Craig of the Creek and Reflecting For All: Can Inclusion Be Misused?

Representation matters. Hollywood knows that now more than ever before. But Hollywood is also cunning and exploitative, as we all know. People of all sexes and colors want a reflection on screen, and if it’s diversity that sells then it’s diversity we’ll get. Inclusion in many ways has just become another thing for filmmakers to either exploit or embrace. It’s a war between being thoughtless and being thoughtful. People of all types are actually getting screen time whereas they would not have before.

To bring this all into familiar territory for us animation students, let’s have a look at Cartoon Network’s Craig of the Creek: a cute, harmless show that turns the local woods into a mini world of gest and adventure for the local kids to explore. It’s Recess meets Lord of the Rings, essentially. What has people tied up about it is the fact that the show was created by two white guys (Matt Burnett and Ben Levin) but its protagonist, Craig, and his family are black.

Hey Arnold! and Recess are similar cartoons to Craig of the Creek in that they follow the suburban, slice-of-life adventures of kids helping others or getting into trouble. Arnold Shortman and T.J. Detweiler are the protagonists of each show, respectively. Both are white males with a black best friend. Gerald and Vince are great, but would it really hurt to make “the black guy” the protagonist, for once? Black kids growing up wouldn’t have to keep relating exclusively to side characters. Matt Burnett says, “I think more inclusivity and media and representing people that we haven’t usually seen on TV is really exciting.”

Craig of the Creek’s creek is in a modest, middle-class neighborhood, where Craig is treated no differently than any other of the diverse kids. He’s a middle child whose mother, father, and grandparents care for him. There’s no commentary on race or on growing up black in America within the show, but Craig of the Creek isn’t that kind of show anyways. It’s an innocent, wistful trip back to childhood whose protagonist happens to be black. There is no one way to grow up black in America, and Burnett and Levin make Craig fun and relatable as any kid. Burnett and Levin are Steven Universe veterans, so rest assured no one will misuse representation. Besides, if it weren’t for white filmmakers representing other races, we wouldn’t have strong minority characters like Moana or Miguel. 

It is worth noting that the show isn’t two white men assuming the black experience. Burnett and Levin have gathered a diverse crew to ensure that black voices are being heard from the show through their boards and words in the script. “We worked hard to put together the team that would help shape the show, a very diverse group of voices to add something that we needed that we couldn’t do on our own. That was always our goal when we decided to create the show, to work with a huge range of people and get their voices heard on TV,” says Burnett.

Choosing to represent those of us cast in others’ shadows, whether it be women or minorities, is a bold opportunity that can break grounds. Other times, it can be hasty and underhanded. Two of Pixar’s last films feature major female characters who were both male until late in production: Cruz Ramirez in Cars 3 and Evelyn Deavor in Incredibles 2 (Evelyn’s change came so late that her male version was already fully modeled, rigged, and textured). The filmmakers explain that Cruz was made a female to seem like an outsider in the male-dominated racing world and Evelyn was made female to give her a stronger relationship with Elastigirl: two women cast in men’s shadows. These last-minute changes aren’t malicious or anything, but they aren’t exactly noteworthy either. They seem hasty. They do have thought and nuance put into why they made their decision to make the change, though, it’s not like J.K. Rowling coming out saying “btw Dumbledore was gay.” And at the end of the day, kids have a Latina racer and female supervillian. 

Everyone wants a character to relate to and it’s disheartening when you can’t find yourself anywhere. Craig of the Creek isn’t exploiting Black America; it’s embracing childhood and diversity. Every day ends with Craig and his friends running home just in time for dinner, and every credit sequence is an intimate, warm look at Craig’s family dinner table. Melodic indie rock plays as we see the whole family together, just eating, happy together. Levin likes this moment and says of it, “People have pointed that out, like, ‘this is so refreshing to see on television.’ We’re looking to show those little moments. They’re not big political statements, but they can mean so much to people.” As groundbreaking as it may be, I don’t think the creators would want their show to be remembered just as “the one with the black kid.” Luckily, I think they have just enough fun and creativity within the show for it’s legacy to be broader than that. There’s something for everyone in Craig of the Creek, and that’s what makes diversity endearing.


