Watched Rio, the cartoon about the rare Brazilian birds, with the kids last night and woke-up disappointed not only about the blatant hueism, but also about how slow I am to catch these things when I catch them at all. There is always so much isms to discuss with kids when we watch any cartoons and with Rio the thing sticking out glaringly for me was the African American voices–dogs seem to commonly have Black-sounding voices, especially if they are the only dog in the movie and more so if they are naughty/naughtyish, such as the bulldog in Rio being played by Tracy Morgan. Really? A bulldog? Sigh. Likewise, a naughty blackish kind of bird I see is actually a Canadian Goose is played by Wanda Sykes. I smell a trope here. And George Lopez is a Brazilian-residing Toocan? Ok, like I said, always a lot to critique in my kids’ seemingly innocent little movie watching, but here in Rio the hueism is what I most pressingly need to rewatch the movie with my kids so that we can discuss it.
So in a Brazilian nutshell (yes, I did) the Good guy, a bird-loving and saving ornithologist, is so fair-skinned that I wasn’t sure if he was even supposed to be Brazilian–the kids watched the movie in French the first time around, so the accents were all, well, accented to me. And yes, I understand Brazilians come in a full spectrum of skin tones, including White, and that is why it is all the more upsetting that the Bad Guys were all noticeably darker than the Good guy. The three bird thieves, as well as the little orphan-like boy who is pressed into working for them are all darker-to-Black. This blatant racism seems especially hurtful because Brazil is always held up to this color-blind fallacy, as in “Look at Brazil, all the colors are co-mingled and getting along so well!”–not– and also the guy who made the film is from Brazil and in the features section of the video he is so very, very “excited” to share his “colorful” country with us, the viewers. Sadly, the background characters are all pretty white washed too.
I was happy to see the kids were doing some critical watching as well as self-correcting while viewing the film, they were being clear to differentiate between the US and South America in their discussion and my eldest son made a comment in which he changed “foreign countries” to “just countries.” Perhaps this is an earlier indicator that my kids will not be as insensitive to these issues as I was indoctrinated to be. Also, the eldest asked me about the poverty, specifically noting the metal-roofed shanties which we also see here in Morocco, without this connection I don’t know that he would noticed the poverty–the younger kids didn’t mention it. I’m sure they will be thrilled to watch it again with me sometime this weekend, so I’m doing a little pre-discussion preparation. I want to discuss with them the hueism problem, as well as the White Savior trope which comes up with the orphan-like kid being adopted in the end and also try to get them to discuss some of the roles played by Black voice-overs in order to see if they notice how those characters are much sillier compared to the others.