Facial Profiling

In animation, certain facial features are used (and often exaggerated) to help the viewer identify ethnicity. Often this can depend on where (or when) the animation was produced.

The audience is considered to be the "default" type of character; i.e., a character with no outstanding features is assumed to be of the ethnicity and/or gender of the (majority of) the audience. Any character which deviates from this is given some outstanding feature which identifies him or her as such. That's why a stick figure is usually assumed to be male unless it has long hair or a skirt, in which case it's female.

Similarly, that's why in the East, light skinned characters are assumed to be Asian, while in western cultures they are assumed to be white. Again people would largely make similar subconscious assumptions if they had to humanize a stick figure, smiley face, or animal unless they perceived specific racial or gender markers.

Naturally with the prevalence of Anime in the West, many people make the mistake of wondering why the Japanese make cartoons with white casts. To them, they don't — even coupled with blonde hair and blue eyes on characters who are 100% Japanese. (But the fact that these same characters often stand alongside naturally blue, pink and green haired people, yellowish hair might not be far of a stretch after all.)

Common animation features used to identify a character as female are Tertiary Sexual Characteristics. Ethnic identifiers might be more subtle (or not), and often are areas of great sensitivity.

  • Greeks: The Greek nose that lacks the indent over the bridge, cribbed from vase painting
  • Jews: Hook-nosed and curly-haired, since All Jews Are Ashkenazi (definitely has negative connotations, though). Sideburns will show up on Orthodox or Conservative Jews. Nerd Glasses are optional.
  • Blacks are depicted with prominent lips. This was also a major element of the problematic Black Face era. Doesn't show up much Western Animation these days because of it, although if you go back to before the 1960s, it is very common. Cartoons nowadays that leave out lips for non-black characters may draw in normal-sized lips for black characters. Wider noses and frizzy hair is also common, as are braids on black women. Shaved heads will appear frequently on black men.
    • There's usually little difference between black Americans and black Sub Saharan Africans of any nation in the rare occasion that series features both or mentions a specific African country by name. If there are both, then Africans will have rounder faces, darker skin and sometimes larger ears or generally anything that makes them further away from the 'white default' than black Americans. Stereotypical Darkest Africa bush tribes will have gaunt features, long faces, and wear little clothing.
  • Asians, especially from the 40s to the 60s, are depicted as yellow-skinned and slit-eyed, often with bad teeth. Chinese tend to have buck teeth note , while Japanese have crooked teeth. Today, Asians are depicted with almond-shaped eyes. Skin may be the same as whites or tinted slightly differently. Straight hair is usually a given. In all periods, as with Jews, Nerd Glasses will be common thanks both to Hideki Tojo's spectacles and to the Asian and Nerdy trope.
  • Native Americans are depicted with high prominent cheekbones and/or jowls in more subtle versions. Other times the animators just color them red. And they'll always be dressed in the animator's idea of their traditional clothing (Usually a sort of generic Plains Tribe look, without enough detail to identify a specific nation) with a crest of feathers on their heads.
  • Mexicans tend to have brown skin. Men have mustaches. Other typical traits may include soft facial features and small eyes, and a glossiness of the skin that implies a perpetual sweat.
  • Turks are also distinguished by large moustaches, along with a fez (this being inaccurate as fezzes have been outlawed in Turkey since 1925). European facial features tend to be the norm.
  • The English: In flattering examples, males will have a tall, slender figure, noble, distinguished features, Droopy Eyes (usually blue) and glossy, floppy hair (usually blond or auburn, but occasionally darker brown for a little variety) parted to the side. See Hugh Grant or Ralph Fiennes for real-life detail. In unflattering examples, males will have bad teeth, large ears, and big eyebrows — see Prince Charles for detail. Flattering female examples will depict the English Rose or Bond Girl type (pale-skinned, rosy cheeks, gentle eyes, natural beauty) See Kate Winslet or Rachel Weisz for inspiration. Unflattering female examples will look like Margaret Thatcher (big nose, ruddy, horsey face). Children are often freckled and mostly light-haired — little girls will have ringlets in period works. The children from Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang are perfect examples.
  • The Irish: Rufous hair, very pale skin and freckles. Shorter and stockier than the English. They'll have big heads, or just sport a Forehead of Doom. Women often have a very large mass of frizzy or very curly hair, like the wigs of some Irish stepdancers. Men have cleft chins and thicker eyebrows, with large sideburns if they're older. Centuries ago, the Irish were depicted as very ape-like.
  • Scandinavians: Blond hair, blue eyes, fair skin, and high cheekbones. Very tall. If they are Vikings, bearded men are a given. If they are modern Scandinavians, then beards only appear occasionally.
