Sunday, February 8, 2009

Race and Gender in Coraline

I would like to start out this post by stating that I absolutely loved Coraline, and if you haven't seen it yet I would highly recommend that you do. Everything about it is beautiful, the animation, the storyline, etc. I cannot admit that I am a fan of Neil Gaiman's stories, but I think as movies they are amazing. I admit, I tried to read his Neverwhere and got about halfway through before I gave up. I apologize to any Gaiman fans, but it's just not for me. The whole novel seemed like "HEY, look, it's a world completely different than what you're used to, so WOW, look at all the strange things in it!" I know it doesn't make sense that I enjoy movies based on Gaiman's work, and not have any desire to read the stories they're based on, but something about his style of writing frustrates me. I guess Mieville gave me higher standards--when he describes all the strange things it's nonchalant, like we should already know about these things because we are in the world. More evidence of its reality. But I digress.

Coraline was a beautiful film, and it was awesomely creepy. Stop-motion animation isn't used as often as it should, which is a shame, since the results (when done well) are amazing. Also, being from Michigan, I was thrilled that Coraline was from Pontiac (that's where I was born!) and that the snow globe of the Detroit Zoo fountain played an important role (I've always loved that fountain).

There were some gendered things I couldn't help but notice while watching the movie (that's what feminism does, I guess), like how Coraline made an issue out of how her mother (her real mother) never cooked, and the father did. I found it sort of strange that the child was trying to enforce this gender role, since it's usually the parents that do this, but it's sort of evidence of how society has built these roles that Coraline wishes her parents would obey, mirroring the "perfect family."

The "other" mother is a highly gendered character in that she completely embodies the feminine role as caretaker and homemaker. Contrasting the real world to entice Coraline to stay, the "other" mother was heavily made-up, dressing up in some cases, and even wearing an apron; she also cooked, and offered love to Coraline, nurturing her. Her spies are dolls which she makes. She also made Coraline a new outfit. As if these weren't obvious enough, when the mother transforms, her hands are SEWING NEEDLES. She is the domesticated female. Although, the insect-furniture still baffles me. Maybe she just likes bugs, since she wanted to be unlike the real mother, liking dirt and gardening and rain. And bugs. Giant fucking bugs.

Also, her whole identity is based on being Coraline's "other mother." She provides what Coraline desires, which amounts to what Coraline thinks a mother should provide.

Conversely, Coraline doesn't really try to place her father into traditional roles. She only points out that her mother should do the cooking, which does imply that the father shouldn't, but that's about it. In the real world, both parents are working, typing on computers, hard at work. In the other world, while the mother is cooking, the father is active (this is never explicitly desired by Coraline, but it does occur). He's composing catchy songs honoring his daughter (or is made to), or he's out in the garden working on growing things in Coraline's likeness. Men work outside; women inside.

Now, a brief rant on race. This sort of stems from message boards on Wybie being the only black kid in the movie and how I was disturbed that he (well, the other Wybie) was silenced by the white woman (the other mother). Plus, he's an eccentric kid, catching slugs and racing around on that bike and wearing the freaky helmet. We don't know much about his upbringing, but his posture seems to suggest a shyness, and every time his grandmother hollers for him he's quick to obey.

What struck me as odd, however, is that not many people noticed Wybie's ethnicity until it had been pointed out to them. I mean, we all noticed that Coraline is white, so why are so many people not noticing that Wybie, a dark-skinned character, is black? Maybe it's just me. Maybe it is because Wybie does not embody any sort of overt stereotypes that white people associate with "blackness." Or maybe that it's Wybie can almost pass for white, in that he wears skeleton gloves, and likes to catch slugs, or knows what poison oak is (please note the heavy sarcasm here). Here are some of the comments I found on Wybie:

  • I think Wybie is biracial. His facial features looked white (except his hair, I suppose).
  • I'm sorry, but I didn't think Wybie was black.
  • Uhhh for all you know I could be black. I guess I just don't think about things like that. Not all black people have dread locks and not all people that have dread locks are black.
  • wybie was black??
    i was so condused when his grandma as[sic] black...i totally didnt get that he was...
And this one really struck me:
  • Well...judging from the fact that Coraline had BLUE hair and acknowledged that the doll had BLUE hair like her...its not that much of a stretch that Wybie was a funky looking white kid lol.
I can't help but think that since most of these people were so shocked to discover that Wybie is black that they assumed he was white. So, here's my question to everyone else: if you perceived Wybie to be of another ethnicity, what ethnicity did you assume he was? It was obvious to me that he was black, but maybe that is just me. Let me know in the comments. Also, I was talking to a friend of mine about Wybie, and he said that he didn't realize Wybie was black because he had thin lips. I won't go into the details of my reaction to that statement, but let's just say that I wasn't aware that him being black couldn't be a possibility unless you add full lips to his dark skin.

Overall, the movie Coraline is just beautiful. Go see it. But also be aware of how its gendered. And all the stuff about Wybie (who I actually felt more sympathy toward, rather than Coraline, who was okay for a heroine, but was a bit on the whiny side; I wanted to see more of Wybie). I would love to know what others think.


