Monday, February 15, 2010

Shades of Black, Part One: Mattel Male Complexions

Two doll and action figure bloggers inspired this post series: Therese of Dolls of Color and Elizabeth of Blog of Eternal Stench. Therese submitted a post about complexions of Black Barbies. Elizabeth left a comment about the range of complexions in a related post here. So, I considered the complexions of Black male dolls and action figures. Is there variety of complexions among Black male dolls and/or action figures? I begin with Mattel because half of my collection is Mattel. If there is complexion diversity, I should find it at Mattel.

The Mattel male dolls in the photo above are:

Skate Date Ken AA (2002)
High School Musical 3 Graduation Chad (2008)
High School Musical 3 Prom Night Zeke (2008)
Wet'n' Wild Steven (1989)
Cali Guy Steven (2003)
Free Moving Curtis (1976)

Not a bad selection. There is a range of browns for Black male dolls by Mattel. None are very fair or very dark* … but they are not all the same color. Today. Once upon a time though, medium-dark brown reigned as the complexion for Black dolls and action figures.

1970 and the first Black male in the Barbie series, Christie's boyfriend Brad appeared with a dark brown complexion. According to The Collector's Encyclopedia of Barbie Dolls by Sibyl DeWein and Joan Ashabraner, the following year, Brad’s complexion was slightly darker. (Note: I do not have a Brad doll nor do I recall seeing many Brad dolls when I was young. So I do not *know* about any complexion change from my own experience.)

Six years later, Curtis emerged with Brad's head mold and a mahogany brown complexion that I think was close to Brad’s (same source, DeWein and Ashabraner). Nice coloring Curtis has as you can see in the photo, but a little ho hum because there was the same head in roughly the same color.

Since Brad/Curtis left the Barbie world – after roughly a year or two each - medium-dark brown was the color of Black Kens. A Black Sunsational Malibu Ken, who resembled Brad/Curtis if they had rooted curly black hair, arrived in 1982. The following year, a new face was used for Black Crystal Ken and other Black Kens. In 1988, yet another new mold was created for Black Kens that would also be used for a new Barbie friend, Steven. In 1997, Steven and future Black Kens would inherit the Jamal head mold. (Jamal was Shani's male friend.) Despite all the head mold changes, the complexion was medium-dark brown until 2002.

In 2002, Skate Date Ken, appeared as the first light-skinned Black Ken. Since then, there has been more variety of complexion among the Mattel Black male dolls as shown in the photo above. High School Musical Chad, Happy Family Alan (AA), and Happy Family Grandfather (AA) had lighter complexions. High School Musical Zeke and Ken Prince Derek have medium brown complexions. Variety, I love. Variety better reflects my sense of how things are.

So Mattel would score as far as this issue goes - were I grading them on it ;-D!

I should add my thanks to Jef as author of the Keeping Ken website and Sibyl DeWein and Joan Ashabraner as authors of the The Collector's Encyclopedia of Barbie Dolls and Collectibles.

If anyone has additional information, corrections, etc. - please submit them in the Comments. I would love to hear from you.

* The darkest recent Mattel male doll is Perfect Pair Tommy who seems to have rooted or flocked hair.


AilanthusAltissima said...

Great post and great comparison pic! I think the relative sizes of these dolls are also interesting.

I have never heard of Brad, but I do remember seeing an African American Curtis when I was small. I never owned one, though. (I think I only had one Ken and probably 20 or more Barbies). I think male fashion dolls are an interesting economic challenge for manufacturers - how to generate enough demand to justify production. Your post is a good demonstration of Mattel's efforts to produce male fashion dolls over the past 20-30 years.

Niel said...

I like your Curtis doll a lot. It was my 1st time to see/read about a lot of the dolls you've mentioned. Thanks for the info. :)

Black Doll Enthusiast said...

Thanks for sharing the diversity of skin tones used for AA male dolls, D7ana and the additional information about each.


RoxanneRoxanne said...

Thanks for this interesting post. So what is the grade that you would give Mattel, if you were grading them? :) I want that Perfect Pair Tommy. He is a little cutie.

D7ana said...

Thanks for the compliments, all!

Kim, the shorter guys are teenagers and more recent. What I like about them is that they not only have different complexions, they also have different head molds! Two Black male teenager headmolds! One is even an attempt to portray an actor (Corbin Bleu); the other is a smaller Jamal headmold.

As a child, I had fewer male dolls and action figures. There were never enough clothes or interesting enough clothes for the guys. Also, I would have loved to have had more variety of male dolls when I was younger. But they just weren't available.

I'm glad to share the doll information, Niel. Handsome though poor Curtis is, his Free Moving body falls apart if you touch it. He makes a fair showing in this photo.

Hi DBG! Glad you found the article informative.

Hi Roxanne! You're welcome. Post 1992, I would give Mattel a B for the variety of complexions in their doll line. There's more variety among the female dolls because the line is mostly female.