For most of LEGO’s time creating IP (intellectual property) minifigures, they have been the only figures that were in human skin tones, as all other LEGO minifigures are built with the classic LEGO yellow skin. Because these IP minifigs are the only source of skin toned LEGO figures and because it is important to create products that accurately reflect the world, it is important that there are people of color (POC) in these IP sets. However, on looking at the data, there are not many POC minifigures in the most popular IP themes.
As seen below, for the most popular IP LEGO themes, there are very few POC minifigures. There are even some themes that have so few POC minifigures that they do not register on the graph at all, such as Batman, Minecraft, Spiderman, The LEGO Movie, NINJANGO, and Lord of the Rings. This is really concerning considering IP licenses are usually the only way that LEGO creates POC minifigures. It’s unfortunate, in the case of the LEGO Movie and LEGO Ninjago, LEGO had total creative control over creating a potentially diverse set of characters and yet still did not create a diverse LEGO cast for the franchise.
However, the problem gets even worse upon looking deeper into the roles being played by POC characters. Even in themes that have a higher proportion of POC characters, there are other problems with representation. For example, in the Indiana Jones theme, there are 12 POC characters and 31 non POC characters, which is one of the highest percentages of POC characters in a LEGO IP theme. At first glance this is good, but when researching the individual characters that are POC, they are often othered from the main character, Indiana Jones. Indiana Jones often travels to a new, remote, and seemingly exotic places to meet these POC characters and the majority of the time the POC characters are the villains or on the villain’s side, as shown by the graph below. It is not very often that POC characters are fighting with, as opposed to against, Indiana Jones. Short Round is a kid who helps Indiana Jones, but other than that, all other POC characters are the villains, such as Kazim and Mola Ram. In the Indiana Jones series, the POC characters are either villains or a kid.
There are two problems: there are not enough POC characters in sets, but also that many of the POC characters that do exist are be presented in a problematic way. This also leads to a third problem, being the popularity of individual characters. When one looks at IP minifigures in general, the most popular minifigure characters are not POC. When looking at the graph with all the IP minifigure characters with more than 10 versions of their character, only one character that is POC. That POC character is the broadly labeled Rebel Troopers, and only a portion of them are POC. This is a problem with Hollywood, which is not making enough stories with leading POC characters. However it’s also a problem with LEGO because they can definitely choose IP stories with more POC characters. It should be noted that even with the LEGO movies such as the LEGO Movie and LEGO Movie 2, there are no POC minifigures created.
In general, LEGO IP minifigures are important because they bring to life some of our favorite stories from movies and books, however it is important to look more at the people who are represented in these sets. It is clear that there are not many POC minifigures being produced by LEGO and LEGO historically chooses to create stories and to select IP stories that do not have many POC characters. The good news is that there is evidence that LEGO sees this problem and wants to change this. The LEGO minidolls in the Friends line were revamped in 2018 to be more inclusive, so now 3 of the 5 main characters in the theme are POC characters. This is a great step in the right direction and we can’t wait to see more of this improvement in inclusivity in the future. We’d like to see this expanded to how LEGO decides to make IP minifigures.