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In animation, certain facial features are used (and often exaggerated) to help the viewer identify ethnicity. Often this can depend on where the animation was produced. The audience is considered to be the "default" type of character; i.e., a character with no outstanding features is assumed to be of the ethnicity and/or gender of the (majority of) the audience. Any character which deviates from this is given some outstanding feature which identifies him or her as such. That's why a stick figure is usually assumed to be male unless it has long hair or a skirt, in which case it's female.

Common animation features used to identify a character as female are Tertiary Sexual Characteristics. Ethnic identifiers might be more subtle (or not), and often are areas of great sensitivity.

  • Greeks: The Greek nose that lacks the indent over the bridge, cribbed from vase painting
  • Jews: Hook-nosed and curly-haired (definitely has negative connotations, though)
  • Blacks are (or used to be) depicted with large prominent lips. It's probably driven by the fact that black people do tend to have more prominent lips. Unfortunately, this was also a major element of "black face" in vaudeville, and became associated with negative stereotypical cartoon characters like Little Sambo. Therefore it has a lot of negative connotations in the USA. After all, it's not like prominent lips are a bad thing intrinsically. It's just that it became shorthand for condescending ethnic attitudes and insulting the intelligence of a black character. That's why it no longer shows up much in Western Animation these days, although if you go back to before the 1960s, it is very common to see this portrayal. The Japanese didn't get the memo on this so it still shows up fairly frequently in anime.
    • It seems that the biggest no-no of the lips isn't so much the size, but the color. Many black people in real life do have a full, red/pink lower lip, but the depiction of Africans having bulging, all red lips is heavily associated with Blackface. Even more offensive is giving them fully pale pink lips, which is almost non-existent with real life blacks and solely a product of caricature and Blackface.
    • More specifically this is associated with people from West Africa (where most of the USA's black population's ancestors came from), not all dark-skinned Africans.
    • Nowadays since lips are generally taboo (though many, more simplistic art styles simply "draw in" the lips, while leaving them out for white and asian characters — Archie Comics utilizes this for black people), wider noses and nostrils are usually used to identify a character as black. This trait did frequently show up in older depictions alongside thick lips, but a different shaped nose is a lot harder to fake than bigger lips, so it didn't become a staple of the blackface genre.
  • Old cartoons had yellow-skinned, buck-toothed (much more common to Chinese stereotypes), line-eyed Japanese and Chinese. (You can imagine how unacceptable things like that are nowadays, though this was still being done well into the 60's and even occasionally beyond).
    • Although 2DTV used it in 2004, and apparently non-ironically, in their segments about the Beijing Olympics.
    • Buck teeth (two middle incisors sticking out like rodent teeth) are the teeth stereotype most common to Chinese and most other East Asian people. The teeth stereotype most common to Japanese people, however, is misaligned teeth (more like the British teeth stereotype) that often stick out of the mouth like horse teeth.
    • Japanese stereotypes in Wartime Cartoons usually looked like negative caracticures of Hirohito, complete with glasses.
      • Or of General Hideki Tōjō.
  • American Indians are depicted with high prominent cheekbones and/or jowls in more subtle versions. Other times the animators just color them red. And they'll always be dressed in their traditional clothing with a crest of feathers on their heads.
  • Mexicans had mustaches, as did some Italians. Turks are also distinguished by large moustaches, along with a fez.
  • The English: Horribly misaligned teeth, huge ears, large nose, long face, Droopy Eyes, and big eyebrows. Tall and lanky figure. Usually dark-haired. Children are often freckled.
  • The Irish: Rufous hair, very pale skin and freckles. Shorter and stockier than the English. Young women have a large head of frizzy or very curly hair. Men have cleft chins and thick eyebrows, with large sideburns if they're older. Centuries ago, the Irish were depicted as very ape-like.
  • Westerners, in Japanese anime and video games: blond and blue-eyed. While there are plenty of anime characters who are blond and blue-eyed and not western, there are very few western anime characters who are not blond and blue-eyed. Those that aren't are typically black.
    • Of course, this doesn't apply when the series is set in the West, or a cosmopolitan future, or generally anywhere but real-world Japan.
    • Also, Westerners can be depicted as freakishly tall, have pink or orange skin, a large nose, a prominent jaw and chin, cleft chins, freckles, and the men are muscular and hairy (almost always clad in blue polo shirts) while the women are very curvy and buxom.
  • Arabs, North Africans, Egyptians,(applies to mostly any Middle Eastern countries) etc,: Will often have tan skin, high cheek bones, and black curly hair (and beards) on men and straight hair on women. In early works they probably would be played by white actors with a light tan. Depictions of Jesus are the most lasting example, and in Western countries he will often have very Caucasian features, despite according to the bible being born in Israel.
    • Jesus Christ actually got a Race Lift pretty much everywhere: in Africa he's portrayed as a black man, in China (where Christian minorities do exist) he's portrayed with Chinese features, and so on.
  • Men and women of Indian descent will almost always be portrayed as roughly in the middle ground of skin tone between Caucasian and African. Facial features are almost always similar to those of Arab portrayals (see above) but more toned down toward a Caucasian 'base'.
    • Men will have short hair that is either curly or heavily greased, sometimes into unfashionable looks to play on the stereotype of Indian men being computer-savvy nerds. Women will always have long hair that is jet-black and nearly always straight. Older men will have long beards, making them look like yogis.
  • Armenians will be shown with big noses and unibrows. Though usually when an Armenian appears in animation the animator is likely Armenian.
  • Young Romani women in fiction always have long, wavy black hair (usually under a headscarf), dark sexy eyes, and tan-to-olive skin. Older Romani women are always very short and wrinkled, while Romani men (if seen) are bulky, hairy-armed figures with big black mustaches.

