I love cartoons. I always have and I always will. I love cartoons from all eras, from the old black and white Popeye the Sailorman cartoons, all the way up to the CGI (computer-generated imagery) styled shows such as Star Wars: The Clone Wars. There have been plenty of decades with top-notch shows, but one decade stood out to me as the best at celebrating and educating people on our cultural differences, and that decade is the 1990s.
I enjoy Tom & Jerry and still laugh at them to this day. But they had a character called “Mammy Two-Shoes.” If you don’t know what a Mammy is, take a black studies class and you’ll see that it’s not a flattering caricature. They also consistently used white characters with theatrical black face, red face or yellow face makeup to depict minorities.
Disney has Song of the South and Uncle Remus locked away in its vault, thankfully. Disney also created the crows from Dumbo, who smoked, used slang and had a leader named “Jim Crow.” This film is considered a classic.
Warner Bros. had the Speedy Gonzales cartoons that depicted Latin Americans as lazy, frivolous womanizers.
Cartoons of the ’90s, on the other hand, had a diverse and genuine cast of characters from all backgrounds. They righted the wrongs of old Hanna-Barbera, MGM, Disney and Warner Bros. cartoons and fixed the “corrections” that took place in some ’70s cartoons. While Hanna-Barbera did give us The Harlem Globetrotters cartoon—which was the first to feature a predominately black cast of characters—it also gave us insignificant, stereotypical and token characters like Apache Chief and Black Lightning in Super Friends. It made an entire series about Charlie Chan, whose whole gimmick was a white guy in yellow face pretending to be a Chinese person.
In the ’90s, animators finally got their stuff together and diversity began to mean something other than swapping one character on a show to a darker color palette.
Captain Planet featured characters from all over the world that weren’t just stereotypes.
The Rugrats taught me about Passover and Arthur showcased the difficulties of being a Jewish kid around “Christmas Time.”
Doug made it so that people were literally shown in every color of the rainbow.
Disney made a household name out of Aladdin, a story of an impoverished Middle-Eastern teenager’s rise to power. Aladdin also gave us our first non-white princess, Princess Jasmine. Other non-white princesses included Pocahontas and Mulan and lead to Disney’s first black princess, Princess Tiana from Princess and the Frog in 2009. Another cartoon that started in the 1990s that broke down and continues to break down barriers is South Park. I have watched this show since I was 10. I have seen it turn being handicapped into a cool thing. If you have ever yelled out, “Tiiiiimmaaaay!” or told a Jimmy joke then you can attest to this fact. It flipped the script by naming the black kid on the show Token Black and made him rich and extremely articulate and created Big Gay Al to showcase there is nothing wrong with homosexuality.
The diversity in those ’90s cartoons and the constant line-crossing by South Park are why today’s shows like The Boondocks and Family Guy can show and say as much as they do. That diversity is why little kids can watch Dora the Explorer, Maya & Miguel and Ni Hao, Kai Lan and learn about other cultures. The ’90s took both children’s and adults’ cartoons to the next level, they bridged the gaps started in the 1970s and wiped clean some of the racist faces of the 1930s and 1940s.