Sunday, July 28, 2013

Despicable Microaggressions: Sexism, Racism & More in Despicable Me 2

*Warning: some vague spoilers of the film Despicable Me 2*

"Lipstick Taser!!"

Social justice educators have a difficult time enjoying most pop culture. We cringe at most media due to blatant offensives and sneaky microaggressions. They exist because, well, we live in a society that promotes white supremacy and the patriarchy. That is, most pop culture promotes the idea of white people in charge and men in charge as the norm.

I went to Despicable Me 2 wanting to like it. After all, the minions are adorable! I seriously want a basement of minions and super villain equipment in the future. Unfortunately, not even the gibberish speech of the minions could make up for the sexism, racism, masculinity issues, and heteronormative behavior in Despicable Me 2.


We start off with a birthday party for Agnes, the youngest of Gru’s daughters. One of Gru’s neighbors, Jillian, tries to set up our former super villain with one of her friends. The camera pans over to an unattractive slightly overweight woman who is apparently so heavy that she breaks the snack table upon leaning on it. Gru has a look of mixed fear and disgust, rejecting the matchmaking attempt.

Fat shaming, yayyyyy. Thank you, Universal Studios, for teaching our young women what is tolerable in our society! Girls, remember to be skinny so you can get wifed up!

Soon we’re introduced to Gru’s future partner and love interest Agent Lucy Wilde. Gru yanks out his huge phallic-shaped ray gun to fend off her attack…and Lucy subdues him with a lipstick taser.

A LIPSTICK TASER. Right. Okay…You know, I’m going to even skip commenting on the lipstick taser and just move along before I get a rage-induced aneurysm.

I crave strong female roles in media and was initially excited to see a female agent voiced by the great Kristen Wiig. The disappointment tasted extra bitter as the movie played out. Agent Lucy Wilde is a supposedly strong woman since she is 1.) a secret agent, and 2.) knows martial arts and wields weapons. However, she still falls into the same old tropes. She’s ditzy and demonstrates a lack of knowledge about many things – I get that her karate-chopping cupcakes was to provide humor in a kids film, but can a film introduce humor without making the woman look like an idiot who has no right being a secret agent? 

At the end of the day Lucy Wilde is an attempt at being an Action Girl but still is secretly a Damsel in Distress who literally gets Chained to a Rock (well, shark-torpedo thing).

The sexist microgressions troll along when Gru is matched up on a date with Shannon, this tall, thin woman who wears a revealing dress. She’s  a ‘Dumb Blonde’ stereotype who talks about physical fitness and ‘phonies’. When the date starts to go south after Shannon becomes angry at Gru, his partner Lucy shoots Shannon with a tranquilizer dart.

See Shannon: the blond slumped over the table.
 What comes next is such a great amount of violence against women that I cannot even believe any idiot thought this was appropriate for a children’s movie.

Lucy explains to the waiter that the unconscious Shannon had too much to drink, and then she and Gru decide to take Shannon home. The carry Shannon out the door, except the door keeps slamming against her head and they take no care to refrain from dropping her or knocking her into things. Then three people is too large for the vehicle, so they take Shannon out and tie her to the roof like a deer carcass. When Lucy slams on the brakes, Shannon flies off and crashes.

This was all meant for laughter. It’s funny, right? It’s kind of what a woman like Shannon deserves. I mean, a woman who dresses ‘slutty’ and talk about superficial things like Shannon certainly should not be respected. Drugging her and harming her – it’s funny!

Except it’s not. It perpetuates old stereotypes about what women ‘should’ and ‘should not’ be, and that it is okay to treat women violently when they fall outside of the societal norms.


Like most Hollywood movies, our protagonists are White and even most of the background characters are all White. But have no fear! Despicable Me 2 is totally not racist. In fact, they even have two (2) Mexican characters!

¡Ay, gracias Universal Studios! [ed. note: that is sarcasm]

'El Macho'
 Of course, let’s not get too ahead of ourselves – the Mexican characters are the antagonist (Eduardo ‘El Macho’ Perez) and his son Antonio.

Yep, you read that correctly – the only people of color with substantial speaking roles are the villains. One tries to destroy the world and the other destroys Margo’s, Gru’s  eldest daughter, heart. Oh, lazy storytelling and stereotypes, you are Hollywood’s favorite couple.