Anonymous said...

yeah.. i had my tinted glasses on and i also had not thought about wybies race..i did think about it a little when i saw his hair...and its funny because i went to see the movie with my biracial friend ! and we noticed that he was mixed. most people didnt think about it until they saw his grandmother

Krupskaya said...

I'm interested in your description of the movie -- having read the book, I thought the trailers were way too madcap and superficial for the book, and even though it was directed by Henry Selick, my inclination is not to see it. But if I do, I'll watch for the things you point out.

Anonymous said...

I haven't seen the movie yet, but isn't the depiction of the nightmarish "other mother" as being a walking stereotype a suggestion that the more equitable roles of the "real" world are better?

The Magnetic Crow said...

I noticed the blatant pushing of gender roles in the 'other' world, as well.
But as you noted, the 'other' world, while it seems ideal at first, becomes harsher and more frightening as Coraline becomes more involved in it. The mother in a domestic position seems perfect to Coraline at first, and the silent friend who listens to everything she says. But as the movie progresses, it becomes more apparent that Coraline's own autonomy isn't better served by a friend who cannot fully interact with her, or by a mother who seems determined to likewise push Coraline into a submissive role, unsuitable for her personality.

So I'd say it's more a parody of the frequently heard nostalgia for the 50's, domestic women and silent, happy children. Pointing out that such an arrangement is ultimately more damaging that idyllic. Also, the fact that those who wish for this arrangement rarely consider how their own freedoms would be hobbled by it (unless they're white men, in which case they're probably hoping for the freedoms at the expense of all who would be damaged by a return to this norm.)

I also noticed that Wybie was black, and honestly thought it was a good thing. It was great seeing a major character in a mainstream film who was black, and not in a token or stereotyped way. He was just the strange, nerdy, solitary kid who wanted a friend. Perhaps what was confusing people was the fact that his race had nothing to do with his personality or the way other characters treated him.

(p.s., I feel similarly about Neil Gaiman's novels. Try his short stories, though...he's much better at those. 'Smoke and Mirrors' and 'Fragile Things' are two excellent collections.)

FilthyGrandeur said...

i think that since wybie's character didn't reflect his being black, as in his character wasn't about his race, many people just assumed he was white. in the message boards an astounding number of people say they thought he was white until they saw the grandmother, or they thought he was a white kid with a tan.

which, in a strange way is funny to me, because when presented with a character who is not stereotypically a person of color, the audience is left confused, almost unable to process the "phenomenon."

Jelly said...

In the book, it's explained that Coraline's dad likes to do strange experiments with food, when all Coraline wants is a plain chicken soup or something. So that might explain some of her aversion to him cooking.

The other mother makes /everything/ in her world, which I guess would include dolls. Everything other than her is something she created.
She likes eating bugs, which might explain the bug furniture...

And I thought Wybie was Mexican. He actually looked like my brother to me (and he even kind of reminded me of him personality wise)...

Gloria said...

I figured out that Wybie was "not white" right away, but I don't see why that should matter.

I honestly don't think much of dividing people up by race, and since I have non-white friends who are nerdy and/or "non-stereotypical" Wybie's personality wasn't shocking to me at all. *shrugs*

But I don't think we should read much into a movie like this - it's just a story after all, though if it makes us think about things, that's a good thing! : )

annajcook said...

Thought-provoking post! I agree with you that the film was troubling at the same time it was thoroughly worth watching. Having read and enjoyed the book, I was puzzled by some of the ways they chose to change the story -- particularly turning it into much more of a morality tale based on gender than I remember the book being. The other mother / Belle Dame in the book is so clearly an ancient evil being -- even though she preys on Coraline's desires, it doesn't come across as a judgment toward Coraline's actual parents as much as it does in the film.

In passing, having cared for young kids in the past, I'd have to say Coraline's desire for gender-conformity matches my experience to some extent -- at certain developmental ages, children are trying to figure out how the world works -- and they become sticklers for the rules and for being "normal."

Wybie wasn't a character in the book, and I'm a bit puzzled as to why they thought he was necessary. In the book, Coraline and the cat are the central team who defeat the Belle Dame. Having created him, I agree with you that it was nice he wasn't coded "black" or not-white in terms of behavior -- he was just a kid who happened to be darker-skinned than Coraline and her family.

Anonymous said...

The reason for the giant bugs was because the Other Mother was sort-of a spider—remember how when her world started falling apart, the living room turned into a spiderweb?

Amanda said...

I didn't really think of Wybie as black, but I didn't really think of Coraline as white either. I'm not trying to say that I'm some great "race-less" person, but when I'm watching an animated movie, I don't think about it really. The fact that Coraline had blue hair kind of dissolved the race issue for me. It was like watching "Doug." Yes, some people were pale and some weren't, but that didn't have much to do with their characters.

Unknown said...

I thought Wybie was black, but I was confused by his presence, since I (correctly) didn't remember him from the book.

And I found his role kind of disturbing--who names a kid "Whyborn"? How does his grandmother treat him (the way he jumped whenever she called for him suggested fear to me)?

I wasn't really happy about the whole thing being transplanted to the U.S., but I do agree that the enforced gender roles in the other world were a critique. But overall, I think the book was a lot more subtle and nuanced (and I never finished Neverwhere).

Anonymous said...