  • Italians: Olive skin, dark hair, and dark eyes. Sometimes medium or even light brown hair appears too. Large aquiline noses are also common. Mustaches are a common feature on men. Usually short, especially if from Southern Italy. In older works, women will often be ugly and rotund. In modern works, women (especially Northern Italian) will be attractive.
  • Russians and other Slavs: Men will be depicted with brown hair (or sometimes bald heads) and beards, while women will have blonde hair and delicate facial features. In unflattering examples, younger Slav males will be ghostly pale, have shaven, round heads, large ears, a long nose and rather small eyes, often quite close together — the whole look will suggest a malnourished, sullen quality (see Vladimir Putin for real-life detail). More flattering examples, on the other hand, will usually depict them as brawny hunks. Older works often depict Russian women as ugly, while modern works will show them as Ms. Fanservice, slender with big breasts and long, long legs. Sometimes the men and old women will have large or unusual noses, though not to the extent of Jews. Expect dark circles under the eyes of both sexes. In anime and manga, Russians are frequently depicted as pale with white, silver, platinum blond, or blue hair. Will frequently wear ushankas.
  • White Americans: Flattering examples will be tanned, have a large square jawline, a cleft chin, a beaming ice-white smile, coiffed hair and a broad muscular frame — see Mitt Romney for real-life detail or Stan from American Dad! for a good caricature. Unflattering examples will be pig-ugly, sweaty, have multiple chins and be at least 400 lbs (although some of these people, such as John Goodman, are portrayed more positively). Flattering portrayals of American women will generally be tall, blonde, curvaceous and tanned (Anna Nicole Smith and WWE's "Sable" being two very good examples from recent decades), whilst unflattering examples are morbidly obese and physically Repulsive.
  • Westerners, in Japanese anime and video games: blond and blue-eyed. While there are plenty of anime characters who are blond and blue-eyed and not western, there aren't many western anime characters who are not blond and blue-eyed. Those that aren't are typically black. Old-school caricatures of Caucasians in Japanese media will have tall statures, huge, protruding noses, tan or ruddy skin, chiseled features with prominent jaws and chins, small/squinting eyes (ironically), and freckles. Men will be muscular and hairy, the women will be very curvy and buxom. Most depiction nowadays just include the height, build and aforementioned coloring.
  • The French are tanned with gaunt noses (or, in manga and anime, frequently blond, which is actually a pretty rare occurrence in France, compared to the UK and Scandinavia, for example). Women and young men are very slender, older men are short and chubby. May wear an expression of fatigued disinterest. Very pilose, even the women in the most unflattering depictions. Men always have curly mustaches.
  • Arabs, North Africans, Egyptians,(applies to mostly any Middle Eastern countries) etc,: Will often have tan skin, high cheek bones, large hooked noses and black curly hair (and beards) on men and straight hair on women (if not covered by a headscarf). They are still often enough played by white actors however. If their depiction is negative (which these days in Western media, it almost always is), they are often hairy and ugly as well.
  • Men and women of South Asian descent will almost always be portrayed as roughly in the middle ground of skin tone between Caucasian and African (in real life, they tend to run the gamut from "whiter than Irish", to blue black). Facial features are almost always similar to those of Arab portrayals (see above) but more toned down toward a Caucasian 'base'. Large eyebrows are common. Men will have short hair that is either curly or heavily greased, sometimes into unfashionable looks to play on the stereotype of Indian men being computer-savvy nerds. Women will always have long hair that is jet-black and nearly always straight (this kind of hair is actually considered ideal by women, similar to how many Western women like blonde hair. As many western women are bottle blondes, many South Asian women have this kind of hair thanks to time spent in a beauty parlour).. Older men will have long beards, making them look like yogis. Note, this often truth in television as elderly men often grow beards in South Asia, even outside of religious reasons.
  • Armenians will be shown with big noses and unibrows. Though usually when an Armenian appears in animation the animator is likely Armenian.
  • Young Romani women in fiction always have long, wavy black hair (usually under a headscarf), dark sexy eyes, and tan-to-olive skin. Older Romani women are always very short and wrinkled, while Romani men (if seen) are bulky, hairy-armed figures with big black mustaches.
  • Australians will almost always be represented as Caucasians, quite tall and mostly blonde. Australian men tend to be portrayed as heavily tanned, with a square jaw and cheekbones and a rough, rugged appearance (largely due to the success of Crocodile Dundee). Australian women seem less stereotyped but are likely to be surfer or bikini babes. Aboriginals, when seen at all, will be portrayed in a traditional, tribal setting and will have very dark skin, a somewhat protruding jaw and often wear white body paint.
  • Much like Indians, Polynesians are frequently depicted with a "middle ground" skin tone between white people and black people. Younger men tend to have a swimmer's build, while younger women usually lean towards the willowy (all the better for hula dancing, one supposes). Middle-aged and older people tend to be at least chubby.

