROZEN focused heavily on Olaf. The teaser for the film only featured Olaf too. Variety did a good write up on this when the film came out. And they discuss how the marketing campaign downplayed the princesses – they pretty much downplayed anything female until they realized that it served their purpose to play up the princesses. http://variety.com/2013/film/columns/why-disneys-marketing-campaign-doesnt-do-frozen-justice-1200908996/

kalexa1

Interesting point. So with that logic lets see if the merchandise that follows the film has the black character featured as the main product in the same way Frozen has. I see the dolls everywhere, especially the main white-haired character.

Jmd

While it may seem that the movie itself is downplaying the racial dynamic, I think they’re going with what draws kids in. The last few animated movies marketed to kids all seem to downplay the human characters and focus on the creatures. Nobody thinks about Gru in Despicable Me. It’s all about the minions. In Frozen, Olaf the snowman has enduring popularity. This one time I think it’s more about “species” of character and not so much about the race.

tahmeka

I see the point but what are we going to do? I think boycotting is throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Me
You may be right. Chris Rock said it best: the goal is not for black people to become or be seen as brilliant unicorns that can do no wrong; it’s for us to be allowed to be mediocre or even fail and it not be an indictment on the entire community because we’re all individuals, not representatives. TV characters should be allowed to have flaws coupled with their redeeming qualities. The setting of the story may be stereotypical because it’s a family that started in poverty and crime that rose to music riches, but the context is relatable to all… Read more »
Lola

I didn’t even know this was a black character until this article. I kept getting emails for free passes to see this and they showed the little girl with a robot on top of a car but it showed them from the behind. I thought to myself is that a black girl with natural hair? I wasn’t sure. Well if I had a little niece or girl I would have taken them to see it.

Trev

This has nothing to do with the race of the character. This is how they promote animated movies. They did this with Frozen. That movie starred two white princesses, but the advertising campaign focused on the snowman, Olaf. And if you ever saw the Despicable Me movies, you would know that the main characters are this white family, but you wouldn’t know that because the advertising focuses entirely on the Minions. Kids love small little creatures, and that sells.

p

It’s marketing…..if they put the black girl in areas that are mostly white or non black, people will pay no attention to the movie……unfortunately we are still very close minded in America. They’ll look at it and think that is a “black movie”….

Peace

I wish I knew how to word this so it would affect anyone or sound bad but really it’s not just the racist people that make things the way they are. It’s other people thinking that everyone is racist when they are not or thinking way too much of something and making it something it’s not. To me color does not matter at all, it’s about you’re attitude and how you treat others. There are famous people that everyone likes of every race, I just really wish people would stop seeing color or race and just see human.

kalexa1
Unfortunately we don’t live in such a Utopia as you describe. Take a casual look at some of the vitriolic commenters on YouTube as just one example and you’ll get some idea of the harsh reality of racism, hatred, bigotry and the sheer number of people who still practise and hold to such views. It ain’t going away just because you wish it. If you really care then do something more than just claiming you’re oblivious to colour. It’s so exasperating to hear your type of comments because it really is not that simple an issue. Take it from one… Read more »
SafeMode
My background is in Marketing and the bottom line is to sell the product. When developing a market strategy the first thing to identify is your target market. They did and it was…..everyone who will pay money to see a movie. Naturally in a white area they will leave out the black face. In the black/minority areas ads will feature the black girl. I feel like they tried to reach the widest audience in hopes that people will just come see the movie. Small steps. When people get used to seeing black faces in a good movie. In time, maybe… Read more »
Be positive
My background is in Marketing and the bottom line is to sell the product. When developing a market strategy the first thing to identify is your target market. They did and it was…..everyone who will pay money to see a movie. Naturally in a white area they will leave out the black face. In the black/minority areas ads will feature the black girl. I feel like they tried to reach the widest audience in hopes that people will just come see the movie. Small steps. When people get used to seeing black faces in a good movie. In time, maybe… Read more »
Trina Johnson Essiam

I enjoy Empire but would have appreciated seeing black characters that weren’t associated with drugs or criminal activities or entertainment centered roles. (perhaps Luscious’ lawyer could have been played by a black man, or his doctor or the parole officer). It’s the general negative portrayal of blacks that I hate.

Juston N Virginia McKinley
Juston N Virginia McKinley

Thank you!

Trina Johnson Essiam

From a marketing standpoint it makes perfect sense. They have to appeal to the local demographic. They are trying to sell tickets, and get a big payback on the investment. What minorities can do to show the worth of black films/actors is show up to support the film. It’s all about money and the appeal.

abbiethrills

It’s funny how this logic doesn’t work in reverse. A movie starring white people will always have white faces posted up in lower income/mostly minority neighborhoods.

