Review: Akata Witch

Spoiler Warning: Akata Witch (only in one specific section, which is noted beforehand)

Trigger Warning: Discussion of ableist tropes in fiction

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Recently, I read Nnedi Okorafor’s Akata Witch. It’s a young adult fantasy novel, set in Nigeria, which came out back in 2011 from Penguin Books. If you enjoy narratives about characters discovering their magic, or are interested in learning about magic in a culture that isn’t often seen represented in the US, I highly recommend this book. It’s a lot of fun, and the characters are vibrant and interesting.

I’d also like to point out that the cover art actually fits the book.

The main character, Sunny, is 12.  She’s American-born, but moved to Nigeria with her parents and brothers. Sunny, like most of the people she knows, is Igbo, but often feels out of place because she is (a) from America, and (b) an albino.  Nnedi Okorafor herself is also American-born, and her parents were Nigerian immigrants. During the book, Sunny makes new friends and meets new enemies as she discovers the world of Leopard People, African sorcerers.

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Jewish Shops Attacked in France

I was taking a break from working on the next post for this blog, a review of Robot & Frank, when I found this. (Warning:antisemitism tw, nazi tw, violence tw. Anti-islamic tw for the comments).

I don’t live in France. None of my family lives in France. But I am Jewish. And I am scared, upset, and angry.

I will likely not be posting anything else today. I will get the Robot & Frank review up by the end of the week, but likely not the other review that I had planned for this week. I am not in a good place to write right now.

Disability in Animation: Conclusion

Series: Disability in Children’s Animation

Spoiler Warnings: No explicit spoilers

Trigger/Content Warnings: None that I can think of

This week, I looked at disability in children’s animation. Now, I will point out that I was focusing mostly on movies and TV shows that featured characters who were disabled. I didn’t look for movies with minor characters who were disabled, or even ones with villains who were generically “mad” (although one of those did show up). But I noticed two big things about disability in children’s animation this week:

   1. Disabled characters in children’s animation are rare.

My knowledge of children’s animation is by no means comprehensive, but I didn’t exactly have trouble narrowing down my choices. In fact, at times I struggled to find enough content to fill a week. It does seem like there may have been something of an increase in representation in recent years–but on the other hand, my search was skewed towards those years. 

   2. When disability is portrayed in children’s animation, it is generally done better than in other media, particularly media aimed at adults.

Again, what I saw was almost certainly skewed. However, most of what I looked at did a pretty good job. My Little Pony has done very well with their representation. Finding Nemo, Frozen, and How to Train Your Dragon also did  great job, although How to Train Your Dragon 2 had some issues. Wreck-it-Ralph did some things wrong, but it also did some things very right.

I think the reason for this second point is that people who work on children’s media are often more conscious of the message they’re sending than people who work on media aimed at adults. At its worst, this results in preachy, condescending media, but at its best it results in content that is intelligent and aware. Of the shows and movies I looked at this week, Adventure Time was the only one that actually angered me. Adventure Time makes no secret of the fact that while it’s marketed to children, it’s not strictly speaking written for them. Usually this is a good thing, in my opinion: it means they don’t talk down to kids. In this case, it may have resulted in the writers giving less consideration to the implications of what they wrote than they might otherwise have.

This awareness might also factor into the first point: doing things right takes effort. If the people behind the scenes acknowledge that something needs to be done right, they may be less likely to do it. 

The exception to all of this is, of course, the generically “mad” villain. Whether portrayed as “mad” or simply described that way, I would have to say this is still pretty common. As I said in the How to Train Your Dragon 2 review, this trope is hugely damaging. It reinforces a stereotype that is extremely harmful. This trope may be less common in children’s animation, it may not–but it is definitely there, and it needs to stop.

Children’s media is some of the most important and powerful media we have. Kids pick up lessons everywhere, and a lot of this media will stick with them for their entire lives. They may even show it to their kids. When you make media aimed at children, you are accepting a huge responsibility.

Disabled children need to be able to see themselves in media. They deserve it. They will have plenty of adults telling them what they can and can’t do, who they are and aren’t, ignoring their feelings and their attempts to communicate. A good piece of children’s media can help to counteract that. And it might even worm its way into their parent’s brains, too.

Kids who aren’t disabled need to learn that disabled people exist. They need to learn that disabled people are people, not objects or curiosities. All children, disabled or not, need to learn that disabled people can be heroes.

