For many young adults, the portrayal of minorities in pop culture and other forms of media affects how they see themselves. Not only how they see themselves in that pretend world but how they see themselves in the world around them. In a 2019 BBC report, almost all of the students interviewed admitted that not seeing themselves represented in pop culture affected their mental health. Though stars of different ethnicities, appearances, sexual orientation, and gender (Marvel’s new diverse led movies like Black Panther, The Eternals, and Shang-Chi for example) are being positively represented in many avenues of pop culture; it still is not easily observable.
According to a 2017 diversity report by UCLA, only two out of every 10 actors in a lead role were people of color. According to VisualCaptalist.com, These portrayals do not represent the actual racial breakdown of the United States which as of 2020 was 60.1% white, 18.5% Hispanic, 12.2% black, 5.6% Asian, 2.8% multiple races, 0.7% American Indian/Native American, and 0.2% Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander. Growing up, this disproportionate representation never crossed my mind; because it ultimately never affected me. There was always an oversaturation of faces like mine all over television. Though lifetime favorites like Bruce Lee and Fred Sanford looked different from me; I still was bombarded in other places with faces that were similar to mine. My favorite cartoon was and is He-Man (now pop culture icon). To be honest, I still love and collect He-Man toys and memorabilia; but it was my favorite He-Man toy in the 80s which fueled a mother to create a new toy for her son. Because while on vacation with her family, Rutgers associate professor of professional practice, Yla Eason, noticed that her 3-year-old son was not playing with his He-Man toys and was not pretending to be a superhero anymore. “My son said he couldn’t be a superhero because he was Black,” Eason recalled.
Eason came home from her vacation with a new mission. She came home to create a toy and story which will ‘give a positive Black presentation in imagination and creativity.’ She created a new set of characters that represented all races but catered to black, Hispanic, and Native American children. Sun-Man was the main character created for Eason’s newly created Olmec Toys gained his super strength and power by using his oversized cowl and the melanin in his skin to capture the power of the sun. In a stroke of genius, Eason used something that normally made a child feel different; but now shows that this dark-skinned character has strength because of that dark skin.
With the recent surge of popularity and a relaunching of not only multiple action figure lines (including winning awards for an action figure of the year and being nominated for the license of the year), two high-rated animated shows, and a live-action movie in the works; four decades after its creation, He-Man is back on top. As many of He-Man’s friends and foes were and are ethnicities diverse; one special superhero has officially joined the Masters of Universe lineup: Sun-Man.
Senior VP at Mattel (the one responsible for the introduction of Sun-Man into the MOTU universe) said that “reintroducing a Black hero for today’s kids not only feels good, it feels important. Sun-Man is such an aspirational character, from his aesthetic design to his character traits and powers.” The new Sun-Man figure rereleased by Mattel has been sold out everywhere toys are sold. I will still be on a journey to find one to add to my collection but I hope that little kids are also about to see themselves in this superhero along with the shows they watch on TV. As VP of creative content for Mattel Television Rob David said, “Children need to see themselves represented in the world around them. The TV screen is a window and also a mirror.”
Black Panther cast image by Gage Skidmore – https://www.flickr.com/photos/gageskidmore/28018675963/, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=99761800
Yla Eason image and Sun-Man images accredited to and owned by Olmec. Fair use. https://www.officialsunman.com/gallery