By John Black
Original Story by Color Magazine
Take a walk down the aisle of your local toy store where the ‘action’ figures are sold.
What do you see? Muscle-bound macho men, all six pack abs and bulging biceps, all armed to the teeth and ready to fight equally overly-muscled bad guys and save the world.
The heroes and the villains are, mostly, White.
Some people walking down that see only superheroes. Jennifer Pierre, founder and creative director of the Melanites toy company, sees something much different. She sees generations of children of color being sent the wrong message about who they are and what they can be.
And she wants to stop it.
“I’ve spent a large part of my life working with countless male minority youth and the one thing I’ve noticed in all of them is the lack of any childhood toy that inspires them to become something special or to do something truly creative with their lives,” Pierre said in an interview with Color Magazine. “They’re being sold the idea that they can’t really be a superhero, because the toy they’re being given doesn’t look like them on a basic level. Toys are more than just toys, especially to young boys looking for role models.”
Pierre, a graduate student and entrepreneur at Babson College, founded Melanites to, as she explained it in the company mission statement, ‘intercept the glass ceiling placed on young boys’ mind about what they can be when they grow up and how they are supposed to express themselves without the pressures of hyper-masculinity’. The company plan wasn’t to simply substitute a minority superhero to take the place of the Caucasian heroes that young boys watch save the world in movies and comic books, but to take a further step outside the commonly accepted idea of ‘toys’ and give those boys of color something completely different to play with.
“The ‘action’ figures on the shelves today communicate a message of violent role play, hyper-masculinity, and aggressiveness to young boys,” Pierre said. “The message we’re sending with our toys is much more positive because it encourages boys to look at themselves and see what characteristics they already share with the figure, both in terms of looks and in terms of who they are and who they really want to be.”
The Melanites line of poseable dolls and accessory kits (Thinker, Doer, Maker, and Performer) inspire young boys to build their own personas and dream big, she added. Like their comparable action figures, these 18 inch “Action Pals” are fully adjustable in the elbows, wrists and knees. Unlike the others, though, they also have a diverse range of skin tones, facial features, and hair types reflective of society’s changing multicultural demographic.
Each character has a persona that embraces the idea of “And” through the availability of unique accessory kits. “We want to teach brown boys that they don’t have to for example choose between loving math & the sciences and having a passion for sports,” Pierre explained. “Our goal is to demolish the myth that the only road to success is through hyper-aggressive career and interest paths.”
Although Pierre and her company are ready with their plan to launch Melanites toys on the world, the reality is that the company is looking for investment capital to take the idea from the drawing board to actual production. So, the company has an active Kickstarter Campaign up and running and Pierre is confident that the world of the Melanites Action Pals is coming soon to a toy shelf near you.