independant anime

How a black anime director deals with cultural appropriation

LeSean Thomas is one of the most unique anime creators working today. Born in the South Bronx projects, his talent for storyboarding propelled him to success in America (Black Dynamite, The Boondocks), South Korea (Legend of Korra), and Japan (Cannon Busters). Now, he is collaborating with anime streaming service Crunchyroll on an independent anime project, Children of Ether

At Anime Boston, LeSean Thomas gave the floor to attendees for a Q&A session. Here’s what he had to say. 

Q: Did you have to learn Japanese to make anime?

A: I only know English, bad English, and a little Korean I picked up living in Seoul. I don’t know Japanese. I’m working with Satelight on Cannon Busters, which has a lot of English speaking staff. This is not a traditional Japanese studio. At another studio, I may have needed to commission a translator.

Q: Can you tell us about Children of Ether?

A: It’s a mix between Escape From New York and The Warriors. It takes place in a dystopian city that’s falling apart. After Rhonda Vega, the daughter of an important person accidentally kills somebody with a mysterious power inside her, aether, she starts to uncover the truth.

Rhonda Vega is Afro-Latina. I gave her that name so she sounds racially ambiguous.

Q: You’ve said before that only a creator can bring out representation by creating POC characters. Do you intentionally create characters of color?

A: I didn’t start drawing black characters until I was 20. It took a while before I reached that point in my career where I wanted to see myself in the media I was creating. It didn’t really dawn on me that all I was drawing were white characters before then. I’m sure white creators feel the same way—it’s not something they think about. Then I realized, “Why don’t I see myself?” I drew white comic book characters because I just thought that’s the way it is.

I didn’t want to think about race at first, I just wanted to draw fun sh*t. But in the racially complex political climate in America… you can’t be a creator in this world without an awareness of what’s going on around you. Everyone creates characters as a reflection of themselves, whether they admit it or not. Nobody wants to talk about race, but it’s unavoidable.

Q: Do you have advice for a white creator worried about cultural appropriation?

A: This sh*t was never talked about three years ago. I don’t know if it’s because Trump’s in office and people are angry. Look man, the idea behind that is that you should do what you think it cool. Somebody is always going to have a problem with things you make. I sometimes get comments from black friends who think my characters aren’t black enough. And as a person of color, I have colleagues in the industry who create characters who are not their ethnicity, and they don’t check in with me like, “Yo, LeSean is this safe?”

If it comes from an honest place, you should be OK with putting it out there.

Q: How do you create stories for animation?

A: A character must always want something, even if it’s just a glass of water. There must be somebody trying to prevent them from getting it. And always start in the middle of things.

(Some answers have been shortened for readability. Lead image via Children of Ether.)

—Lauren, AB Staff Blogger

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i’m on a serious horror kick right now, so now here’s a new OC !! his name is yuuto && his favorite thing to do is stalk cute girls ( or boys for that matter ). he will love you to bits, but also cut you into pieces. serious trigger warnings for heavy topics like: stalking, gore, abusive relationships, && general toxic interactions. he’s very active on the internet – running multiple accounts in different group chats. please love my horrible son.

Nerdist assembled the voice cast of Dragonball Z: Resurrection F to voice their favorite movie scenes as their DBZ characters. Here’s a taste of what happened.

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