To M.:
His name was technically Wybourne, I think. It wasn't spelled like "Why born?"
As for his fear of being caught out, he most likely just doesn't want to get grounded, or something along those lines. He seems to like being outside.

FilthyGrandeur said...

i know i cringed every time my grandmother hollered for me to come inside.

as for the insects thing, spiders do eat bugs, but I was wondering about the significance of the insects taking the form of furniture. i didn't read the book; does Gaiman have the insect fetish that Mieville has? don't mistake my asking with disrespect; that's totally cool, man.

Anonymous said...

Wybie wasn't a character in the book, and I'm a bit puzzled as to why they thought he was necessary.

I have the uneasy feeling that Wybie was added because the powers behind the film thought that boys wouldn't watch the movie if it was just Coraline as the lead--the old chestnut that girls will watch "boy" shows and movies, but boys won't watch "girl" movies. Same damn reason that the people who made that recent "I've got a sea-monster in my bathtub" movie (anyone remember the name?) changed the main character into the little brother and demoted the girl into the supporting role, despite the fact that in the original book, the girl was the main character.

Most mainstream movies aimed at children, if they're trying to attract "mainstream" audiences, will have a boy and a girl somewhere in the main roles; never a girl alone, because that'll immediately mark the film as a "girl's movie" and the boys will run screaming from it, lest their penises drop off. */sarcasm*

I'm happy to hear that Wybie seems to be a pretty positive character in regards to race, but as far as gender issues go, I have to admit that I'm not entirely happy with him being in the movie for the above reasons.

FilthyGrandeur said...

while i was watching the movie, i thought that wybie's character seemed under developed. i did not know at the time that he was not a character in the original story, and so i thought in regards to race he was a good addition, but his character almost seemed rushed in regards to gender, like "omg, there's this creepy boy who likes to stalk girls and catch slugs!"

Anonymous said...

I thought it was pretty obvious Wybie was black, and liked that he and the other African American children that you see in town when Coraline's shopping weren't stereotyped.
I read (forget where, so no link - sorry) that they added the character of Wybie to give Coraline someone to talk to, so that she wouldn't be walking around talking to herself. I haven't read the book, so don't know if that's a good reason or their excuse.

notl33t said...

what's really awesome is that wybie's whole family is presented as black in a consistent way. spoilers: his grandmother's sister (the doll that is taken apart in the opening sequence) is definitely black, and his grandmother is definitely black. my wife, who is white, was surprised that wybie was black. i figured that he was black from his hair and dark skin, and the loss of his grand-aunt. he isn't stereotypically black in that he isn't a "magical negro" or someone who's craving chitlins, he's just black.

Anonymous said...

I thought he was bi-racial, but I thought he was black/Mexican not black/white. Don't know why really.


Scarlet Pirate said...

I don't see Coraline wanting her mother to cook as anti-feminist. Her dad did cook really really nasty stuff, and I'd prefer to eat anything else. Also, I think what Coraline was looking for isn't that horrible to ask -- both her parents were so overworked that they didn't have time for her, and socially neglected her. They never had time for her and were always trying to get rid of her. So when the "other mother" acts "domestic," while the representation is a little stereotypical, it wasn't supposed to be "women should be in the kitchen" but just longing for a family that loved her and had time for her. Sure, there are several different family types that could have filled that role, but that was just to move the story along.

Anonymous said...

I admit that I was a little surprised when I saw Wybie's grandmother, and it didn't hit me until then that he was black. Honestly though, I didn't see one shade of difference in his and Coraline's skin tones- maybe that's cause I saw it in 3D and had shaded glasses on? To me, it looked like he was a red-headed kid.

Anonymous said...

Hi. I'm a light-skinned black person. He didnt look black to me on any of the previews, but I did realize it after seeing him on the big screen (his voice and hair gave it away first). There are a few scenes with him and Coraline side-by-side and you can see the difference in skin tone. I am so happy to see a black kid that isnt rapping or dancing or stereotyped some other way. There are plenty of black kids just like Wybie. In my neiborhood, you see a large number out skateboarding with their white friends. I love that they didnt make it obvious. I also love that they made him light-skinned because we come in many, many shades.

FilthyGrandeur said...

exactly! what i find most frustrating about this discussion is all the white people insisting that Wybie is mixed because his skin is light, which may very well be a possibility, but i think we should all understand that light skin is not always attributed to having one white parent.

Anonymous said...

"(anyone remember the name?)"

The Water Horse.

belledame222 said...

Wybie (or the grandmother either) wasn't in the book at all, btw. WHich is also interesting wrt gender, perhaps: they felt they needed to add another human character for her to interact with, I guess, but also: it's a boy. and he saves her a bit, at the very end. At least she did most of the work herself, but it's interesting, that.

in the book, mostly Coraline just wants better food than either real parent makes, and since the "other mother" is the only real creature in her world apart from Coraline (Dad gradually turns into a stuffed mute sad puppet, which is also interesting), it makes sense that she makes the food, i guess. maybe.

belledame222 said...

oops, other people said that, should read all the comments before responding...

and yeah, Powers That Be. can't watch just a girl without a boy -somewhere-, even if it's stop-motion and they're pre-pubescent. sigh.

FilthyGrandeur said...

i get what you're saying. i did not read the book so i'm only going by my viewing of the movie.