(Feel free to add more signals of ethnicity)

Examples of Facial Profiling include:

Anime and Manga

  • Macross Zero. The hero's co-pilot had a stereotypical black appearance.
  • In Shaman King, the black shaman Chocolove is drawn with very prominent lips. The VIZ translation of the manga volumes edited the lips back to the style of the other characters, to try and head off the Unfortunate Implications. In the recent Jump Remix editions, a short chapter showed that the creator himself had done away with lips as well.
  • The Maximum Ride manhwa features Nudge with very large lips that on occasion look way too big for her face, and (oddly enough) white fingernails.
  • Eureka Seven's cosmopolitan cast both plays this straight and averts this; Matthieu, Linck, Gidget, and Hilda are all black - the first three have large lips, but Hilda doesn't.
  • The original character designs for Cyborg 009 fell into this, but the most prominent example was Pyumna/008, whose lips took up most of his head. Notably, while most of the characters have had minimal changes made to their designs over the years, Pyunma's appearance was extensively overhauled in the '79 movie and 2001 series.
  • Akira Toriyama drew the occasional black person in this manner (large red lips) for Dragonball Z, not just the infamous Mr. Popo.


  • Tiana from The Princess and the Frog is Disney's first African American heroine. She has full lips and a broad nose to avoid But Not Too Black accusations, but not too exaggerated so as to avoid making her a racist caricature. She's still been accused of being both at the same time. Her figure is pretty standard as far as Disney girls go, despite accusations of "Disney thinks all black girls have big butts!" This despite the fact that her character design is basically a cartoon version of the voice actress portraying her in keeping with Disney's longstanding tradition of basing character designs on their voice actors.
  • In The Prince of Egypt the Egyptians have dark skin, high cheekbones and are clean-shaven if male. The people who are Jewish have smooth, round features, and are generally lighter-skinned. This means that Moses's face changes from angular to round in the course of the movie. Tzipporah, whom Moses helps to escape (and eventually marries), has an even rounder face, and the Midian people are Ambiguously Brown and darker than the Jewish characters, which makes sense since one theory about the Midians is that they were from the area around modern Sudan. This is possible Truth in Television; the Canaanites (who likely shared a skin tone with the Israelites) were depicted in at least one Egyptian mural as a paler race.
  • Pocahontas is quite accurate in the way it portrays how Native Americans looked in the 1600's...except for Pocahontas herself, who looks very unlike the real Pocahontas. Once again, this was because her face was based on her voice actress, Irene Bedard, who is of Inupiat Inuit and Métis descent, so Pocahontas does in fact look like a modern Native American, most of whom trace their ancestry to several different tribes, but unlike what one would look like during the time and place where the film is set. And then there's the tall, blond, blue-eyed John Smith who looked nothing like the real guy.
  • Shows up in the An American Tail movies, through use of fur color and clothing. Bridget, an Irish mouse from the first movie, has red hair and freckles. Later films have Native American mice with reddish-brown fur and long black hair. Real-life mice from different areas might have different dominant physical characteristics, but this is pushing it.
  • Esmeralda from The Hunchback of Notre Dame looks like any typical Gypsy woman in fiction... ...except that she has Green Eyes.

Western Animation

  • DCAU cartoons, the only white males that have lips are Lex Luthor and Harvey Dent. (And interestingly, some later depictions of Dent have him as black). Lex Luthor on Superman: The Animated Series is often mistaken for being black because of this facial feature, when in fact the character's design is supposed to evoke Telly Savalas. John Stewart was also the only male on Justice League to have lips, presumably for clarity- when the character's mouth is just a black line, it's more difficult to see on dark skin.
  • The Boondocks is pretty even when it comes to lips for blacks and girls. Some black characters like Huey, Riley, Granddad and Tom don't have lips, but the more ethnic, dark-skinned ones like Uncle Ruckus do. Likewise some females don't have lips such as Jazmine, her mom and Cammy Cindy, while the various supermodels do (which makes sense, as supermodels would be expected to wear lipstick) Word of God is that the animation is deliberately done in an anime style (with strong influences from Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo), where mouths and noses are usually set aside so as to put focus on eyes.
  • Layla of Winx Club has lips so large that they often cover her chin.
  • Due to the attitudes following World War II, the episodes of The Beatles cartoon produced in Australia always portray the Japanese in the stereotypical fashion mentioned above, and usually make them rather idiotic to boot. One of the animators later admitted no one could really enjoy those episodes today because of the awkwardness.
  • The early episodes of the 1970s cartoon The Blue Racer had the main character (a blue snake) chase after a Japanese Beetle for a meal. Guess what the beetle looked like. Another episode also featured the snake trying to steal an egg from a Japanese rooster, oddly enough voiced by Mako.
  • Typically any 1940's Wartime Cartoon will have all the Japanese stereotypes.
  • In The Simpsons white people are colored yellow, whilst early on people of East Asian descent had pale white skin with narrower eyes. However, in recent episodes, people of East Asian descent have the same skin tone as the "white" people, only a little lighter, and still large but almond shaped eyes.


  • The Onion tells of this being done to create a Five-Token Band of Animate Inanimate Objects.
  • The cover of Mad Magazine's Special Racial Issue from June 1967 has Alfred E. Neuman pose as several different nationalities.
    • Another issue showed an array of caricatured faces from around the world, proclaiming that their owners were "living together in peace and harmony" and asking the reader to use crayons to color them the appropriate hues. The correct answer for each? "You were correct if you colored them all green. Because if they're living together in peace and harmony, they must be Martians!"
    • Neuman himself is thought by some to have originated from a racist caricature of Irish immigrants.