Daily Variety Hadji Research Note
The following appeared in Daily Variety on October 1, 1996. The citation is Mallory, Michael (1996-10-01). Some toons reflect their auds. Daily Variety: News.
Some toons reflect their auds
While still a long way from being the province of gritty realism, Saturday morning cartoons are, at least, starting to finally reflect the experiences and ethnic makeup of their audience.
Two new fall series Fox's "C-Bear and Jamal," which is exec produced by rapper/actor Tone Loc, and Warner Bros.' "Waynehead," based on the early life of comedian (and series creator) Daman Wayans are set in ethnic neighborhoods and feature casts of characters that are completely African American.
These shows follow last season's "Santo Bugito" on CBS, which presented a cast of Latino insects. (The show was a critical hit, but has since been canceled by CBS. The show is currently selling, overseas, however, and its producers, Klasky Csupo, say it will be airing in several European territories before the year is out.)
Traditionally, animated ethnicity has been a touchy area. Over the years, charges of racial stereotyping have been lodged against such programs as the original "Jonny Quest," which often featured ethnic characters in the roles of servants or slaves, and the more recent "Super Dave," from Fox's 1992-93 schedule, which drew viewer concerns over the portrayal of an Asian character.
Even Disney's 1993 blockbuster "Aladdin" drew highly publicized protests, spearheaded by deejay Casey Kasem, a Lebanese-American, that resulted in the studio's replacing certain song lyrics deemed offensive to Arabs with more innocuous ones for the film's homevideo and laserdisc editions.
The creators of the new crop of ethnic-based TV toons are working to defuse any such criticisms up front, in part by treating minority characters as fully developed characters, rather than stereotyped bit players.
"In much of the depiction of ethnic characters, especially in a sensitive daypart like Saturday morning, there has been such a concern with not offending anybody that the characters have rarely been particularized," explains Grant Moran, producer/writer for "Waynehead." "They've always had to stand in as role models for their race or ethnicity, and they've been cheated of the opportunity to be dimensional characters as a result."
This is not to say that writers and producers ignore potential concerns. "A lot of care was taken on the scripts (of 'Santo Bugito')," says Marabina Jaimes, a voice actress on the show. "Tony Plana, who played my husband, and I were constantly asked about things that would make the characters seem a little more realistic."
Jaimes says the "Santo Bugito" production team ran surveys to ensure that the characters spoke and even dressed correctly. As a result, she notes, the only complaints she ever heard about the show was "the fact that they were actual insects."
In revamping Hanna-Barbera's "Jonny Quest" for the '90s in the new show, "The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest," any concerns over the portrayal of ethnic characters were addressed through stronger character and story development, according to H-B officials.
"It's less an issue of sensitive times as much as reflective of a more highly communicative time, where we know more things about people and cultures," H-B prexy Fred Seibert says.
The show's most prominent ethnic character is Jonny's Indian friend Hadji, who, in the original "Quest," was one of Saturday morning TV's first animated minority characters. Seibert says the new version of Hadji is better researched in terms of his ethnic heritage than the original.
"We tried to dig a little deeper and ask what Hadji would be like if he was, let's say, a Sikh, then we researched Sikh characters to give a little bit more depth to the characterization of a young Indian Sikh living in the United States and having an American friend," Seibert says. "If the characterizations ring true, you've got nothing to be embarrassed about."
All of today's ethnic-based toons, however, are traveling ground established in 1972 by "Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids," based on the comedy of Bill Cosby, which was the first Saturday-morning series to feature an all-black cast of characters and the first "pro-social" cartoon backed by a team of educational consultants. The series enjoyed a seven-year run on CBS and another five in syndication, just about all of it controversy-free.
"The interesting thing (about the show) was, based on the thousands of letters we got, the audience never really thought of the kids as minorities," says Lou Scheimer, who produced the "Fat Albert."
Talks about reviving the series are currently under way between CBS, Cosby and Scheimer, who notes that the television climate of the early 1970s that led to the creation of the show has returned.
The care now being taken by producers and writers does not mean that network censors have dropped their guard, however.
Fox "didn't want to have Jamal's grandparents speaking with Southern accents," notes Swinton Scott, producer/director of "C-Bear and Jamal" for Film Roman. "We told them that many black people in Los Angeles migrated from the South Georgia and Alabama and most of the older people here speak with Southern accents, and I think they understood that."