Representation, Big Hero 6, and Me

I saw Big Hero 6 last Saturday, a couple days after Interstellar. They’re very different movies, different beasts. I’m not sure yet which one I like more, but there’s one thing that makes Big Hero 6very special.

But first let’s talk about me.

I’m one of those weird people who can claim two races. No, not the mix of mayonnaise and sour cream that is the 1/4 Irish, 1/4 German, 1/8 Polish, 1/3 English, 1/24 Swedish mixes, I’m Asian andAmerican: my dad’s from Singapore, my mom’s from the US. My heritage is Chinese and Norwegian and I put “Other: Sino-Nordic” on those surveys I fill out for money. I get called white in Singapore and Asian in the States. Go figure.

So growing up I was a bit of an ethnic oddity. I, as is probably evident from this blog, consumed a lot of media. I read mountains of books, watched as many movies as my parents took me to (which was no small amount, thanks Mom and Dad!), and played as many video games as I could on the weekends when I was allowed. But no characters were like me. Sure, Power Rangers had the token Asian and white people are ubiquitous, but half-and-halfs were unheard of. The closest character in my media was Balto (Mom would later compare me to Spock, but that was after I’d graduated high school).

Fast-forward to now and Big Hero 6 is topping the box office. And the main character, Hiro Tamada, is mixed like me. Now, I’m basing this off the fact that he’s clearly East Asian and his aunt is white, because not only is Hiro biracial, but he’s biracial like me: his mother is white, his father not. As someone who’s spent most of the life as a racial rarity, it’s wonderfully refreshing, hell, it’s exciting to see someone like me the star of a Disney movie.

But it’s not just Hiro. The titular 6 are surprisingly diverse. Besides Baymax the fluffy robot, there’s only one white guy: Fred the definitely-not-a-stoner-but-certainly-not-a-scientist comic relief guy. The other three? GoGo is an Asian woman, Honey Lemon is also a woman who seems cut out to be the cheerleader type except she’s an incredible chemist, and Wasabi is a black man. They are all scientists and engineers, students of a field notoriously underrepresented by minorities. Here’s a movie saying “Hey, you can be a scientist even if you’re not a white dude!”

Now, I think it’s easy to get hung up on representation. The Avengers isn’t a lesser movie because the majority of the characters are white men and Big Hero 6 has a solid story with plenty of heart to complement its diverse cast. Praising a movie simply because it’s diverse, or feminist, or ‘Christian’ is patronizing and doesn’t help. I don’t just want more movies with minorities, I want more good stories about everyone. That’s part of the reasons I’m so excited for Black Panther and Captain Marvel (that and, y’know, the fact that Captain Marvel is getting a movie); Marvel has a reputation for telling strong character driven stories.

So I’m glad Big Hero 6 is doing so well and receiving such warm reviews. Because that means people will notice and, hopefully, means we’ll get more films like that. But more than all that, even more than the implications for the industry and the hope for growingly diverse casts, I’m excited that a character like Hiro Tamada is the main character of a movie. Because somewhere there’s an eight year old kid like me who got to see someone like him as a superhero.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Representation, Big Hero 6, and Me

  1. It’s as if Disney has taken some very traditional ingredients and blended them to come up with a new flavour entirely.

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