Studies prove that white people are inherently bias, but catering to those biases just reinforces racism instead of challenging it.

Me

Actually it doesn’t make sense from a marketing standpoint. That logic assumes that white moviegoers are inherently racist and will only go see a movie about black people if they’ve been tricked into seeing it. Lots of evidence indicate that assumption comes from Hollywood and not from the public.

@ilola

If the original Annie character had been black, and later remade to be white, the whole black community would have staged national protest over it. Even BGLH would be fuming and writing articles to express their disdain.

I just want us to think, “whenever we are quick to point at others, what would we have done if we were the ones in the focus?”

abbiethrills
I guess anyone can pretend to be black on the internet because this sounds exactly like the arguments I’ve seen from racists complaining about “blackwashing”: http://thedailybanter.com/2014/03/moronic-racists-appalling-reaction-to-black-actress-starring-in-annie-remake/ I’m also not sure what this comment has to do with this post, but I’ll bite. Comments like this are illogical and so far removed from reality. Diversity is Hollywood is abysmal. There have been numerous reports confirming this. http://blogs.indiewire.com/womenandhollywood/ucla-releases-scathing-report-on-diversity-in-the-film-and-tv-business One only has to look as far as the Oscars, the people nominated, films nominated, and audience represented. Can we honestly stop pretending as though people of colour have equal representation to white people?… Read more »
Ann

It’s hard to make a valid argument out of what you imagine a group of people “would” do. Numerous films have cast non-blacks in roles portraying actual, real-life black people. I’ve yet to see any national protests.

Sabrina, the teenage Bitch
Sabrina, the teenage Bitch

Lol! Special snowflake much?

Camille

Being cast in movies and not included on the posters and merchandise is something we need to start boycotting. This is happening so often it’s becoming acceptable. I’ll wait and see it on Netflix.

Curtis
Why in the heck dose everything have to be about race with YOU PEOPLE and that how did you people become racist 25% is a good number. That means 75% of the time people are treated by their own actions. Which means that 25% of African Americans are racist towards American Americans ? Or let’s just call them WHITE.or is that racist ? I think it’s just a label thing. And 25% of white people are racist against black people. The other 75% of black people and white people and brown and any other colors out there are treated by… Read more »
lecia p

“You people”? LOL!!!..i stopped reading half way through. it was hard to not read it all with all your compelling accurate “statistics” supporting your point…HILARIOUS!

Anon46

I’ve seen the promos that introduce Rihanna as voice of the character & show her to be a curly haired light brown girl. Obviously, they don’t think Black faces on posters will appeal to non white audiences. And I wasn’t sure if the character is Black, thought maybe she could be racially ambiguous.

Myllee

Her mother is played by Jlo though, I wouldn’t call her Black character.

boazwife

Idk, her image has been all over my tv via commercials promoting the movie!

Nessa
The movie is based off a book called “the true meaning of smekday” by adam rex, and while the book is a chapter book, it includes several pictures of the main character tip. (pictured below). I find it ironic how they almost white washed the character for the film, changing her puffs into big, loose curls. Also within the story the boov (the aliens) blame white people for the deaths of the Native Americans. Tip just so happens to be half white and it is made very apparent that the aliens dislike that side of her. “I’m half white,” I… Read more »
Blair

I find this interesting given that Mellody Hobson, a Black woman, and spouse of George Lucas, is the CHAIRWOMAN of Dreamworks Animation. So, I am sure that she has some INFLUENCE on the promotion of this movie…

Link to Dream Work Board: http://ir.dreamworksanimation.com/investor-relations/governance/board-of-directors/default.aspx

Mellody Hobson: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mellody_Hobson

Rachel

Only Black people watch Empire. Be real with yourself. How many people made a fuss on social media because of that Black girl in Hunger Games?

Studio execs know that racism is still a thing. At the end of the day they are just trying to get people into the theaters and make some money.

Naturally_tee

This reminds me of princess and the frog first black princess was a frog for 80% of the movie that really upset me. The outrage white people had about a black girl playing Annie upset me. They acted as I if she was a real life historical figure that a black person couldn’t play. Yet every biblical or Egyptian movie they have white characters.

Danielle Blower

I mean, that WAS the premise of the movie.
Also, have you ever seen The Prince of Egypt?

