Race in The LEGO Movie

The LEGO Movie presents an even odder juxtaposition of the various ways in which LEGO has represented race. In the film, Emmet meets Wyldstyle and her paramour, Batman®. Wyldstyle, like Emmet and the majority of the characters in the film, is molded/rendered in the supposedly racially neutral yellow. But a handful of the characters in the film, including Batman and Shaquille O’Neal, are lifted straight from licensed sets, and these characters, like the real-life minifigures upon which they are based, have flesh-toned heads and hands. Thus, the racially neutral yellow-skinned world of non-licensed sets and the racially specific worlds of licensed sets, which were subversively combined in works like Toyoshima’s comic and “Seven Smiley Samurai,” collide in the officially sanctioned LEGO movie.

The instability of race in the LEGO world becomes even more apparent if we ask some very simple questions about how race functions within The LEGO Movie. Batman is clearly white, and Shaq is clearly black. But what race is Wyldstyle? If she is white, then how are we to understand the difference between the color of her head and hands and those of Batman? If she is not white, then what race is she? Is she Asian, like the ninjas in Toyoshima’s comic and the central figures in “Seven Smiley Samurai”? If so, then so are the majority of characters in The LEGO Movie—including Emmet, who is also clearly meant to be a counterpart of Finn in the (fictional) “real” world, who is white.

Perhaps Wyldstyle lacks race altogether, in keeping with the original intention of minifigures with yellow heads and hands? If so, does this mean that The LEGO Movie takes place in a world where some people belong to races, but some (in fact, most!) do not? If Wyldstyle had (spoiler alert!) stayed with Batman, and they had little LEGO babies, would those babies only have half a race? What color plastic would be used for the babies’ heads and hands?

Of course, on one level these questions are silly: presumably the creators of The LEGO Movie did not intend to make any kind of deep statement about race with their film, and questions about race in the real world are obviously more important than questions about race in the world of LEGO minifigures. But at another level these questions are important, since they help us understand how LEGO’s attempt to create a racially neutral, all-yellow-skinned world ultimately failed, and, more importantly, they remind us that race—both in the world of LEGO minifigures and in the real world we live in— is socially constructed and depends on context, customs, convention, and attitudes.15

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