Asian American Representation and their Stereotypes

Asian representation in the American Entertainment industry has had some struggles showcasing Asian Americans in popular media. When someone is asked “Who is the most popular Asian actor or actress?” the response is usually Jackie Chan or Bruce Lee. These two men are well known for their physical abilities in martial arts and have received popular response from the American public. But does this limit the number of roles that Asian actors can have? Many asian lead roles in popular media have the character being portrayed as a martial arts expert, a nerd, or a doctor. In American entertainment, there has only been one film that showcases an asian male with a love interest in recent years who isn’t portrayed as a typical Asian stereotype. Many films and shows that do showcase asians as the lead roles usually come from asian countries.

In America, there is a diverse community that represents all cultures and ethnic backgrounds but the entertainment industry tends to overlook these minorities. In the youtube video “Why doesn’t Hollywood Cast Asian Actors”, one of the main ideas is that Hollywood is scared to take the risk of not having the bigger Hollywood names in their films, ultimately leading the film to make more in the Box Offices. This then brings up the problem of Asian American kids not having any source of relatability in the entertainment industry for a person of color that they can relate to. Not all shows do this poorly however. Shows like Fresh off the Boat is a great example of a first generation family trying to follow the American Dream and the struggles of being an Asian American in the 1990’s.  But what about the earlier family tv sit

Fresh off the Boat is an experience very similar to my own as an Asian American. The way that the Wong Family is portrayed is not only about an Asian family trying to make it in America, but how the main character, Eddie Wong, deals with being stereotyped as an asian and the difficulties that come with that because of moving to a Primarily white neighborhood. The show does showcase many asian tropes such as having an accent, living with a grandparent, and eating cultural foods. The way that the show is set up, none of these portray the asian culture in a negative spotlight, but how the family deals with difficulties that can be translated to any minority. The family consists of Louis Huang, the father trying to support his family; Jessica Huang, the tiger mom; Grandma Huang, the grandma who lives with the family; Eddie Huang, the rebellious chinese son; Emery Huang, the son who adjusts well to the white society; and Evan Huang, the good chinese son who does well in school. The family might consist of typical asian stereotypes, but there is much more to their characters than just the stereotypes given to them. Jessica might be a tiger mom, who pushes her family for greatness, but only because she wants what’s best for her kids, and there isn’t anything she wouldn’t do for them. Eddie, Emery, and Evan are all great representations of a Chinese American son. From personal experience, I always tried my best in school, but my grades didn’t always represent that. Early on in my life, I dealt with the classic asian stereotypes such as always being good in school, being a bad driver, stinky food, or eating domestic animals. I never let these comments get to me, but it was hard dealing with the prejudice showcased in popular media. If a show like Fresh off the Boat was around when I was younger, it would have given me a lot of advice on how to be proud of who you are and not let others ruin that for you, and also showcase the Asian American family as a normal family and not some crude representation often seen in popular media.

Going more in depth about asians in the film industry, many of these roles are seen as the talented instrumentalist nerdy type who is soft spoken, the brilliant surgeon, or a martial arts master. Crazy Rich Asians, is the first film in 25 years to have an all asian cast that isn’t a period piece. In the Washington Post article written by Allyson Chiu, she includes the positives and negatives of the movie in tweets from Asian Americans. None of the actors are “whitewashed” or played by a white actor, but the actors and actresses are all played by East Asian actors. In the American society, asians are generally clumped together into one word, “Asian” and most don’t make an effort to learn the difference in the cultures or will make assumptions on race. In Crazy Rich Asians, there is a lot of asian representation in the movie about culture and having a diverse cast, but there is no representation of Western Asian countries in the film. One of the tweets in Allyson’s article is tweeted by EJ Ramos David. He mentions how the film relates to most Western Films with an all white cast beside the one Black token character, and how in Crazy Rich Asians, there is a Brown Asian token character.  I feel that in the entertainment industry, it is hard to please the entire public, but they are making a step in the right direction on the representation of asian actors that transcend their stereotypes, which is what the film focuses on. The film breaks the stereotypes by having attractive asian male leads, but also showcases the geeky asian girl who has more to her character than just being the typical asian nerd. Variety’s youtube video “’Crazy Rich Asians’ Cast on Hollywood Stereotypes”, Ken Jeong, asian comedian and actor, mentions how the trend of more asian representation in entertainment all plays off of each other and that it is the first steps into more inclusion of asian roles that aren’t solely based around stereotypes.

