A site called “Sweatpants and Coffee” has just posted an anonymous insider whistleblower report on the Where’s Rey? controversy that has seen the main character of the world’s most popular movie left out of the toys for that movie:
in January 2015, a number of toy and merchandise vendors descended on Lucasfilm’s Letterman Center in San Francisco. In a series of confidential meetings, the vendors presented their product ideas to tie in with the highly-anticipated new Star Wars film. Representatives presented, pitched, discussed, and agreed upon prototype products. The seeds of the controversies Lucasfilm is facing regarding the marketing and merchandising of The Force Awakens were sown in those meetings, according to the industry insider.
The insider, who was at those meetings, described how initial versions of many of the products presented to Lucasfilm featured Rey prominently. At first, discussions were positive, but as the meetings wore on, one or more individuals raised concerns about the presence of female characters in the Star Wars products. Eventually, the product vendors were specifically directed to exclude the Rey character from all Star Wars-related merchandise, said the insider.
“We know what sells,” the industry insider was told. “No boy wants to be given a product with a female character on it.”
Lucasfilm did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
This account does not entirely pass my sniff test 100%, as it leaves out a lot of information, including the role that Disney played. That could also be ass covering since it is a deep throat whistleblower. Normally I don’t like reporting on things that are as “Someone on the internet said something!” as this. However the account has certainly caused a lot of buzz on the internets. There are two possibilities here.
#1: This is a made up or axe grinding account but it sounds real enough and plausible enough given the ongoing lack of female character toys, the Gamora Doctrine, and the obvious reactionary nature of the toy business. It’s about time that toymakers, Lucasfilms and Disney were grilled over this, and being openly questioned at last is the only way to finally end the innately sexist nature of toy industry marketing.
#2: It is true, in which case, it’s about time that toymakers, Lucasfilms and Disney were grilled over this, and being openly questioned at last is the only way to finally end the innately sexist nature of toy industry marketing.
While a report on a website I never heard of (even though its title accurately describes my state right now) raises issues, the author, Michael Boehm, talks to many others, including John Marcotte of Heroic Girls, who has his own insider dirt:
“I’ve spoken with Disney people, and they were completely blindsided by the reaction to the new Star Wars characters,” Marcotte went on to say. “They put a huge investment into marketing and merchandizing the Kylo Ren character. They presumed he would be the big breakout role from the film. They were completely surprised when it was Rey everyone identified with and wanted to see more of. Now they’re stuck with vast amounts of Kylo Ren product that is not moving, and a tidal wave of complaints about a lack of Rey items.”
I guess this guy has never heard of tumblr but that may not be a toy buying segment either. I should point out that some of the rest of the anonymous insider’s info goes a little more into truther territory:
The industry insider confirmed that the Black Widow character is widely considered “unusable” within the toy industry. “She has a tight black outfit. Our main customer is concerned with ‘family values,’” said the insider.
At the same time, however, it’s increasingly apparent that marketers’ perceptions are seriously out of touch with consumers’ tastes.
“Princess toy sales are in freefall. Disney can’t give away princess toys anymore,” according to the insider. And yet, the insider said, the directive is there: Maintain the sharp boy/girl product division. Marginalize girl characters in items not specifically marketed as girl-oriented.
While female action figures may not be plentiful, those that there re are always wearing skin tight costumes, so I don’t know where this “Black Widow vs family values” idea comes from, although it could certainly be true. Disney Princesses remains a huge brand, but it moved from Mattel to Hasbro a few years ago so that couldn’t have been because things were hunky dory, and Mattel’s Barbie franchise has been struggling in a more progressive culture.
While I have no idea what’s true in all of this I can tell you one thing: I Sure can’t wait until Toy Fair next month!!! If any industry insider whistleblowers want to set up a meeting in a parking garage or anywhere else, email us at comicsbeat at gmail.com
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.