M. said...

i just want to say that coraline is so exciting to me because everything, even down to the tiny sweaters and gloves that coraline wears are HAND MADE!!!!

that is all.
though when i see the movie finally i will be able to either disagree (unlikely) or agree (likely especially with the whole other mother thing...)

R.B. said...

I did not notice that Wybie was a POC until I saw the grandmother (and I was relieved to see it wasn't a completely white film, but then disappointed in myself for not noticing that Wybie wasn't white.) It's kind of hard when you're used to seeing everyone as white (and you're white in the first place) and the characters are made of weird stuff anyway (blue hair?) so if his hair looked a little yarny, I just figured that's what the doll is made of.

L Claire said...

I never stopped to think about Wybie's race.. I just watched the movie. The only thing that confused me was his hair. I just thought maybe it was dirty or something. And it was a very minor shock at the end to see he was supposed to be black by looking at his Grandma.. probably because I just didn't think she looked as much like him. I never really thoguht about it. I guess I assumed he was white? Maybe because I am white and sort of see the world with a tint.. it's impossible not to be subjective. particularly when you're watching a kids movie and dont expect to be looking for underlying racial aspects.

two main points:
1. I actually like that it was difficult to discern Wybie's race becasue it shows that it doesn't matter. I didn't even think about it.
2. Maybe the stereotypical white home maker silencing the black boy, if chosen to be looked at that way, also has historical connotations? I mean it is the evil realm where nothing is as it seems, this could just be a deeper layer of that. Interesting, and the more I think about it the more that seems the intent.. but I think its more that things arent as they seem for anyone that's important, not that it's a black boy that's being puppetted. Another reason I'm glad Wybie's race was up in the air: adds that equal footing of being used to everyone.

iamhoops said...

Uh... I don't know how to say this tactfully, but your feminism rant is way off base. Coraline wanted her mom to cook because her dad's cooking sucked and all he cooked were vegetables. In the other world, the other mother has the father totally whipped and everyone basically worships Coraline, a female character. Also, if Coraline wants to go gardening and play in mud and explore, those aren't exactly "traditional female stereotypes". The other mother is a spider, hence the bugs (and the web, and her appearance at the end) She sews and knits and all of that because she's a spider. Spiders make webs, which are kind of like thread. Get the connection? Yeah, no anti-feminism. I know it's disappointing that you're wrong, but seriously, get over it.

FilthyGrandeur said...

you seem to ignore the fact that this is MY interpretation of the movie. you also seem to ignore the feminization of spiders through the exact things you were trying to disprove my point: they weave they knit=spiders are feminine, therefore this only further demonstrates my point of the other mother as an extreme of female domesticity.

also, i will not tolerate any one using the words "feminist" or "feminism" as profanities. yes, i am feminist and that affects my perception of even children's movies, and if no one likes it, don't visit my blog.

iamhoops said...

Oh yessss! You posted my comment AND you argued my point?! Hooray!

First, I want to apologize if I appeared to be using feminism as a profanity. I'm not trying to knock feminism, I just said "feminism rant" because your rant was, well, about feminism.

If I couldn't tell from your Coraline post, your blog list makes it obvious that you are a non-white female. Clearly issues of race and gender are important to you, but does that mean they exist in everything you see? I think you're reading too much into the movie. No one's forcing gender stereotypes down your throat, but people see what they want to see.

I'm a white male (no surprise) who didn't see stereotypical gender roles in Coraline. I saw a strong female character who likes mud, the outdoors, getting dirty, not to mention good food. She's clever and can think on her feet and is good at solving puzzles. She's not afraid of slugs or spider-people made of sewing needles. Coraline is about as un-stereotypical as a female protagonist can get.

I know it's your interpretation, I'm arguing that you're wrong. If you don't like it, screen out my comments.

FilthyGrandeur said...

well, i'll certainly take it as a complement that you assumed non-whiteness in me, but i am in fact a white woman who forces herself to notices racial inequalities.

i do get what you're saying about my interpretation, but you'll notice that my position only focuses on the parents and other parents. i will admit that i found coraline's affinity for mud and exploration quite refreshing, but that's not what i chose to explore in this post. what i did wish to point out, however, is despite coraline's tomboyish qualities, it is still coraline that enforces the gender roles in the other world. you can play in the mud and still think you're mother should could. trust me. i did.

and i won't be so petty as to ignore comments that offer up intelligent arguments, provided that we all maintain a respectful environment.

also, you're right: i do see gender and race in everything. why? because it is in everything.

Anonymous said...

Truthfully, I didn't notice Wybie's ethnicity until I went to see the movie again. Though if I had given it more thought I would have assumed he was of either African American or a mix of African American and Hispanic blood.

He didn't play on any particular black stereotypes that I can think of. I just saw him as Wybie: the 11/12 year old goofball neighbor that acted the way a young boy in a situation like his would. (Which is why I adore him. I find him to be one of the most realitic characters of all time, even if he is a stop-motion puppet.)

