Unpopular Opinions: Franklin

For a moment, let’s talk about Franklin.

Franklin Show

No, not him…

Peanuts Franklin

Him.

Franklin (no last lame given) made his debut in Charles Schultz’s Peanuts comics strip on July 31st, 1968. His debut was heralded by some publications, siting that was good to see that Charlie Brown wasn’t colorblind. Indeed, Franklin was one of the first African-American characters in American comics that was an equal and wasn’t some tribal native something similar, but there’s a trusim here and someone has to say it:

Franklin was a token!

Don’t boo me! It’s true! Listen, I respect that the addition of Franklin to the Peanuts cast was a noteworthy achievement for it’s time. America was just beginning to open it’s eyes to racial equality, and the addition of an ethnic cast member was definitely a step in the right direction. I have no real issues with Franklin personally, but the problem was (and still is) that Franklin has no personality. I challenge anyone to name one thing that they know about Franklin other than the fact that he’s black.

You can’t, because Franklin didn’t do anything. Among the Peanuts characters, he had no job whatsoever. What sort of person is Franklin? What does he like to do in his spare time? What are his likes? His dislikes? What are his relationships with the other kids?

Franklin’s biggest contribution to date was one direct-to-video special in which our boy raps at the start of a baseball game.

Wow, a black kid rapping. Never saw that before. Well, not before noon! Rap is an art form, to be sure, not denying that, but this was clearly given to Franklin solely because of his ethnicity. While it was good to see Franklin at last have something to do, at the same time, this moment was a tad jarring; it would have been like if a Latino kid suddenly jumped on to the screen, shouted “Andale!” and led the gang into doing a Mexican hat dance! To all of the budding young writers out there: when you have an idea for something that a person-of-color can or should do, if you can’t imagine a white character doing these same things, then maybe you need to re-evaluate your script.

Charles Schultz could’ve given him something to do in the strip.

He could have been obsessed with eating doughnuts…

Donuts

Dem doughnuts!

Wizard's Hat

…Or he could have fancied himself as being a suburban wizard, dabbled in the black arts and regularly went around wearing one of those stylin’ pointed hats!

I’m just pulling stuff out of thin air here, but any of those things or some similar could have worked. I would have preferred it if instead of just being a black kid, Franklin had been a fully rounded character who just happened to be black. As it was, Franklin was often overlooked, ignored or left out in subsequent years because he wasn’t an interesting character. However, he wasn’t interesting because his creator Charles Schultz didn’t make him interesting. You can’t blame that on anyone else.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with having a fictional character be a person-of-color, but it helps when said character actually has a character and possesses some distinguishing traits beyond the color of his/her skin. A character should be a character first and and ethnicity second.  Unfortunately, beyond adding a “touch of color” to the place, Franklin’s actual contributions to the Peanuts franchise were minimal, at best.

Ironically, Franklin was more of a token black than the character who’s actually named Token Black.

Token Black

This kid is at least rich.

Oh, cruel irony!

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1 Comment

  1. silverstar

    I remember when I first saw that bit with Franklin bustin’ rhymes, my jaw dropped to the floor. “Really? We’re doing this? Boombox and everything? Thanks a lot, guys!” I was concerned that the producers would next have him starting all of his dialogue with phrases like “Yo, dawg” or “Well, in my hood” or “When I’m in my crib” or “When I’m with my homies”, etc. I don’t want to get up on a soapbox or anything, but as a writer of the African-American persuasion, I have to say this: it’s cool that they remembered that Franklin existed and tried to give Franklin something to do, but you’re not diversifying your cast if the only person of a certain race on your show has the responsibility to represent and give their opinions on behalf of that entire race and they fit the stereotypical casting descriptions like sassy, urban, flamboyant, fierce, spicy, etc. No, I’m not saying that characters of color can’t embody these traits, but if you can’t imagine white characters with these same traits, or if you can’t imagine the ethnic character(s) doing the stuff that the white characters do, then your project might need a little more time to cook.

    Just because someone is of a certain skin color, it shouldn’t be assumed that they have a particular accent or have strong ties to a particular cultural group. That was akin to Disney’s The Aristocats having a Siamese cat who sported buck teeth, played the drums with chopsticks and peppered his speech with “chop suey”s and “egg foo yung”s. As you said, the best characters are characters first and ethnicities second.

    And the irony to all of that is, Franklin did that whole number rapping about how his team wasn’t going to lose…and they DID lose.

    Like

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