Diversity Aboveground: Flashback Friday-Juniper Lee

Aug 8, 2015

Juniper Lee in Action

In 2005, an amazing thing happened on children’s television. There were three animated programs with Asian protagonists: Jackie Chan Adventures, American Dragon: Jake Long, and The Life and Times of Juniper Lee. Lee was the first female Asian superhero to have her own show.

Kids WB premiered the Jackie Chan Adventures in 2000 at the height of his popularity. Chan played himself and had live action segments with some of the episodes. His second in command in the series is his niece, Jade. Being twelve, she has a knack for getting in danger but is also key to helping Chan beat the bad guys in many of the episodes.

Its popularity inspired American Dragon: Jake Long on the Disney Channel and The Life and Times of Juniper Lee on Cartoon Network.

Jade, Uncle and Jackie Chan

All three shows are great in different ways although equal in animation quality and scripts. Jackie Chan Adventures was best at using Chinese culture. Yes, that merits a “duh” since Jackie Chan was heavily involved but still. It addressed the fact that Jackie and his American-born niece have very different cultural experiences. She’s “Americanized” and can speak English while he can’t speak it very well. Long and Lee have relatives that speak their native tongue but neither hero can speak it themselves. However, Lee lives in a city based on San Francisco which has a long history of Chinese involvement and culture. The eleven year old also visits family in China. Long lives in Manhattan but Chinatown is not mentioned and most of the culture comes from his grandfather that comes to live with them, but there was an episode or two in Hong Kong.

Lee is extra special because she’s a straight A student in addition to being a magical heroine. She’s President of the Asian Students Association at her middle school and a member of the math club. The budding scientist also wanted to go to space camp and become an astronaut until she found out family obligations made that impossible.

Long is important because of the diversity. While Long and Lee both just have one friend of color other than themselves, Long’s series supports interracial relationships. His father is Caucasian and his crush is also Caucasian. Never is it made to be controversial. The only slight wrinkle is that Rose was raised to kill dragons like Long.

Jake and Rose about to kiss.

Long was the last to stop airing new episodes in September 2007. Since then, Asian protagonists have also starred in Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Legend of Korra and Ni Hao, Kai-Lan except those shows are all over. The only current animated series is Sanjay & Craig. If we extend that outwards to live action, they canceled The Mindy Project so it’s just Fresh off the Boat and The Brink on HBO starring Aasif Mandvi. Where are the Asian protagonists? Why were there more Asian superheroes with their own shows in 2005 than 2015?


Ben Grimm in Yarmulke.

Yes, Fantastic Four has Johnny Storm as an African-American as well as his dad. Yes, the film also tries harder to show Sue Storm as a scientist capable of ass-kicking. However, it also has a shot of a Menorah in Ben Grimm’s bedroom. Does it belong to an ex-girlfriend? Ex-roommate? Maybe he liked it as an aesthetic piece?

Benjamin Jacob Grimm was raised in area of New York that was predominately Jewish His artist, Jack Kirby, always intended him to be Jewish and drew him as such in 1978.

Ben Grimm practices his faith.

Grimm wasn’t confirmed to be Jewish until Fantastic Four #56 in 2002. Preempting the inevitable question towards Marvel, Grimm is criticized in the issue, “All these years in the news, they never mention you’re Jewish. I thought maybe you were ashamed of it a little.”

Grimm replies, “Nah, that ain’t it. Anyone on the internet can find out, if they want. It’s just… I don’t talk it up, is all. Figure there’s enough trouble in this world without people thinkin’ Jews are all monsters like me.”

In August 2006, Grimm had a Bar Mitzvah which he’d never had as a child.

Fox allowing Grimm to be overtly Jewish is a huge step. Kitty Pryde hasn’t worn her Star of David in the films and Erik Lensherr’s Judaism is barely mentioned apart from being a Jewish Holocaust survivor. Then again, the Thing burger at Denny’s includes bacon so not everyone got the memo on Grimm’s religion. Hopefully, the pathetic box office won’t scare away away studios from letting Marvel characters proudly display their heritage.


Sanjay and Hindu gods.

Pixar is going to have its first protagonist of color! Sanjay’s Super Team will be the short shown before The Good Dinosaur in November. It’s conceived and directed by Sanjay Patel as a way of combining his Californian childhood of American culture with being raised Hindu. It also marks the first time that religion, aside from Christmas references, has played a major part in a Pixar production.

The short concerns Sanjay’s Saturday morning cartoons cut short by his father for morning prayers and meditation. His disappointment and boredom causes his brain to imagine the Hindu gods as superheroes and young Sanjay fighting alongside them. When Patel screened the animated film for his father, it caused him to cry.

Kali has never looked cuter.

Along with being an animator for Pixar, Patel has written and illustrated several books and stationary sets on Hindu gods. One of his books is a retelling of Ramayana with over a hundred illustrations in 184 pages


Despite the horrible reviews including Omega Underground‘s own Paul Romano, did you see Fantastic Four?

On one hand, if it does badly, perhaps the rights will return to Marvel and the universes will be allowed to co-exist.

On the other hand, if it does badly, will the studios blame it on racial and religious diversity?

If it did return to Marvel, would that company use it to launch yet another franchise revolving around Caucasians while pushing back Black Panther and Captain Marvel films?

Will Victor von Doom ever be allowed to have his cultural identity as a maltreated Roma?

Next week…why can’t “manly men” be homosexual? Why do Hercules and Daryl Dixon have to be straight?


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