In any case, the fact Wybie doesn't play on any particular black stereotypes, with exception to the hair, nose and skin which would be silly to make a case against as a majority of black people share those traits, is just a choice the person who created Wybie made.
I mean, I'm sorta going off on a tangent here, but stereotypes get started for a reason: they're based on one form of truth or another (though I admit some stereotypes are ridiculously blown out of proportion). While I find Wybie to be a non-stereotype, it would have been okay if was stereotyped to a degree. Stereotypes are racist to me when they start negatively portraying a race as a whole, which can also be conceived that way when there is, let's say only one character who is heavily based on stereotypes without another to compare the character to, whether the creator means it or not.
I find using stereotypes like cartoon violence. It's okay until it starts getting mean. There's nothing wrong with expressing ethnicity in a character through characteristics or physical features that are associated with such race to create a genuine character.

To respond to the Other Mother silencing Wybie representing possible racism comment, I don't think that was an intentional thing or all. It's a matter of how you look at it. It is, absolutely racist when you look at it the way you do (And I could see the producer going uh oh when he realized the possible implication). But then again, the way I see it, the Other Mother silences Wybie because though he was created, like the Other Father, to love and appreciate Coraline, he jeopardizes the Other Mother's chance of keeping Coraline in her world. He, without a doubt, would have told Coraline of the Other Mother's plan if he were able to talk. You also have to keep in mind the Other Mother fulfills every wish of her prey in order to lure them in. If you recall, one of Coraline's desires, which is fulfilled, is to have a less talkative Wybie who seems to blather on relentlessly to her.

My sincerest apologies if I'm contridicting myself this way in that, put words into your mouth, and/or sound completely ignorant. Hopefully, I've articulated a decent chunk of my thoughts.

FilthyGrandeur said...

i think you're mistaken on wybie's character needing to be stereotyped, especially since you're argument about stereotypes indicates that you think stereotypes represent an entire race. well, this may come as a shock to you but not all black people like rap music or play basketball, not all arabs are "terrorists," and not all white people smoke pot and listen to led zeppelin. therefore, i agree with the movie's portrayal of wybie. why should he have become a walking token of stereotypical blackness just so the white audience realize that's not a tan.

and i know WHY the other mother silences wybie. i watched the movie just like everyone else. i don't need it explained to me. what i am saying, however, is the deeper meaning of him being silenced by the white other mother.

Anonymous said...

(I'm thinking here, so I'm changing thoughts and opinions around which might contradict with my other post. Thank you for putting up with me! :) )

Oh no no! I didn't mean that Wybie should have been stereotyped in a certain way that amplifies a cultural stereotype that Americans commonly recognize. I rather think it would have detracted from his character if he was.
I suppose I'm trying to say, and I mean I'm flubbering here as I do have a bit of a difficult time articulating my thoughts in the proper way so I can agree/disagree with you at the same time, is that a stereotype is a generalization and there is partial truth in stereotypes. Of course I know not all races "do this" or "look like that", but some stereotypes hold truth depending on where and when the person is and can, but not always, apply.
Depending on how they are used, can be incredibly offensive, or incredibly brilliant.
But judging a whole race by one stereotype is stupid and is completely ignorant. I understand that.

The way I'm thinking is that in a broad sense, people are all made up of stereotypes that get more personal and personal as you narrow down from physical features to traits.
I go to a school designed that caters to the arts and we're all divided by our discipline, and with that division certain stereotypes get started. (I'm disregarding race at this point.)

For example, or rather from my obsevation, half the kids in the Tech department, smoke a lot of weed, only do what they need to do in order to pass, and are regarded as the group where anyone who doesn't get into the art they originally applied for go. (This I know to be fairly untrue as I know a few of the good kids who don't fit in to those stereotypes at all. However, their good deeds aren't enough to give Tech back a good reputation.)

The Writing department are all intelligent, some-what whiny and a bit snooty, but in general, happy and fun to be with kids.

The kids in the Dance department are energetic, fit people who never slack off.
Of course, there are the exceptions. But in any case, I mean to say, that we all get stereotyped but it doesn't always apply to everyone nor does it always have to portray the negative aspects.
Er, do you get what I'm saying or do I have to give this another shot? I can't tell if I'm getting somewhere or jogging back into the same circle.

But is there a deeper meaning behind Wybie's silencing? Like I said, I can see how you can perceive it as that way, but do you really think it's trying to send off that particular message?

FilthyGrandeur said...

i do get what you're saying. thank you for clearing it up. you don't know how sick i am of hearing people say, well, wybie should have acted black, and i find i'm tired of my anger over this.

i did laugh at your explanation with the school, since i had noticed something like that at my small college. i actually hated everyone in my writing department, since most of them were girly girls writing about snowflakes and their grandma's dying (i'm very sorry, but unless you make it stand out from other cookie-baking grannies, i don't want to read your poem about it). so i made a lot of friends with art and music students, since they were more, i dunno, hip? plus a lot of them shared similar beliefs that none of the other writers shared with me.

as for the silencing of wybie, it doesn't matter if that was not the intent, but that is how it appears. the other mother is white, meaning she has unearned white privilege, which she asserts over wybie in his silencing. yes, i know, this is what the story or the movie called for, but the deeper implications of race, whether intended or not, shows a white woman silencing a young black male. many will argue that this was not the intent, but intent does not always match how something is received:
we have a history in this country of having white privilege over people of color, and a history where black men were silenced to protect the "honor" of a white woman, so i do not think it is much of a leap to see how this history is evident in the movie. sure, many will argue that wybie's character just happened to be black, and she would have silenced him anyway if he was white; but, like the delonas cartoon, these things are not reversed. the fact remains that wybie is black, the other mother is white, and with this history there is racial significance to that moment in the movie.

i think it's also important to notice that with wybie's silencing he then becomes coraline's plaything, meaning that he's just an object to serve her, entertain her, protect her. he is her servant. now, tell me that doesn't bring up some past images?

perhaps i should have included this in the actual post?

