Racist ThunderCats

panthro7

1985. Hollywood animation studio. Executive offices.

“Ted, thanks for coming.”

“A pleasure, Chad.”

“I just wanted you to pop by so I could tell you that the studio and I are really excited about this ThunderCats animation, and I thought that maybe you could talk me through some of the character designs?”

“Chad, it would be my pleasure. I’ve got the pictures right here. So up first we have Lion-O. As you can probably guess, Chad, he’s based on a lion. And what do we think of when we think of lions? Leaders, Chad. Kings of the jungle. So this here is the leader of the ThunderCats – and he’s got a big funky hairdo as well, like a lion’s mane.”

“That’s great.”

“And here we have Tygra. You know the thing about Tigers, Chad? Their stripes help them to blend into the tall grasses where they live, hiding them from their prey. So Tygra can use his whip to make himself invisible; like advanced camouflage.”

“Outstanding.”

“This is Cheetara. I don’t need to tell you, Chad, that the Cheetah is the fastest land mammal. So Cheetara can run at incredible speeds.”

“Sounds awesome, Ted.”

“This here is Panthro. He has the qualities of a black panther, so he’s a big intimidating dude who’s really good at mechanics and fixing things and stuff. Next up are WilyKit and WilyKat…”

“Er… Ted?”

“Yes Chad?”

“Could you run that by me again?”

“Which part?”

“This Panthro fellow. He’s based on a panther?”

“A black panther, exactly, so he’s big with muscles and he’s like this mechanic who’s great with a wrench and pimps the Thunder Tank out with all these weapons and things…”

“Like a panther?”

“Well, panthers are very resourceful, Chad.”

“Uh huh. Why’s he so big?”

“Well, he has the characteristics of a black panther, so…”

“Forgive me, Ted – my knowledge of feline physiology only goes so far – but aren’t Lions bigger than panthers?”

“Uh… they may well be.”

“And in fact, aren’t Tigers bigger and more powerful than lions?”

“I’m not sure I see where you’re going with this, Chad.”

“Maybe I’m overanalysing this a little, Ted, but take a look at Panthro’s nose. You see how it’s large and flat on his face?”

“Like a black panther.”

“Yes, admittedly like a black panther. But you see Lion-O? He has a pointy nose.”

“OK.”

“And so does Tygra.”

“Wow, you’re right.”

“And Cheetara.”

“Can’t argue with that, Chad.”

“Can I ask, who’s the voice actor for Panthro?”

“Earle Hyman.”

“Right…”

“Do you know Earle?”

“I do, Ted. He’s a fine actor. Very distinctive voice; a very African-American voice.”

“We thought he’d be perfect for Panthro.”

“I bet you did. Ted, I’ve got to say… when coming up with this character based, as you say, on a black panther, you seem to have ignored all the “panther” attributes and focussed just on the “black” part.”

“I don’t understand, Chad.”

“All the other ThunderCats are based on the characteristics of big cats. Panthro appears to be based on a guy in South L.A. who fixes your car. What you’ve ended up with is a rather broad racial stereotype. He doesn’t even do panther-type things.”

“I’m sure he drags a carcass up a tree in one episode…”

“Does he really?”

“No. No he doesn’t. Chad, I promise you… the colour thing never entered my mind…”

“Which brings me to my final point, Ted. Lion-O is tan coloured. Like a lion.”

“Yes?”

“Tygra is orange with black stripes, like a tiger.”

“Absolutely.”

“Cheetara is light brown with some spots…”

“…like a cheetah.”

“Like a cheetah, exactly. And Panthro, based on a black panther, is… blue/grey?”

“Well, sure. I mean we wouldn’t want anyone thinking we were being casually racist or anything, would we?”

3 comments

  1. wow! this written exchange made my day! But on the other hand, as sad as it may be, it was a recurrent stereotype portrayed in many cartoons and animated movies… A bad idea that goes way back when someone (probably a white man?) at Disney thought of putting a black man’s voice over a cartooned representation of a crow… Racism? Absolutely! Is it going to happen again? You can bet on it… as long as humans will be humans!

  2. I bet there was such a conversation as this! I haven’t seen the remake on Nickelodeon, but if Panthro is on it I bet they did a major character redesign just to avoid the mistakes of the 1980s.

  3. This was humorously enlightening. As a kid, I was too young watching this to pick up on the bad racial stereotypes. Especially the nose they gave Panthro.

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