With all of the news of child and teen bullying, I do wonder whether Tim Burton was considering racial stereotypes as he put together the stop-motion animated Frankenweenie.
I was fortunate enough to attend the world premiere of Frankenweenie at Fantastic Fest, and I have to admit that I was shocked at how poorly the Toshiaki character was introduced, portrayed and voiced.
Toshiaki is the sole voiced Asian role, and the character was added apparently to provide an antagonist for our hero Victor Frankenstein and a way to introduce an Asian-themed monster into the movie. Unfortunately all I could consider was how Toshiaki was being so terribly portrayed and how this movie could possibly lead to severe bullying of Asian-American kids because of this portrayal.
1) Toshiaki has narrow eyes which went slanted when he was “plotting” something. He also has a pocket protector (geek stereotype). Visual stereotyping.
2) Toshiaki is portrayed as a genius who wants to be first place in the science fair, something that Victor has determined to do as-well. These two are of-course competitors against each other, and this is obviously the “Model-Minority” stereotype.
3) Toshiaki is the ace baseball pitcher who is indirectly responsible for Sparky’s death. I was OK with him being a star athlete, but again it’s the point he indirectly causes Spark’s death.
4) Toshiaki does not speak in full English sentences. It’s broken pidgin, and the fact that it’s voiced by an adult Asian actor does not make it any less racist. It’s very disturbing.
If the child voice actor Charlie Tahan could do such a great job with Victor, Atticus Shaffer with Edgar ‘E’ Gore, and Robert Capron as Bob, why couldn’t Toshiaki be voiced by a child actor? The answer is likely that a young Asian-American child actor would be unable to listen to voice direction as, “Sound more FOB. Slur those words together. Speak like you can’t really speak English.”
Asian-Americans have fought for years as first and multi-generation immigrants to not be persecuted for real or perceived language barriers in both social and business settings. Why must Tim Burton fail to provide a positive role for his only Asian character in this movie?
I went through Tim Burton’s Directorial records from Pee-Wee all the way to now via IMDB. In 21 movies, there are only 4 Asian roles including Toshiaki, and Toshiaki is the only male Asian role. The three female roles played by Asian-Americans are Ada Tai and Arlene Tai in Big Fish and Foh Shen in Planet of the apes.
Tim Burton has created some excellent films, but this negative characterization of an Asian-American kid did concern me. It really made me worried that young Asian-American children will be stigmatized by such a negative portrayal and will lead to additional unwarranted bullying.