Anonymous said...

Hello Grandeur,

I found this link on Macon D's blog. I'm going to post even though I haven't seen the movie but thought about seeing it a when it first came out. Anyway, just by reading the comments, Wybie WAS sort of presented in a stereotypical way through the use of his grandmother. The fact of his off screen grandmother always calling his name that sent shivers down his spine seems pretty much like a black American cultural relic. I'm always amused when I listen to other black people or watch movies (Madea anyone) describe this woman who was quick to beat you with a stick or likes to scare kids into submission. My grandmother was nothing like that and in fact is also called Madear, but with an R. So in conclusion, just from the comments, Wybie's family was presented in a stereotypically manner.

On another topic, I've been reading the Stephenie Meyer Twilight series and I've noticed how white/pale skin is elevated to the highest standard of beauty in her books. I'm on the fourth one and so far the darkest complected persons are olive toned and live in Italy.

While they haven't explicitly stated that darker skin isn't beautiful, you kind of get that sense since the main character, Bella is always praising how beautiful her vampire cohorts are. I just wanted to know your take and if you have read the books.

FilthyGrandeur said...

thanks for reading.

i have not read the twilight series, and in fact never will. as far as i'm concerned there is only one vampire novel: Dracula. try it; it's amazing.

anyway, you do make an interesting point about light-skinned complexions=beauty. if you've seen any disney movie, you'll notice how the hero is always lighter than the bad guy, and darker than the lady or princess or whatever. but disney is well-known for its racism.

conversely, outside of movies or cartoons, you'll notice there's some weird pressure on white people to have at least a little bit of a tan (a pressure i refuse to give into even though there are times when my own family is policing my skin-tone); i've also noticed how for non-whites there's this pressure to be lighter-skinned.

i'm not sure what it is about wybie's grandmother; most people admit not knowing wybie was black until the grandmother made an appearance, while others say they knew she was black as soon as they heard her calling for wybie. so i wonder if there was a significant difference between wybie and his grandmother for it to be such a "shock" finding out they were black?

bibliophibian said...

my major issues with the coraline film were less with race and more with the weakening of coraline as a character. i can understand some of the choices they made in translating her from book to film -- she needs clues to speed the plot along, she needs a friend to talk to because we can't ride along in her thoughts -- but why change the ending? really? i don't see any argument for rescue-by-wybie being necessary from a plot-interest standpoint. coraline in the book plans out the other mother's demise and executes her plan flawlessly. coraline in the movie has no plan, freaks out, and needs to be rescued by a boy on a dirt bike. both are cinematically exciting, but one is true to the character and the other turns her into a typical movie girl whose pluck gets her into trouble that a boy must get her out of. i was really disappointed by that turn of events.

Jenny said...

i loved coraline, (i saw it yesterday when it just came out, but i live in England and it takes ages to get over here) and i have to say i didnt notice wybies race at all, seeing as to me he just looked slightly tanned with wild curly hair (seeing as coraline has blue hair, i just thought it was the idea for eccentric hairstyles)(p.s i had those 3d glasses on so i everyone seemed too have the same skin tone.)i also dont see why it matters about the other mother being white and silencing the darker skinned kid. she would have done it to anybody no matter what, and it doesnt matter what his skin tone is, and isnt being racist. coraline probably just wants her mum to cook because her dad is rubbish at cooking. Also, this is a CHILDRENS film( even if it is dark and disturbing), so dont look too much into it. i think the ppl who made the film didnt want an all white cast.

APGifts said...


A comment on the term
of ‘Light Skin Black’ :D.

It is often a surprise for people
to learn that, in reality, there
is actually No Such Thing As a
'Light Skinned Black" person.

The term "Light Skinned Black"
is really nothing more than a
racist oxymoron that was created
by racial supremacists in an
effort to forcibly deny those
Mixed-Race individuals, who
are of a Multi-Generational
Multiracially-Mixed (MGM-Mixed)
Lineage, the right to fully
embrace and to also received
public support in choosing to
acknowledge the truth regarding
their full ancestral heritage.

The people who have been slapped
with the oxymoronic misnomer and
also false label of "Light Skinned
Black" person are simply Mixed-Race
people -- whose family have been
continually Mixed-Race throughout
their multiple generations.

For more information on
MGM-Mixed lineage, feel free
to view the information at the
found at the links listed below:



-- AP (


Shani said...

Me and my friend Jodie knew STRAIGHT away that Wyborn was bi-racial, you can tell from his Skin Tone and his Hair that he is! ;) And then we saw his black Grandmother, but we already knew we were right, I thought there was a bit of chemistry between Coraline & Wyborn, but then, maybe that's just me :S

KevinSano said...