So what do we need to show kids?

  • It is not “disabled” or “normal”. Disabled people are normal.
  • Disabled does not equal violent or evil.
  • In particular, mentally ill does not equal violent or evil.
  • The only person who can define your abilities is you. No one else can know better than you what your limits are or aren’t.
  • You shouldn’t have to hide who you are.
  • You are allowed to be in pain.
  • You are not worth any less because of a disability.
  • You canbe a hero–your own, and someone else’s.
  • There is hope.

Watch My Little Pony, watch Frozen, watch How to Train Your Dragon, watch Finding Nemo. Watch Wreck-It-Ralph, even. Show these things to your kids. Watch them with your kids. Talk about them afterwards. They are good, and entertaining, and the messages they contain are, for the most part, good ones. Support this media: it is what the next generation sees. This is the world that today’s children are growing up in, and the world that tomorrow’s adults will remember.

Pay attention to it.

Disability in Animation: How to Train Your Dragon 2

Series: Disability in Children’s Animation

Spoiler Warnings: How to Train Your Dragon 2

Trigger/Content Warnings: Loss of limbs. Also, I won’t be talking about it here, but the movie deals with parental abandonment.

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Image Description: How to Train your Dragon theatrical poster. An ensemble shot of Hiccup and his friends, as well as their dragons.

Yesterday I went to see How to Train Your Dragon 2, which is currently in theaters.

I loved it. There were some things about the portrayal of female characters, good and bad, which I want to talk about, but I’m going to save that for a future post. There were also some race things (the villain had significantly darker skin), but again, future post, perhaps once the movie comes out on DVD.

For now, I’m going to talk a little bit about how this franchise has continued to handle disability. But first, a quick, spoiler-free review:

This movie is gorgeous. I am far from an expert on animation, but you could see the pores on people’s faces. They aged their characters beautifully, and the relationships, the romantic ones especially, feel very genuine. The story was interesting, but between the dragons, the people, and the environments, I was really blown away by the visuals. There are some really cool female characters, although they could definitely stand to have more to do. And of course, the protagonist is disabled. For the most part they handle disability well, although there is some ableism surrounding mental disability. The movie also had some problems with racism (the only dark-skinned character in the movie is a villain). Still, I highly recommend that you go see this movie, while it’s still in theaters if possible. Not only is it a great movie which looks amazing on the big screen, but you’ll be supporting one of the few franchises with a disabled protagonist.

Now, let’s look closer at the handling of disabilities (spoilers below):

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Disability in Animation: How to Train Your Dragon

Series: Disability in Children’s Animation

Spoiler Warnings: How to Train Your Dragon. Also some spoilers for the series, Dragons: Riders of Berk, though not specific episodes.

Trigger/Content Warnings: Loss of limbs. Also, I won’t be talking about it here, but if you watch the movie I would warn that things get pretty rough verbally between Hiccup and his Dad. It all works out in the end, but if abandonment is a trigger for you, be aware.

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Image Description: How to Train Your Dragon theatrical poster. Hiccup is reaching out to Toothless the Dragon.

How to Train Your Dragon came out from Dreamworks in 2010, a couple years before Wreck-It Ralph and Frozen. It was based (somewhat loosely) on a book by Cressida Crowell (which I haven’t read, so I can’t comment on it at this point). It had a budget of 165 million dollars and grossed about 494 million worldwide. Not as successful as Frozen, but successful none the less.

In fact, it was successful enough to spawn a series, which finished its second season in March, and a sequel (How to Train Your Dragon 2), which is currently in theaters. The sequel will be the subject of tomorrow’s post.

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Disability in Animation: Frozen

Series: Disability in Children’s Animation

Spoiler Warnings: Frozen

Trigger/Content Warnings: Discussion of depression symptoms and parental neglect

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Frozen. You may have heard of it. You’ve probably even heard one of its songs.

Like Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen is a Walt Disney Animation production. It was released in November of 2013. IMDB estimates its budget at 150 million dollars, with a US gross of 400 million and a total gross of over 1 billion dollars. We are talking about a movie that was successful and popular. Not just popular, but part of the Disney Princess line. These are movies that, with a few exceptions, become part of the cultural consciousness. These are movies that kids grow up with.

Because of this, diversity in these movies is especially important.

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