Depiction patterns of young African-American women in contemporary American animation
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This paper examines the ways in which African-American women tend to be depicted in American animation. Devoting a much heavier focus on animation airing within the last 25 years, this paper’s animated samples consist of twenty-two animations that debuted between 1935 and 2009, and include recurring or multiple African-American female characters that are under the visual age of 40. After carefully analyzing personalities and roles I find that many American animations, including those created within the last few years, exhibit the disturbing trend of consigning a wide range of diverse Black female characters to variants of the “unrecognized support role.” Detrimental to character development and ultimately hindering the progression of the entire animation medium, “unrecognized support” is carefully calculated, is particular to Black female characters, and covertly demands that a character devote the majority of her on-screen time to providing assistance to or fulfilling the needs of other characters. As a role that originated during the institution of slavery, it demands attention in that it both directly reflects the current state of American racism and quietly perpetuates it in a medium targeted toward young children. This paper explores the covert workings of unrecognized support through discussing the importance of examining the animation medium and constructions of gender for Black women and girls. Both regressive and innovative role practices are highlighted while carefully examining the ways in which support intersects with other recurring representational themes such as image abuse, racial/ethnic diversity, listing order, starring characters, villains, romance, beauty, and body language. Although role representation is currently problematic for Black female characters in animation, the progress that has been made in personality diversity shows some promise for role reform in future animated works.