I didn't think of anyone's ethnicity until I heard Gramma's voice in the end... I'm kinda race-blind that way :P

Anonymous said...

i think wybie is bi-racial too, i guess...
in a deleted scene, coraline was telling wybie about the ghost kids, and said: "wait... your grandma is black, right?" and he said:"err...yeah..." so i actually have no idea. xD
actually i'd like to see more wybie too! but he was made just so coraline won't be talking with herself, that's all. but i found him lovely. :3

Anonymous said...

So, how did Wybie's grandmother actually get her hands on the Coraline doll?

Anonymous said...

I thought that Wybie was Hispanic at first, but upon seeing that his grandmother was black, I thought he was bi-racial, since his skin wasn't very dark. Just my opinion, and pardon me if that seems racist, I don't mean to be. :)
Sorry, but I don't really agree with your gender theory. Coraline simply wants her mother to cook because her father makes exotic and new things, which she doesn't like. This was more stressed in the book, though.
One more thing, someone asked about this - I think Wybie's grandmother got the doll by finding it in the Pink Palace after her sister was taken by the other mother.
Sorry about having such a long comment, but those are just my thoughts! LOL ;D

Lenore said...

The above comment was made by me & I'd just like to add a few things. (Sorry! I know that comment was already long.)
Perhaps Wybie's grandma found the doll when it looked like her sister, and then the Other Mother stole it back, changed it to Coraline (in the beginning of the movie, the doll has darker skin & hair), and sent it back to the grandmother's house so Wybie would find it and give it to Coraline (the Other Mother seems clever like that).
I'd also like to add to my gender theory comment. (Sorry, again, for not totally agreeing with you.) In the Other World, I DO agree that it seems that the mother is the one doing to household work while the man does "more important" work and works outside, in the garden. I'm not really sure what to say about that... I guess I agree that the message isn't great, but I don't really think it's sexist or anything. In my humble opinion.
I'm trying to think if there is anything else I want to say so I don't keep adding comments and wasting space with them...
Wybie wasn't in the book, and I agree with the person who said (anonymous post) that they're not sure why he's even there. In the book, Coraline lured the hand into the well by setting up a picnic-tea-party on top of it (the well), with the key in the middle of the blanket. In my opinion, lots of movies make the characters a lot less clever than they are in the book. Like in the movie based off of Lemony Snicket's "A Series of Unfortunate Events". ... Pardon me for babbling. :)
Well, it seems that many people share my opinion that Wybie's probably bi-racial, but since you never see his parents, you can't be sure. And I don't know why everyone seems to think his hair was a factor to his "non-white" race - to me it just looked frizzy. Did I miss something?
As for the bug thing, I don't remember it being mentioned in the book (except for the edible bugs), but I could be wrong. I read it months ago.
One question - why was Wybie's posture so horrible? It really annoyed me that his neck was always horizontal. :P
Oh, one more question (sorry)...Did anyone else besides me expect Wybie & Coraline to kiss?
And I apologize in advance in case I make any more long comments here! I think I said all I needed to say, but one can never be sure. :) This seems to be (one of?) the most commented-on pages on this blog. Good for you! :D

Anonymous said...

Here via your link in Shakesville's most recent Fat Princess post. (The irony does not escape me here.)

I cannot begin to tell you how much I appreciate the fact that you have written this. Not only do I also find that Gaiman's solo work does nothing in particular for me (finally, I am not alone!), I was shocked to see the number of people on my LJ f'list complaining about Wybie.

I personally preferred the movie adaptation to the book, and Wybie was one of those reasons. While the fact that [SPOILER] he's the one that gets rid of the hand in the end remains, [/SPOILER] I can't fault the person who made the decision to include him for doing that. After how heroic in general Coraline got to be for the rest of the movie, it's amazing that people are going to complain about a character of color being even slightly heroic with the excuse that it erases feminist messages.

The fact that, apparently, some people just don't notice that Wybie's black (which is also mind-boggling to me) somewhat explains the "it's anti-feminist!!1!one!" outcry to me, though I certainly don't think it's much of an excuse.

FilthyGrandeur said...


while i'm sort of like "why did a boy have to save her" it's overrided by "yay! non-stereotypical non-white kid is a good friend!" i haven't read the book, but i thought wybie was an interesting character to add. and yeah, his little bit of helpfulness at the end certainly doesn't undo Coraline's obvious displays of bravery and adventurousness throughout the film. my mind is also boggled that people are still surprised by this (apparent) revelation of Wybie's race.

UneFemmePlusCourageuse said...

Like a few other people, I saw Coraline in 3D which made Wybie's skin tone far less apparent. Honestly, he reminded me so much of someone I used to know, in the wildness of his hair and his voice and his goofy mannerisms, that I was too weirded out to think about his race.

Whiner said...

I didn't recognise Wybie as black because his skin wasn't very dark - also his personality reminded me of an ex-boyfriend of mine with long tangled light-brown curly hair, which probably flavored how I saw Wybie's hair.

The ghost girl, I did quickly recognise as black, but it seemed that she still wasn't colored very darkly. After that I began wondering about Wybie and whether I'd simply missed the clues. (I wasn't sure at that point WHICH ghost girl was meant to be his relative)

I ended the film still uncertain whether he was meant to be black or biracial. The latter would seem to make sense from the faint hints of his backstory, but neither would surprise me.