Rhonda
Re: 12 Years a Slave — It’s called marketing (aka: selling your product). Regardless of the the movie’s story (or message), I want to put asses in the seats. So, I’m going to display my product in the best way to bring in the most customers. Therefore, I’m in Italy and I want to sell my American-made, English language movie to the most Italians possible. You know what I’m going to do? I’m going to put the big-name, internationally known, instantly recognizable Hollywood movie star on my poster. If I’ve got Brad Pitt in my movie, his face is going… Read more »
Olympia
yes the advertisers KNOW that many whites will NOT support the movie if they see that it features a “non-white” main character so that is why they do the ads like this. They know that most whites are racist & want everything to focus on them & everyone to look like them so when a movie or TV show comes out that doesn’t have a white star as the focal point the whites usually ignore it & choose not to see it. Racism will exist as long as a white race exists. They created racism, they maintain it and they… Read more »
Juston N Virginia McKinley
Juston N Virginia McKinley

You had me until you mentioned empire. Representation matters huh? Regardless of the money or popularity Look at the image & message behind what empire promotes. Is that all we are / represent?? Back to the article: you pose a great question at the end & truth be told the marketing strategy (altogether the american culture) will not change until race is NOT an issue. We should all be aware of this by now.

abbiethrills

Yeah, a show which is a modern interpretation of Shakespeare’s King Lear…that deals with mental illness, homophobia, and portrays black characters as complex individuals is sooo terrible!

I’m no fan of Lee Daniels, but come on son.

Craig Bolton

LoL. You’re giving that show waaaaay too much credit. It’s a Fox cash cow whose stories have about as much though behind them as an episode of Teletubbies.

roo08

I don’t watch it but knowing how Lee Daniels really thinks makes me not want to ever watch it. I won’t be surprised if it eventually gets undeniably problematic and/or gets taken over by white characters.

I’m finally realizing that alot of black folks in the industry are out of their minds. They’ve been really exposing themselves lately.

Juston N Virginia McKinley
Juston N Virginia McKinley

I agree with your last sentence.

Craig Bolton

Empire ruins everything. Bad writing and lazy plots but its got black people doing black things while being hard so it’s just amazing. 150 years and black people are still recognized only for music and athletics and they like it that way.

Me

What image and message are you saying Empire promotes? That show has a variety of black images, from innocent to guilty, all hair types, skin tones, and personalities, with some very dynamic story lines, from wealth, greed, loyalty, and family ties to mental health, social activism, gay rights, and domestic abuse. I would think a show this dynamic about a black family is what we should want to see. What problem do you have with it being referenced in the article?

Guest

A lot of black people have what I call the “perfect negro syndrome”. Any image that doesn’t project that we are perfect every day, in every way is a problem.

Bad/Sad/Hurt/Disturbed/Indifferent black people doesn’t exist in their world. None of the other character attributes you mentioned about the cast matters to them.

kam

There are enough “imperfect” images of us. Look at history and you see black people are torn down in every which way. Why can’t enjoy a period of perfect imagery. Even a hundred years of perfect imagery cannot undo the damage of centuries of misrepresentation and anti-black campaigning has done.

Ajah
Home is about the Alien not the black girl. The Alien happens to befriend a girl that happens to be black. Now with Annie. The original was white. Sorry, but she was Though I would love to see the newer one it didn’t happen that way. Actually I remember in 5th grade I was selected to sing “The Tomorrow Song” and everyone praised me on that and I went to a pretty much all white school, so out of all the little girls that tried out I GOT IT! (Toot my horn on that one) I guess I was just… Read more »
user

actually the movie is about the girl, she meets the alien dosent come into play until a later point peep the comment with the pictures.

Me
I’m glad you were surrounded by positive people, but the point of calling this out is, as your next to last sentence points out, Rihanna has pushed beyond stereotypes and landed a great role where she co-stars in a major animated film. She deserves to be promoted based on her talent, just like you deserved the role of Annie based on yours. To exclude her from the advertising is contrary to “making them pay attention” as you say, and that should be noted. She’s being ignored despite doing all the right things, which is the problem we face in most… Read more »
Hannah

I’m really glad there’s a movie with a black character with natural hair. I realised how so much of my insecurity about being a black woman stemmed from my childhood, and this subtly pervasive message that I was invisible as a black child compared to my white peers. There’s still a long way to go but maybe…one day

OXxo

The sad thing is young children won’t even notice the main character is not White.

abbiethrills

It’s been proven that kids do notice race, http://www.cnn.com/2010/US/05/13/doll.study/

They might not realise it, but they do.

roo08

But kids age 6 (maybe even younger) and above, will notice. Especially little black girls, trust me.

Michael Lee Harris

I think that’s good for white children. They’ll connect on a human level with a character rather than look at that characters experiences as different or separate from their own. Black kids are going to know she’s black.

Tara Daniels

I’m pretty sure young black kids will. I’ve worked with little kids and I’ve noticed that the children of color are aware of their race/ethnicity more than their white counterparts.

Personally, I’ve always known I was black, even as a kid. It was just a fact that I knew about myself.

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