This isn't a topic anyone from the MHWiki will be surprised to see me write about, but for anyone else: yes, this is important to me and I hope that can be respected. I know how the MH crowd thinks of this and how the EAH-only crowd feels about this I suppose I'll know soon. I request that if you would have the urge to comment on what I'm about to write with anything along the lines of "Purple or green, we're all human," that you don't. It'll do us both a favor.
I don't know if anyone of you has noticed the controversy surrounding Disney's Frozen, but in summary it comes down to anger over the fact that in 2009, 86 years after the company was founded, 72 years after Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and 17 years after Aladdin, the first black character was added to the princess line-up, which apparently within four years time had to be compensated by the addition of four more white princesses. Just to be clear, "black" is not the keyword here. That identity is for "white". As in, the amount of white Disney princesses/heroines (and princes/heroes) compared to the number of POC ones is ridiculous. And that's leaving out how the white characters tend to get preferential treatment over the POC ones.
Though Disney certainly is the biggest player on the fairytale (and similar types of stories) market, this isn't a practice unique to Disney. The easiest example right now is how the current competitor franchises, Once Upon a Zombie and Fairy Tale High, have absolutely no POC characters in the initial line-ups. Once Upon a Zombie has a few planned, true, but we're talking three here (and I'm not sure I'm digging Aladdin's skin color and, OMH, they're Disney-"classy" enough to throw in Matoaka) vs. over twenty white characters.
When Ever After High was first hinted at, I told myself I'd only stick around if Mattel would prove to have learned a lesson from Monster High about diversity and be better about creating a fairytale world does not represent only a very small portion of the world's population.
Mattel has passed the test, though not at all with an A+ score. I have a lot of problems with the factor of race as played out in EAH and I'd like to put it in words here.
The primary "could you not" of the franchise is the diversity of the Rebels vs the Royals. Confession: I may do my very best to defend the Royals when I think they're unfairly or one-dimensionally interpreted, but I am completely incapable to take them seriously as a party that has any value compared to the Rebels. Firstly, there's the matter of convention. It's been a mild if longstanding practice in toy-based entertainment featuring opposing groups that the hero group is racially diverse (if tokenistically) and the villain group all or heavily predominantly white (for a variety of reasons that range from "no" to "very no"). Some examples would be Jem and Winx. It's not anything exact, but if this distinction can be made, the scales are at set places.
Mattel knows this, so what does it mean for their own idea of Royal value? Of course, due to the nature of the franchise the diversity balance convention crosses with the "all princesses are white unless they are exotic"-principle, which Mattel has frustratingly chosen to play 90% straight. And heck, the only POC princess at this point is having serious Rebel sympathies.
And the result of this is that the Royals, made up mostly of royals, are this faction that has the systemic power and "just so happens" to be, essentially, all-white. While the Rebels, as any rebel group worth its weight in fiction, is a blend (of mainly commoners). We've got African-European Cedar, East Asian Cerise, can-go-a-number-of-ways Hunter, and even if she's white, there's something to say for Raven in terms of shadeist preferences that conventionally place the white girl with black hair as the mean/evil one (Ravenwaves, Mandy, Mitzi, Bianca, etc.) to differentiate her as much from the Fair Maiden With Blonde Hair And Blue Eyes without taking the step that would make the racial intent undeniable.
Mind, out of "fear" of how Mattel wants to continue the story, I'm not so much interested in discrediting the Royals because they're a highly creepy bunch as that Mattel will make them diverse too. I have high hopes for the girl in blue, though she alone won't nearly be enough to help Briar out. Even adding BP to the Royal line-up wouldn't be enough, and then we'd be through all the currently confirmed POC characters.
New POC characters, for that matter, should include non-European tales, because there's a wealth of beautiful stories hardly consulted in Western media. But many POCs are part of the Western world too and we've grown up on Western stories. It rather hurts me that the people of my country are always portrayed (by USA fiction primarily) as blonde and blue-eyed, when that's by far not the only kind of people we've got walking around, or historically had. That's why it is important for Mattel to reseve some of those European tales for POC and not just the secondary ones. The POC characters so far are good, being tied to iconic fairytales and all, but they're not numerous enough, not well-spread, and could do with a better regional balance.
So that's issue #1 I have with the way Mattel handled race in EAH. Much better than the competition, but far from anything that I would dare suggest any POC friends looking for fairytale adaptions that consider them human too. And it has a very negative effect on the way the story is to be interpreted. Heck, it even as a negative effect on its sister franchise Monster High. Because that franchise has been doing amazingly this year in upping the amount of POC(-positive) characters, so its weird Ever After High doesn't try to be more like it. The two messages this leads to, is that either Mattel means to say that POC are fit for horror context but not for (modern) fairytale context, or that any interpretation of POCness in the Monster High characters that aren't explicitly marketed that way is incorrect. Both are not exactly amusing to me.
Issue #2 of race representation in Ever After High centers on Briar and the awful treatment she's gotten so far. I haven't read the book, so my analysis does not cover that and I don't know if it changes anything. Though stuff here and there suggests it doesn't.
In fiction, if a female character is the central figure, often she is white and has a WOC best friend hanging around her to support her throughout whatever she goes through, though she'll rarely return the favor. Recent examples of this include Julie and Claire (Motorcity) and Draculaura and Clawdeen (at least prior to 2013). Or in case of a supposedly equal multi-racial group of girls, you'll find the white one somehow centralized and made "the better one" within her own group. It's not a coincidence that the white Brat is nicknamed "Angel" and that she in-fiction introduced the halo to the Bratz logo.