CoralineFan said...

Firstly, great analysis guys! Here's my 2 cents worth:

1. I liked how Wybie wasn't stereotyped; like many others, I didn't realise his ethnicity til the very end of the film

2. I also liked Wybie's name, as if it was posing some existential question, e.g. what's the meaning of life? Could someone else flesh this out more fully/offer some other explanation? I'd be interested.

3. I saw 'Signs' the day before Coraline, and I have to say, the latter is way scarier and 100 times more enjoyable & meaningful!

Golde said...

Well personally I don't like how main stream movies are quick to use light skinned blacks before the darker ones. This wouldn't have even been an issue had he just been a tinge darker. I didn't know he was black because there was nothing that showed me that he was black. Not in his voice (could have been deeper) or his looks or in his skin. It's like they tried to have black characters without making it too obvious. Either that or they thought actually adding common black trademarks would be too much. "Lips are too plump. Skin is too dark. Speech too lazy." I was only able to tell the black ghost was black because of her thicker lips and her voice (it was deeper than the others). I don't know about you but I wasn't offended.

But, at the same time, people are hard to please. Had he possessed traits that blatantly threw out to the audience that he was black, people would have labeled it racist. "Why does he look like that? Why does he talk like that? Why does he walk like that?" On the opposite end of the spectrum, he's black but doesn't abide by any traditional rules of 'blackness' and we still have people complaining (not that the OP is of course).

I personally noticed the black ghost and was immediately thrilled. And then I was doubly happy when I noticed Wybie and his grandmother were as well. I like to see diversity in movies. I just wish they made it more obvious. Having dark skin isn't a bad thing. It's nice that hollywood is including non-whites more but it'd be nicer if they made more of an effort to include darker people. Or better yet, made non-white people the MAIN CHARACTERS in a film with a mostly white cast where the movie itself is NOT about race. A lot of times, skin color is out of ones control during the casting process but this is an animation and the people in charge could have chosen to make him darker but they specifically chose not to. My personal question is why?

Btw, noticing (or not noticing) different races doesn't make you a racist. Having a problem with it does.

APGifts said...


We should all try to remember the
AS A so-called 'LIGHT SKIN BLACK'.

The term of 'Light Skinned Black /
Light Skin Black' is just a racist
oxymoron that was created by racial
supremacists in an attempt to try
to forcibly deny those Mixed-Race
people who are of an MGM-Mixed
lineage their right to publicly
acknowledge and embrace the
fact of their fully and continually
racially-admixed ancestral lineage.

[[MGM-Mixed = Multi-Generational Multiracially-Mixed]];_ylt=AjwuxYj8agKY7yGgqaJ7i.Xty6IX?qid=20070704121228AA7ZMsA&show=7#profile-info-ezQwEaJLaa;=13;=14


Anonymous said...

They did not mention it in the movie but Wybie's posture is probaly due to scoliosis.

Anonymous said...

Does it really matter? I think that is a ridiculous thing to point out and moan about. To be completely honest there are only 3 reasons i realised he is black:
1 - One of the deleted scenes shows Coraline asking Wybie of 'his Grandma's black?'
2 - At the end of the film, you see his black grandma.
3 - Wybie is voiced by Robert Bailey Jnr

Another point...if you say it's so bad that people don't realise that Wybie is black, does that mean you get the hump when people don't notice, or say out loud, that Bobinsky is blue? Is that a racial issue? Cos not all blue people speak Russian and have long mustaches and train mice to jump...Jesus Christ!

Ashley said...

i found these comments really useful as i am doing my dissertation on gender in Alice in Wonderland and Coraline

also to give my ten 'pence'
the gender issue is a two sided one and can be read both ways, the most important thing to me was the inclusion of Whybie but the whole 'giving coraline someone to talk to' idea could be a reason

with regards to whybie's race i really do not think it matters, maybe there is a equality issue as to why he is black but it has relation to the film/text and as such does not matter..


Anonymous said...

hi i loved reading everyones comments im a 14 yr old girl that thought that i would find a picture of the awsome whybie and search on google and when i visited imagine my surprize to see a blog about him(no i didnt squeal its 1:47)i read all of the comments and decided to add to it and say that i grew up learning that the color of your skin does not determine who you are and that i think the other mother cooking was because the real father was a realy bad cook nothing more nothing less and im sorry if i have in some way offended someone or if i seem shortminded

Anonymous said...

hey its me again i forgot to meation on thing in my last post all i saw when i looked at whybe was a shy nerdy boy who needed a freind also what happened to his parents annyone know(hopeing that this and the othe post get approved ofcorse)ps i forgot what name i put it under so im gues ing alice but it should be a miniute or two before bye again

Anonymous said...

Hi again I just wanted to mention Tori and Alice are the same person sorry

Anonymous said...

Concerning Wybie's race, I noticed he was black. He could be black or bi-racial. No one could be sure.

Some comments seem to imply that to be fully black his skin should have been darker. Yes, because all black people have dark skin and light black people MUST be mixed with another race. BLEH.

Anonymous said...

oh yes, as for Wybie's grandma calling him all the time...

I'm thought it had something to do with being scared of him going into the house because she feared he would suffer the same fate as her sister.