With shows like Fresh off the Boat and movies like Crazy Rich Asians, the Asian American audience will have characters to relate to that aren’t based off of outlandish stereotypes, but have more depth and a deeper story to who they are as a person. Looking back on my childhood, I would have loved to have seen this movie and watch this show with my own family and how we see ourselves in the characters. I would like to see more in animated shows and video games, but in a few years, I can see this possibility becoming a reality if this trend continues. Check out the videos if you have the time because they go over some other interesting aspects that I did not go into depth on!

Happy Thanksgiving! 😀

Works Cited:

Why Doesn’t Hollywood Cast Asian Actors?


‘Crazy Rich Asians’ Cast on Hollywood Stereotypes


American Shows, Korean Animation?

While fans of the popular American show, Bob’s Burgers may be highly knowledgeable of characters, narratives, and long-running jokes, there is lesser known knowledge about where the show is actually animated. South Korea is an answer that may surprise many, which begs the question: how many American shows or networks outsource their material to be animated abroad, and what might be some possible effects?

For one thing, it should be known that the largest driving force for creating material overseas is lower cost of production. Outsourcing was popularized in the 1970s when ABC, CBS, and NBC couldn’t meet demand for new episodes of popular shows such as Scooby-Doo and Fat Albert. Korean artists then proved to be technically proficient and quick, and became the new source for many projects (Mayes). Decreased costs are due to the fact that employees in places such as Soul do not have as many protected creative and working rights, therefore allowing for physical and financial exploitation. This poses an ethical dilemma about sacrificing fair working conditions for the sake of larger profit.  

A large problem which Korean studios have also faced in recent years is a hesitance to turn from paper animation to digital. This is an issue posed in The Atlantic’s article, “A New Age of Animation” by Kate Torgovnick May which describes that the outsourcing has led to a technical divide which has decreased efficiency. Working on paper means that every frame must be scanned individually for delivery to American studios resulting in any revisions taking a week or more. Another problem is difficulty translating American cultural nuances for culturally different, Korean creators. Joel Kuwahara, co-founder of BentoBox Entertainment, a production company in Los Angeles that produced Bob’s Burgers, notes that, “It can be hard to communicate precisely what we want…It can be acting nuances- or dance moves…We have a different perception of humor… We have a different approach to everything, including body language and expressions” (May).   

Another issue that may come about is foreign countries’ lack of understanding about U.S. laws that protect intellectual properties, copyrights, etc (Mayes). This may result in copyright infringements or use of creative property which is not accessible for free use. A large problem that I am personally concerned with is the decreased value of production with foreign animators creating projects of lesser quality due to lack of resources, time, and labor.

The Korean animation industry today works with around 120 studios, including Fox, Dreamworks, Cartoon Network, and Nickelodeon (Mayes). This means that American audiences have a direct relationship to Korean animators, by consuming their work and acting as the main source of profit. American viewers should be aware and critical of the conditions under which their favorite shows were created. This is not to say that shows or networks should be blacklisted as unethical and never supported again, but rather to say that in order to consume media honestly, we must be socially aware of the entire production process. There should be an appreciation for the time, money, and effort put into creating these shows and people should be rewarded and credited in full for the work that was put in. 

While push for change and proactivity to apply these changes is slow, some have started to make the transition. The largest solution for the technical, cultural problems is to employ “overseas animation directors” to work in the Korean studios overseas and check any animation that is sent back to the U.S (Mayes). This allows for an American perspective to play an active role in the animation process. Others, such as Kuwahara have taken on a more active role. He has reached out to Toon Boom, creators of the software Harmony in order to improve functionality for Korean animators and encourage studios to make the change from paper to digital, which will open the doors for many young animators in Korea who are pulled to the digital aspect.

Overall, it appears that outsourcing American  shows is something which poses some conflict. On the one hand, Korean studios offer extra, quick labor, with the added benefit of decreased cost, while on the other hand this is a direct result of manual exploitation. At the same time, foreign studios face language and cultural barriers which can further prolong the process. Ultimately, it’s a tricky situation which many would rather ignore, but I propose that perhaps until working rights of foreign animators are fully protected, we had better keep animation production domestic.