When Eduardo bursts onto the scene at Gru and Lucy’s mall store, he immediately speaks in a heavy Mexican accent, orders 200 cupcakes for his Cinco de Mayo party, and rips open his shirt to reveal burly chest hair and a Mexican flag tattoo.

But of course – all Mexicans/Latin@s in America have thick accents. *sigh*

And come ON. In most parts of America the only Mexicans celebrating Cinco de Mayo are the ones running Mexican restaurants and making bank on drunk gueros who think a good margarita comes pre-made in a Jose Cuervo bottle.

The lazy-writing induced Mexican stereotypes continue:
  1. Eduardo does not have a guard dog, but a guard chicken (harkening to the cock fighting that is popular in some Latino countries/communities).
  2. Eduardo dances salsa with a white woman, leaving her flustered (whitewashing and stereotying began in the early days of Hollywood because white men were afraid of their women being romanced away from their own race and this salsa act plays into that fear).
  3.  Eduardo performs the Mexican Hat Dance as the password into his lair. 
  4. Agnes,the (white) youngest daughter, proceeds to do a grito at the Cinco de Mayo party.
And as yet another observation – check out what happens when the minions are fed a serum that turns them into wild dangerous creatures? Their hair gets long and kinky and their skin turns dark into a deep plum color. A friend I studied critical race theory (CRT) with pointed this out and how it reinforces the idea of kinky hair and darker skin being “wild” and outside societal norms.

Above: the 'evil' minion.


Eduardo’s character is based in racist stereotypes, cumulating into him being “El Macho” aka the most masculine man alive who can drink glass, pick up trucks, and ride a freaking shark into a volcano with a bomb attached. This Masked Luchador is the epitome of machismo with a severe case of Testosterone Poisoning.

YEEEAH! You know a dude is badass when he's riding a freaking shark charged with bombs into a volcano!!

His son Antonio plays out the “Latin Lover” stereotype when he sweeps Margo off her feet, whispers sweet nothings in his musical accent, dances with her, and then leaves her for another woman.

Both of these characterizations put men ‘into a box’. Not only are these the only two stereotypes available to Latino men, but the former stereotype especially plays out to all men. In America we want our men to be strong! Tough! We don’t care for much else. They should be able to ride a freaking shark into a volcano with a bomb attached!

Heteronormative Behavior

Gru is consistently being told by his annoying neighbor and adorable daughters that he needs to find a woman and the movie pursues a romantic entanglement for our hero. Even his eldest daughter Margo gets into the romance game with her brief foray into a relationship with Antonio.

For an industry that cries out about how supportive it is of GLBT rights, it really does seem like almost every movie makes it necessary for a man-woman relationship, preferably one that ends with marriage and children.


I'm disappointed in Despicable Me 2. I understand that I should not have high expectations for Hollywood, but I see the world as it should be, not as it is. Hollywood can do better.

And we can do better by not supporting lazy projects like Despicable Me 2.  Friends, don't waste your money on this film.


  1. Solid analysis. It's sad to see sexism/racism/etc. masquerading as adorable kids' movies.

  2. I have a long rebuttal against half of this, it's great to notice these things, but at the same time I think you missed the other half that were positive without adhering to common tropes. Like in the movie Pi, if you are obsessed enough with one thing, you will see it everywhere, and you will disregard the rest and not see the balance of it as a whole. Try and go through this same movie and list the positives it addresses to non-conformist tropes. Then again, it's a kids movie, where fun things like the hat dance as a password (I laughed, and I'm Mexican), are just fun and silly.

  3. I wish I had seen this post before I gave my money to the makers of this movie, and exposed my child to it. I was utterly appalled. The scene with the unconscious woman -- with so many parallels to the recent rape case -- particularly turned my stomach, but the racism and sexism that pervaded the entire movie was staggering.

  4. I really enjoyed reading your perspective on the movie. Children's film are usually filled with racism and sexism. I mean look at all the disney movies! I always had a question about the film that's been bothering me, let me know what you think: I thought it very strange how all the minions are male, or male dressed in female clothing, but none are actual female. Why are there no female minion?