Racist stereotype in cartoons for children

I once created a comic-based video presentation for a competition in my university. I asked my friend Semi to help with the drawing (and most of the work). One of the comic scenes involved a terrorist. Semi had lots of hesitation before drawing that one, because whatever visual character she gives the terrorist, it easily leads to a labeling image. And that’s not politically correct.

I was fascinated by how considerate and thoughtful she was about this. Terrorism itself has various forms, and so are terrorists. If we ever have a characteristic image linked to the idea of terrorist, we are being stereotyped. If you do, to any extent, have that image in your mind, please look up the terror attack in 2019 in Christchurch, NZ. The guy who did it doesn’t meet most terrorist stereotypes. Do terrorists all have a full beard? A grumpy face? An accent? Any more envisaging is wrong, unnecessary, and easily offensive to a group of people.

Then let’s just draw a little man with no specific character.

The terrorist drawn by Semi

Earlier, the cartoon movie Pets 2 came out. I liked the first one, but honestly the sequel was far below my expectation. The story was too simple and plain for me to remember anything. Nonetheless, Pets 2 was just as fun and delightful to watch.

Cute pets in Pets 2

I find the villain’s name ‘Sergei’ in this movie rather inappropriate. For those who are not familiar, ‘Sergei’ (Сергей in Russian) is a common name in the Russian speaking world. It’s like a John or Jack in English. In the movie, a bunch of cute pets fought with the villains, circus boss Sergei and his evil monkey sidekick ‘Little Sergei’, and (spoiler alert) won.

Sergei and Little Sergei

I don’t know how long did it take for the writers to come up with a Russian name for the villains. Compared with cute, fluent English-speaking Max and Duke, Sergei with a Russian accent is indeed a bad guy at first sight.

In a cartoon movie mainly for children, such arrangement will undoubtedly leave stereotypes in children’s mind.

I understand some movies need an imaginary enemy for the story to work. Many movies do that: giving the villain some foreign features, marking the villains’ weapon with foreign flags, accusing an alien race for dark deals… In most movies, such acts usually have some realistic reference (but are also slightly racist). Why does a children’s cartoon like Pets 2 need to do this?

Unconsciously fed with stereotypes, children will have a hard time forming an equal and inclusive vision of foreign culture and the world. That’s young racists in the making, I fear.

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