As the mother of two little guys, I have spent countless hours watching cartoons. Some have made me laugh and smile, while others have left me with countless moments of reflection. I recently suffered through The Bee Movie with Mayhem and Destruction.
Isn't Barry the Bee the cutest thing you have seen in a long time? Well Barry is not only cute, he is about making a change.
"A recent college graduate, Barry wants more out of life than the inevitable career that awaits him, and every other worker in the New Hive City - a job at Honex...making honey. Barry jumps at the chance to venture out of the hive, and soon encounters a world beyond his wildest dreams. When Barry inadvertently meets a quirky florist names Vanessa (Renee Zellweger), he breaks one of the cardinal rules of beedom - he talks to her. A friendship soon develops, and Barry gets a guided crash course in the ways of the human race. When he shockingly discovers that anyone can just buy honey right off the grocery store shelf, he realizes that his true calling is to stop this injustice and set the world right by suing the human race for stealing the bees' precious honey."
From this little synopsis it would seem that children would gain a lot of positives from viewing this movie. They would learn about the need to stand up for personal beliefs, the interdependency cycle of the environment, as well as the importance of agency and autonomy. Not bad for a DreamWorks flick...That is until you realize that what they mean by human is white. That is right, all of the main characters that are not bees are white.
Making POC invisible even in the imaginary world of cartoons is racism. Why should my 7 year old not be able to see himself reflected and understood as human? The very idea that Bee is suing all of humanity, should mean that various races, creeds, religions, sexualities and abilities receive equal representation .
The idea that able bodied heterosexual white people constitute humanity erases the experiences of many, and this is the invisible message that comes along with our little friend Barry. Shame on you DreamWorks, though I must admit that I am not all surprised. I am sure that they felt that using the voice of Chris Rock to portray a character was enough, but when POC are so visibly absent what does the presence of one POC indicate but tokenism?
Daily cartoons like this teach our children what people they should value. Whiteness as a representative model, and the erasure of bodies of colour is a common theme in media. It has become so normalized that we rarely question why these bodies are missing. If POC are only represented as "ghetto" (see Chris Rock character) does that not encourage the idea that a race hierarchy is normal and natural?
Jerry Seinfeld is the creator of this little innocuous flick. This man has a history of ignoring POC, or using them as the punch line in a joke. On his smash hit Seinfeld, there were only two recurring characters that were black - the lawyer and the owner of the coffee shop that they visited. It can therefore come as no surprise that when he turned his attention to children's media, he continued this trend. If presenting white people as the main focus can "work" on the small screen, of course it should translate well to the big screen.
Lest we forget, we can also credit him with publicly coming to the support of Michael Richards on the David Letterman show, after his famous racist attack. Yeah, my buddy is a good guy and didn't really mean all of the racist shit that he said.
White parents want their white kids to see positive representations of them. Whiteness as good is an important message that must be reinforced if the white supremacist state is to be maintained. I am tired of spending my hard earned money in the support of white supremacy. My body matters, and so do the bodies of my children. Barry may have been concerned about humans stealing, but I am more troubled by the idea that certain bodies don't count as human.