In Ever After High, the central white girl is Apple and her WOC bestie is Briar. Sorry Apple fans, but Apple is a leech in relation to Briar. Like, in the cartoon, Apple starts out pointedly ignoring the differences between her and her supposed best friend with the whole
"Briar, it's not about the party. This is destiny! Future Queen! We can't let anyone post embarrassing pictures on my chapter."
"Hey, daughter of Sleeping Beauty. If I'm gonna be catching Zs for a hundred years, I gotta live it up now. Besides, no one would post embarassing pictures of you. Everybody loves you!"
dialogue, while Briar actually tries to put Apple's feelings at ease.
Furthermore, Briar helps Apple with the whole getting-the-room-set-up-for-Raven deal, which she is "thanked" for by Apple with the sudden message that Raven may not know she helped her (seriously, why?) and Briar is, well, admittedly she wasn't specifically forced to jump out of the window, but she was pressured into a spot where she was not allowed to "be" within the room anymore.
In the diaries, Briar wants to investigate if Cerise could be the one planning to ruin Legacy Day. Briar plans to escape class to go after her target, but finds that Ms. White Queen was just so mean to Apple that she can't leave her alone in class and takes her along. Now, yes, this was a bad idea, but the crux here is that Briar thought of Apple and wanted to help her. She didn't push her to it either, just offered it. And even when they are caught, her main concern is Apple's feelings (even though Headmaster Grimm was many times more condescending to Briar than he was to Apple), while Apple's diary does not even acknowledge Briar's existence past the split-up.
In all, Briar spends a good amount of time caring for Apple, while the 100% absence of the reverse is treated like it's everyday business. Their entire interaction so far fits the trope of the POC girl as handmaiden of the white girl to a T. Heck, during the introductions of "The World of Ever After High", Briar is the only one identified by what she means to another character. It even takes precedence over her name. Compare the way Raven and Maddie are played out, in which Maddie is allowed to fully be her own character and get aid from Raven a number of times. With Briar, all I'm left to think is how she needs to get away from Apple ASAP because Apple's not healthy company.
As far as other characters are concerned, Daring is a self-centered jock, but he's behaved charmingly to Apple, Blondie, and Cerise. Briar, however, he dumped on the ground the moment he realized he'd somehow caught her. Now, Cerise may be East Asian, but having one WOC incidentally treated right by a character that participates in a system of mistreatment of another WOC does not negate anything.
And then there's the big test webisode, in which Briar offers to tutor her fellow students but falls asleep. It's understandable that her fellow students panic and try to get her to wake up, but in this they never treat her as more than an escape from Rumpelstiltskin’s grasp. You may notice that Briar is never thanked either in the webisode. The closest to it is the high-five with Dexter, but that's a symbol of equality rather than one that expresses that one character owes the other big time.
Hopper, for all his incompetence, is the only element in Ever After High that prioritizes Briar. And that is not acceptable for A.) the sole primary POC, B.) the only POC Royal, and C.) the only POC royal. I very strongly need Mattel to start treating Briar as a person who is loved, cared for, and respected rather than what's going on now. As a bonus, it'd likely improve my opinion of Apple.
Issue #3 I find worth as a subject on its own to pay attention to is the hair politics of Ever After High. It's a lot more subtle than the first two matters, but still one.
It starts with Apple's hair color. Remember all up above that I essentially said it took Disney 65 years to introduce a POC princess/heroine? I know that Disney's Snow White prior to 1992 functioned as an approximate POC for many girls, because her black hair and brown eyes at least leaned towards POC representation. Aesthetically, I like Apple's design, but knowing the difficulty for POC girls to find Disney princesses that fit them it's highly disappointing that "Snow White" was chosen as a main character in combination with a redesign firmly away from POCness.
But that's only disappointing. What actually is infuriating is that Mattel has the nerve to make Apple "bullied" for being a blonde and ask its audience pity for this "flaw" she can't help. I remember very well when I was little and wanted to be this ideal of white beauty I was constantly bombarded with, all the while desperately searching for some story that would tell me I was worth something too. I'm half-white, but the consistent absense of appreciation for the part that is not is what made it stand out and thereby only more painful. I know many, many other girls (and boys, and women, and men) who aren't (fully) white (or heavily removed from the ideal of white) struggle with this message of "not-worth-as-much". I would take it as an insult that Mattel had the nerve to essentially play a fictional reversed-pain scenario while indulging in all the things that attribute to real pain, but I find that "insult" doesn't cover just how bad this is.
Speaking of blonde hair, one of my favorite Briar moments probably wasn't written-in intentionally. In the diaries, Briar expresses annoyance at Blondie's insistence that "Only a princess could have gorgeous golden curls like mine." Within a context in which Briar is the only POC royal, blonde hair gets the full white-only treatment, and most her peers are blond(e), it's rather difficult not to interpret Briar's reaction racially. Which would be fine writing except for the way it first requires a diversity balance among the royals that is backwards and messed-up.
Thirdly, to those who've seen the Secret Hearts Diary, one of the requirements listed for Princessology is "silky, smooth hair". I'm not even sure what to say to that, because that's kind of flabberghastingly straight up racist. It reinforces the diversity imbalance between royals and commoners as having an in-universe racist component. I didn't sign up for that.
tl;dr There's a lot about EAH that I'm not happy with nor understand why Mattel did it in the first place. It's better than the competition, but that doesn't actually make it good. Though change always comes too late, it's what I'm hoping for now. I don't want to wait another three years to see core POC characters finally be treated right.
And at this point, the user base may share its thoughts. I'll repeat my request that those who aren't fit for this kind of discussion (ie, if you're angry right now you likely aren't fit for it) refrain from commenting.