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:
“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!”
Matthew Ashton, VP of Design, The LEGO Group
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.
Matthew Ashton, VP of Design at the LEGO Group, has been teasing a new set for the last week or so on Twitter. … one different coloured 2×3 brick at a time.
Today the LEGO Group has unveiled set 40156: Everyone Is Awesome. This set features 11 various coloured stripes, along with a unique monochrome minifigure for every stripe, a celebration of individuality and inclusivity, love and acceptance. The final model is relatively small, being a little over 10cm tall with a footprint of 22×16 studs. It has 346 pieces and has a recommended retail price of $AUD59.99 / €34.99 /£30.00 / $USD34.99 / $CAD44.49. It goes on sale through LEGO Branded stores and LEGO.com on June 1, 2021, commemorating the start of Pride Month.
The company has long espoused the virtues of diversity and inclusivity, particularly amongst its employees, but to express it in the form of an actual product is a huge statement to both the fan community as well as the community at large.
Alternatively, here’s a set with some really cool monochromatic minifigures as well as some elements in hard to find colours. It looks pretty.
This is not a post specifically about LEGO® Harry Potter™. This is a post regarding the way in which the LEGO Group have chosen to represent female characters over time. I have chosen to use this theme, as it has had 2 distinct phases of release: first in 2001-2012, a period that ran in parallel with the release of the Harry Potter movies, while the second began in 2018, and continues to this day.
This my the second article is a series, looking at gender distribution of minifigures in licensed themes – themes where the LEGO Group has little say over the content of the source material. The first, relating to such trends in LEGO Star Wars sets can be found here
This post has been coming for a little while. There is some history along with a rabbit hole or two: A week or so ago, it was International Women’s Day. In the past, I have written up some articles looking at the trends in gender representation in different LEGO themes over time. This year, I thought I would take a quick look at a couple of licensed themes and see how representation of female characters has changed over time. When I say representation, I probably really just mean ‘how many are presented to us in sets.’ I started with Harry Potter, Marvel and Star Wars. That’s actually quite enough.
In fact, I decided to leave it at that: ‘It shouldn’t take too long,’ I thought to myself. ‘Probably by tea time.’ It turns out that individual definitions of ‘not too long’ and ‘tea time’ might vary.
In the past, an annual update typically took about a day or so to complete. Of course, I failed to take into account that LEGO Star Wars has been running for over 20 years, and has had over 1000 different minifigures (including small, brick-built droids) associated with the theme over this time. Harry Potter has been running on and off for a similar period, albeit with a hiatus from 2012 – 2018. I have opted to present this information in a couple of articles. But before we begin, some background…
We have observed in recent years, since the introduction of LEGO® Friends, that the gender ratio of minifigures in LEGO City has become more balanced. In 2011, only 6 out of 64 minifgures released in the City theme were clearly defined as female (9.3%), while 23(36%) were clearly male. Thirty five of these figures were not clearly defined. Come forward to 2016, when I first examined this data: 41 minifigures out of 145 were clearly female (28%), while 61 were clearly male (42%). Last year, the situation was far more balanced: in the first half hear release of LEGO City, 35.3% of minifigures were female, 38.2 were clearly male and 26.5% of figures did not have clearly defined gender characteristics. This is focussed on figures released at that time. If you looked at LEGO City and Creator sets displayed in the print catalog for 1st half year 2020, the gender ratio was closer to 40%male; 40%female and 20% not clearly determined.
LEGO® Star Wars
Now, the Star Wars franchise has always had few issues as far as gender balance amongst the characters depicted on screen is concerned: With Aunt Beru, Leia, Mon Mothma, a few patrons in the Cantina and a couple of dancing girls in Jabba’s Palace being the only characters that stand to develop any form of story in the original trilogy – be it in the films, or extended universe.
The Prequel Trilogy (1999-2005) was not significantly better, with Amidala and her handmaidens, along with Shmi Skywalker being the primary female characters engaged in the narrative. A couple of silent female Jedi are present onscreen, but do not gain their voices in The Clone Wars. There is the bounty hunter Zem Wessel, but she is killed by Jango Fett before she extends to a second page of dialog. We do meet Aunt Beru, and she is the only one of these characters to survive past the end of The Revenge of the Sith!
The Sequel Trilogy (2015-2019) had a greater number of female characters central to the story, particularly Rey, but there were others, including Rose and the Stormtrooper Captain Phasma.
But it is outside the Skywalker Saga: The Clone Wars, Rebels, Resistance, as well as Rogue One and Solo and, more recently, the Mandalorian that we see and increased number of interesting characters – including some strong female characters such as Asohka Tano, Hera Syndulla, Bo Katan, Sabine Wren and Jyn Erso, as well as speaking roles being given to Jedi who otherwise remained fairly quiet during the prequel trilogy. We also gain an insight into societies beyond the points of central government, as well as some of the different forms of political intrigue across the galaxy. I am grateful to my son for encouraging me to go back and watch these series that I might have missed at the time of their original screenings.
Minifigures have also appeared over the years tied into Electronic arts Star Wars Games (Knights of the Old Republic; Battlefront), as well as novelties tied into animated specials and advent calendars.
As well as supporting the regular themes, 2017 has been a big year for LEGO tying in with cinematic releases, with both inhouse and external IP. By the end of the year, we will have seen a new Star Wars movie, Wonder Woman and Justice League movies, The LEGO Batman Movie and LEGO Ninjago Movie released.
This post was provoked, in part after reading a comment about the relatively low female representation in the Collectable Minifigure sets recently released. I thought it would be interesting to revisit the question of gender distribution in some popular LEGO themes, and see if there were any significant shifts in trends over the last 12 months, when I last reviewed the numbers. The impending release of the Ideas set ‘Women of NASA’ is also of interest, as it certainly demonstrates a desire to see inspirational female role models immortalised in LEGO form.
I would like to look specifically at LEGO City, overall, as well as broken down into its major sub themes; The LEGO Batman Movie; The LEGO Ninjago Movie, and also LEGO Friends. I would also like to look at LEGO Star Wars sets released since the Force Awakens… Continue reading →
This post has been a while coming. It’s a bit long. It may take a while to read…best get a drink.
Sorry about that!
When I was a boy, and we rode dinosaurs to school, life was a little more simple than it is today. When the first LEGO mini figures were introduced, they were people. Not really men or women, just people. Their faces all looked the same: depicting the now classic smiley face. The only attempts to define gender, in terms of appearance, came in the form of the hair piece they had on if they were not wearing a hat! In that first year there were four ‘female’ mini figures released: they had hair with pigtails. If they were wearing a hat, you could quite happily identify that knight, policeman or astronaut as male or female as you should choose.
Two of these ‘people with hair, defining their gender as female’ came as the only figure in their sets, along with vehicles: one an ambulance (606) and one a ‘Red Cross’ car(623). Another worked at the service station (376) and the final one came with a home (377). There was also a female passenger with a railway carriage. in 1979, the first classic ‘male’ minifigure hair appeared. In this first year, printed torsos were still a year or two away, and defining your minifigure’s identity came down to the sticker that you placed on the torso piece.