I don’t mean to be a wet blanket. I really don’t.
I loved Big Hero 6. It gave me way more feels than I planned on having this week. I fell madly in love with Baymax, and the movie should be lauded for its storytelling, animation, and, especially, its commitment to a diverse cast that never resorted to belittling tokenization.
It was refreshing. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for criticism or improvement. And I, for one, am really confused about the identity of this character: Honey Lemon.
I don’t mind that she’s practically a carbon copy of Rapunzel…
…or that she inexplicably chooses to wear heels to a fight scene…
…okay I lied. These things also bother me greatly. I mean, c’mon lady, you’re seven feet tall…why do you need heels!? To make your non-existent butt look better? You have a one inch circumference! You’re gonna get your friends killed because you tripped and fell while wearing your Elton John wannabe pumps. You’re trying to take down a super-villain here; put on some sneakers.
But I digress.
The problem with Honey Lemon is that Disney is claiming that she is another example of a “strong woman of color,” along with GoGo — who is in fact an excellent example of a fully developed woman of color. But Honey Lemon…
“She’s hispanic!” says Disney.
Oh, because she’s voiced by this lady?
Because I’m pretty sure Mindy Kaling voicing Taffyta in Wreck it Ralph didn’t make Taffyta any less blonde and caucasian.
I understand that many hispanic people are fair skinned and can, indeed, be blonde. And this doesn’t make them any less hispanic or in touch with their roots. But, besides an accented pronunciation of Hiro — which to me didn’t read so much “Latina” as it did “pretentious foreign exchange student trying to seem native” — there was no indication that she is, indeed, a woman of color.
“Why does it have to be so obvious? Why does everything have to be about race? Does every Latina have to look the same?”
No. Of course not. Hispanic women come in many shapes and sizes. But fair skinned women are represented in the media in spades — as evidenced by Honey Lemon’s twin sister Rapunzel. We don’t see enough representation of dark skinned, Latina women. Or men, for that matter. And as the United States’ hispanic population increases, this becomes even more pressing. Last time I was in Disney World, watching many different hispanic girls running around in Rapunzel’s blond tresses (which, of course, is still wonderful), I just kept thinking, “We really need a hispanic princess.”
Little girls long for heroines that look like themselves, so they can take pride in their ethnic identity. And anyone who thinks ethnic representation in media doesn’t matter should take a look at this photo set or watch the full video:
Children have internalized the message that light skin = beautiful, smart, and nice, and dark skin=ugly, dumb, and mean.
Media is the thing that contributes to that and can help fix that.
Kids shouldn’t have to google the movie to find out that there is, in fact, a character who shares their race. When you choose to represent an underrepresented group in media, then you better be sure you represent them. Now is not the time to be coy.
I’m not saying there isn’t a place in the media for a light skinned, hispanic woman. But first we have to focus on showing more (fully developed) dark-skinned characters. We have to get them out there first; then we can worry about having covert ethnicities. Because right now there are a lot of dark-skinned, Latina girls who are hard-pressed to find themselves on screen.
And five year old girls don’t read press packets.
I’ll leave you with a short video of YouTube celeb GloZell crying for joy when she saw a black princess in the park for the first time…just in case you needed more convincing.
Edit: I just want to clarify that I would have no problem with representing Honey Lemon as a light skinned Latina if they had somehow expressed in the movie that she was a Latina. For instance, it’s not super obvious looking at Hiro that he’s a person of color, but we know from the appearances of his brother, his aunt, and his last name that he’s of mixed race. It was clear without being over dramatized. That’s amazing and wonderful. If they had done that with Honey Lemon, I would have been beyond thrilled. Even if they had just given us a hispanic last name. But they didn’t. They weirdly hid it in the movie so that small children wouldn’t know, but bragged about it in the press so that movie nerds and social activists of the internet would. And although I’m so happy with the movie and the character of Honey Lemon in so many other ways, it doesn’t mean that this isn’t still a problem that needs to be addressed and corrected in the future.
Double Edit: Since writing this article, I’ve learned that my interchangeable use of “hispanic” and “latinx” was not, in fact, interchangeable. Apologies for that!
Triple Edit: The thing I did not expect to be so controversial about this piece was Honey Lemon’s heels! So I wrote a follow-up piece on that.