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Sexualization in cartoons: Lola Bunny gets a new look

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On Thursday, March 4, one of the many topics trending on Twitter was Lola Bunny. Entertainment Weekly had released the first set of images from the highly anticipated Space Jam: A New Legacy starring LeBron James. The first image featured James posing with Bugs Bunny, Tweety, Daffy Duck, and Porky Pig. But what caught the most attention was that of Lola Bunny rocking a whole new uniform style than that seen in the original Space Jam starring Michael Jordan.

Director Malcolm D. Lee told Entertainment Weekly that after watching the 1996 original for the first time in 2019, he was caught off guard by the “very sexualized” depiction of the Tune Squad’s only female athlete. Lola is drawn with a tiny waist, a large bust, and lengthy eyelashes, which she frequently bats in the original. In the newly released images, Lola is now seen wearing a regular basketball uniform that covers her stomach, less prominent lashes, and her curves aren’t nearly as accentuated.

“This is 2021. It’s important to reflect the authenticity of strong, capable female characters,” said Lee to Entertainment Weekly. So, Lola was reworked for the sequel to shift the focus to her athletic skills and leadership.

The debate has since sparked opinions on what it means to be a “strong female character,” one being that her character had lost all of the traces of her stereotypical femininity. Let’s think about it, why was a cartoon bunny drawn so sexually in the first place? The answer is obvious: it was to cater to the male gaze, which is odd to think given that Space Jam is a children’s movie. It makes no difference to a child whether a female character — an animated animal no less — has a large bust or is attractive enough for the male characters to fawn over because that’s not what the movie is about. It’s about teamwork, friendship, and the power of setting your mind on a goal and working hard to achieve it.

People may argue that desexualizing Lola Bunny perpetuates a stereotype that women can’t be sexy and athletic, which is a valid point. Just look at the treatment of Serena Williams in the past. For example, Vox reported in a 2016 article that surrounding her win at the French Open in June 2015, Williams was compared to an animal, likened to a man, and deemed frightening and horrifyingly unattractive. But my question is, why are we so focused on beauty? 

Society has let it rule every aspect of our lives, from employment to relationship status. We even warn people, particularly women, about not going out in public without some makeup on or in sweats. But the way someone looks doesn’t change the validity of their actions or words and shouldn’t, yet we continue to let it. Lola Bunny worked hard to prove her worth in the original movie, constantly fighting Bugs when he called her “doll.” Her redesign shows children that being sexy doesn’t matter because it’s not the end all be all. If you have the drive to hone your skills, you can achieve anything.

Image courtesy of rawpixel.

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