When the Adult Engagement Team asked me if I would like to review the new set 40516, it was described merely as ‘Merchandise.’ No description was available beyond that. Sometimes that can be a little vague. I was expecting to receive a storage box, a branded bag or an ill-fitting T-shirt ( mainly because nobody asked me my size.)
And then it arrived, and I opened the box. This set was something totally unexpected: bands of bright colour, with minifigures in single shades. The build looked elegant and straightforward enough. But I found myself thinking: Could this be one of the most significant sets of recent years?
Let me explain.
As you have no doubt seen, the set features 11 bold, colourful stripes on a platform. 11 minifigures stand on the platform, each matching a coloured stripe. Elements of a single colour make up each figure.
A message is sent out with the set, written on the first page of the instructions. It comes from Matthew Ashton, Vice President of Design for the LEGO Group, and designer of this set:
Matthew Ashton, VP of Design, The LEGO Group
“I wanted to create a model that is a symbol of inclusivity, that celebrates everyone, no matter how they identify or who they love. Everyone is unique, and with a little more love, acceptance and understanding in this world, we can all feel free to be our true AWESOME selves! This model is to show that we care, and that we truly believe ‘Everyone is Awesome’! We hope you’ll build this model and display it with pride. It’s a celebration of love, a celebration of you!”
I read it. I paused. I read it again. I have been trying to work out how best to respond. As a white, straight male, I feel almost unqualified to do so.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the changes in how many female characters have been depicted in Harry Potter sets over the last 20 years (Spoiler: there is a higher proportion of female minifigures produced now than there were back in the earlier run). The response to this article was quite mixed in some forums where I shared it. Some were saying ‘Great to hear’ – ‘good news’ others…’Really, LEGO has come to this?’ ‘What sort of madness has the world come to where we have to be politically correct about a toy?’ Other comments might have been a little more robust.
Perhaps when the toy comes from a company that is amongst the highest-profile on the planet, and part of its stock in trade is tiny avatars that you might use to represent members of a global community, then the representation of all people matter.
There is no doubt that inclusivity and diversity have become corporate watchwords over the last few years: I can hear the eyeballs rolling as the annual requests to complete the requisite online training modules are sent out.
But it is important.
Large portions of our society still feel excluded, isolated and neglected. Misunderstood, feared and hated. Sometimes, this is because of cultural upbringing, religious beliefs, or being told something without a factual basis.
I’ve been fortunate in my life, privileged even. I don’t really know what it is like to be excluded based on things I cannot control: race, gender or sexuality. But I know people that have been, and I find it difficult to understand the full extent of the challenges they face.
To look at how this inclusivity is celebrated, lets look a little closer at the set itself:
Let’s look at the set: the set comes with six unnumbered bags, each containing various elements in different colours. There are also a few plates floating loosely in the box. Interestingly, I could not find the factory code on the seals to the set.
There are 13 colours represented in the set. However, there are only 11 coloured bands on display: Some tan elements are hidden from view, and a teal brick separator is included in the box but not in the build.
We have elements in black, reddish-brown, bright red, bright orange, bright yellow, bright green, bright blue, medium lilac, light royal blue, white and bright purple.
The elements present in every colour include 2×3 bricks, 1×2 bricks, 1×2 plate, 1×2 tile and 2×2 tiles, as well as the minifigure elements. Some of these elements have been relatively rare in the past and should now be considered to be well and truly part of the colour palette.
New Colours include the 1x3x2 arch in bright green, light royal blue and bright purple. Reddish brown was seen in two sets over the past year but had not been seen before then; 2×3 bricks in bright green and light royal blue. These bricks have previously appeared in medium lilac and bright purple on one occasion each. The 1×2 tile has also made its first appearance in bright green and pale light blue.
Construction of this set is fairly simple- setting up our plates, and then building up the backdrop, with alternating layers of 2×3 bricks and 1×2 bricks, with a reinforcing layer of 1×10 tan bricks.
Then we complete the top of the background with 2x3x1arch bricks, tidied with a tile on top. And we add the minifigures.
With regard to the minifigures, most of the legs have existed in these colours previously, although yellow had been on hiatus from the mid 90s until we saw Benny’s Space Squad in late 2018.
It is uncommon for ‘mono torsos’ to be produced, rather requiring a little mix ‘n match between different figures.
All of the hair elements are preexisiting molds, but most of the colours are new except for white and black.
Origins of Hair:
Were you wondering where you might have first seen these hair pieces before? Most of theme got their start in the Collectible Minifigure range, although a reddish brown, yellow, green and bright purple made their debut out sude the range.
This set is a striking display piece, a great source of monochromatic figures, including some hard to get colours, and comes with a message of love, respect and acceptance. The range of hairpieces is fantastic, including
If you have an interest in monochrome minfigures, this set represents terrific value: with the elements gathered together, it becomes a great starter pack.
Some of the other elements, as previously discussed, are new, and the palettes for working with light royal blue and bright green have improved significantly with this set.
Speaking in the designer video, Matthew Ashton says that the colour choices come from the traditional Pride flag, as well as the Blue white and pink from the transgender flag, as well as black and brown,representing people of colour.
I love the way that this set works as a display piece, as well as a reminder that not all people experience the level of respect and accepance that they should be entitled to as human beings. That the company is sending this message to its wider community is awesome.
While this set has been targeted initially as a message for the LGBTQ+ LEGO fans, the message include the excluded should be something we strive for with all people. If society is to progress, we need to be able to engage with people who are different to ourselves, treat them with respect, and listen to what they are trying to tell us.
In some ways, this set balances inclusivity and deniability to not potentially offend too much. You can “display it with pride” and the press release says it is for Pride, but nowhere on the set itself does it actually say it is for LGBTQIA+ Pride—yet it is being released in June, the month commonly known as Pride month, and is a bright, bold rainbow of support. But that is a well-known dance, coding messages of support in a way that “if you know, you know.” Like the “grooms wearing white” or the lineup of rainbow of spacemen in LEGO’s recent holiday ad, LEGO has found a way of supporting a traditionally underrepresented community while not upsetting those who might disagree too much. The “Everyone is Awesome” set is both a love letter to the LGBTQIA+ community and a nod to the monochrome minifigures fandom. It is the best of both worlds, and the message of support is there loud and clear if you need to see it.
This set reminds us that regardless of who we are, how we identify or where we come from, we are all part of humanity and should be treated with kindness and respect. It also tells us that it is important to the LEGO Group. They value both their fans and employees, regardless of where they are, in their personal journey. For this to be done in such an outward way by the company is, I think, a Big Deal.
The set goes on sale through LEGO Branded retail channels on June 1st 2021, and will cost $AUD59.99 / €34.99 /£30.00 / $USD34.99 / $CAD44.49
While produced by the extended line departmentwithin the LEGO Group, we have been told via the ambassadors network that it should be available over the course of the next couple of year.
Thanks to the LEGO Group for providing this set for review purposes. All opinions regarding this set are my own.