During the development of Dragonball: Evolution, a ton of people were taking shots at the movie for their lack of casting Asian actors as the characters from the popular anime show. While most people were perturbed at Goku being played by Justin Chatwin, some people (and I mean just a few) were actually weirded out by fanboy favorite (and DBZ fanboy himself) James Marsters playing Lord Piccolo (information: Lord Piccolo is a different character from Piccolo, Jr. a.k.a. the Piccolo everyone knows about, but that’s neither here nor there, especially since Marsters is going to play both characters if and when the sequel comes out. Who knows since it didn’t do that well at the box-office).
Why were a chosen few people confused/actually angry about Marsters being cast? Because quite a few people felt that Piccolo should’ve been played by a black actor. I’ll admit that some of the people posting on these Dragonball movie sites were probably trolls, but still, the point they bring up is still valid, even if their reasons for posting them are not. So why do some people view Piccolo, as well as other green characters (or other colors, for that matter) as ethnic?
- The whole “green people are black” thing has been in existence at least during or after the 1970s, I think. I say this because the Martian Manhunter, the oldest green comic book character in existence, changed into a white man as his human form during the ’40s, the era in which he was created. He still changes into a white guy for the most part today, but rarely is he portrayed as such; most of the time, he’s drawn in his green humanoid form. During the ’70s, comics started recognizing black people as well-rounded characters, what with the Civil Rights movement of the ’60s and youth movements that carried on through the ’60s into the ’70s. I think –and this is my opinion–that during this time, comics that had black characters made sure to make their characters three-dimensional, and if the comic in question didn’t have black characters, they either created some (i.e. Storm from the X-Men) or allowed for their crazy-colored characters represent ethnic people in general. What I mean by this statement is that comic books silently hinted that any “different” character could represent any race who wasn’t represented. Simultaneously, many ethnic people who read comic books (like me) tend to focus more on the green or oddly colored characters because they are the people who sometimes end up representing the race or races that aren’t represented(or not represented well).
- Green and other oddly-hued characters represent the Other. The Other is a trope that has been used many times over, and rightfully so; everyone feels different at some point in their life (or throughout all of their life), and those stories need to be represented by the Other character types. In our society, the Other idea generally revolves around race. Minorities, no matter what ethnic group you stem from, have similar stories about being seen as different or treated differently just because of your skin color and other things that come with it (for instance, some black people don’t like eating watermelon because of the stigma associated with it). I think because of this, a lot of creators base their green/whatever color characters around different ethnicities, since ethnicity is the highest form of Other that we have (unless there is a such thing as intelligent extraterrestrial life somewhere).
- The odd-colored characters are generally second-banana to the lead characters, who, if not white, are fairer skinned. This comparison gets even more uncomfortable when the odd-colored character in question hovers around ethnic characteristics. Take for instance, Panthero and Lion-O, two characters from the Thundercats listed below. Lion-O is the leader, and he’s lighter-skinned, while Panthero is second-in-command, and is obviously more ethnic looking. Compare this to the many shows and movies where the white male lead has a black second-in-command. The idea behind doing this in movies is to show that black people are now considered as equals, but still not equal enough to be the lead. The same idea could be behind the fair-skinned and the odd-colored skinned characters. And also, this idea is also behind comics and cartoons who have black characters; take for instance Cyborg and Robin from Teen Titans.
Character examples of these points are:
His voice is African-American sounding, and his design is reminiscent of an African-American. Notice the facial structure of both Panthero and Lion-O (below). You tell me which one is the “white” one and which one is the “black” one. And don’t say “Neither” because they’re supposed to be anthropomorphic; sure they’re anthropomorphic, but you can’t deny the subtle race implication in their designs.
And as I mentioned earlier, Panthero is the second-in-command to Lion-O.
Piccolo (Dragonball series, most notably Dragonball Z)
Since he is the center of this whole post, it’d be a shame not to mention him. The reasons why people think he’s black goes back to what I mentioned above. Also, like Panthero, his voice sounds more ethnic, so to speak. He’s very much the Other, not only because of his skin, but because he’s also a villain-turned-good guy. Even though he’s on the good team, he still stays on the fringes, keeping his personality and aura mysterious. It could also be argued that Piccolo’s second-in-command to Goku.
Martian Manhunter (Justice League comics and the cartoon of the same name, Martian Manhunter comics)
I’m going to be really specific and talk about the Timm-verse Justice League version of J’onn J’onzz. We do have black characters in this show(Green Lantern, Vixen, Steel, etc.), but J’onn still fills the “green-as-ethnic” quota because he’s voiced by a black actor (Carl Lumbly) and is far removed from everyone else because he’s the Other (a Martian who lost his family due to a mental epidemic). J’onn may be second to Superman (or third since Batman is in the League), he did head the League in the comics, or at least, an off-shoot of the League.
Are there an exceptions to this rule? Sure. Well, let me rephrase this, because “exception” is the wrong word–not every character creator uses green as code for some other ethnicity. In fact, even though I used the above characters as examples, some of those characters’ creators probably didn’t intentionally use other ethnicities as the basis of their characters. My favorite example is Beast Boy from Teen Titans. He is green, but his voice is not black-sounding, and he is drawn as more Asian or white, unlike Panthero (compare above).
And , while I was doing some research for my Native American animated characters article, and I found some green folks from BraveStarr that are green people without being code for other ethnicities: Handlebar and Vipra. And of course, there’s Kif from Futurama. It would seem that there are plenty of other green miscellaneous characters on that show as well that are just green, not green as a stand-in for someone else.
What do you guys think? What other characters can you think of that either break the mold or stick within the “odd-colors=ethnic” box?
Thanks to blackcomixbook.com for the shoutout.