(Feel free to add more signals of ethnicity)

Supertrope of Asian Buck Teeth and British Teeth. See also Religion Equals Race, where a character's spiritual beliefs are often assumed from physical appearance.


Examples:

Anime and Manga
  • Macross Zero. The hero's co-pilot had a stereotypical black appearance.
  • In Shaman King, the black shaman Chocolove is drawn with very prominent lips. The VIZ translation of the manga volumes edited the lips back to the style of the other characters. In the recent Jump Remix editions, a short chapter showed that the creator himself had done away with lips as well.
  • The Maximum Ride manga features Nudge with very large lips that on occasion look way too big for her face, and (oddly enough) white fingernails.
  • Eureka Seven's cosmopolitan cast both plays this straight and averts this; Matthieu, Linck, Gidget, and Hilda are all black - the first three have large lips, but Hilda doesn't.
  • The original character designs for Cyborg 009 fell into this, but the most prominent example was Pyumna/008, whose lips took up most of his head. Notably, while most of the characters have had minimal changes made to their designs over the years, Pyunma's appearance was extensively overhauled in the '79 movie and 2001 series.
  • Akira Toriyama drew the occasional black person in this manner (large red lips) for Dragon Ball Z, not just the infamous Mr. Popo.

Film - Animated
  • Tiana from The Princess and the Frog is Disney's first African American heroine. She has full lips and a broad nose to avoid But Not Too Black accusations, but not too exaggerated so as to avoid making her a racist caricature. She's still been accused of being both at the same time. Her figure is pretty standard as far as Disney girls go, despite accusations of "Disney thinks all black girls have big butts!" This despite the fact that her character design is basically a cartoon version of the voice actress portraying her in keeping with Disney's longstanding tradition of basing character designs on their voice actors.
  • In The Prince of Egypt the Egyptians have dark skin, high cheekbones and are clean-shaven if male. The people who are Jewish have smooth, round features, and are generally lighter-skinned. This means that Moses's face changes from angular to round in the course of the movie. Tzipporah, whom Moses helps to escape (and eventually marries), has an even rounder face, and the Midian people are Ambiguously Brown and darker than the Jewish characters, which makes sense since one theory about the Midians is that they were from the area around modern Sudan. This is possible Truth in Television; the Canaanites (who likely shared a skin tone with the Israelites) were depicted in at least one Egyptian mural as a paler race.
  • Pocahontas is quite accurate in the way it portrays how Native Americans looked in the 1600's...except for Pocahontas herself, who looks very unlike the real Pocahontas. Once again, this was because her face was based on her voice actress, Irene Bedard, who is of Inupiat Inuit and Métis descent, so Pocahontas does in fact look like a modern Native American, most of whom trace their ancestry to several different tribes, but unlike what one would look like during the time and place where the film is set. And then there's the tall, blond, blue-eyed John Smith who looked nothing like the real guy.
  • Shows up in the An American Tail movies, through use of fur color and clothing. Bridget, an Irish mouse from the first movie, has red hair and freckles. Later films have Native American mice with reddish-brown fur and long black hair. Real-life mice from different areas might have different dominant physical characteristics, but this is pushing it.
  • Esmeralda from The Hunchback of Notre Dame looks like any typical Gypsy woman in fiction... ...except that she has Green Eyes. Ironically, in Victor Hugo's original novel it was actually a minor plot point that she wasn't ethnically Roma at all, but had been adopted by them.

Western Animation
  • DCAU cartoons, the only white males that have lips are Lex Luthor and Harvey Dent. (And interestingly, some later depictions of Dent have him as black). Lex Luthor on Superman: The Animated Series is often mistaken for being black because of this facial feature, when in fact the character's design is supposed to evoke Telly Savalas. John Stewart was also the only male on Justice League to have lips, presumably for clarity- when the character's mouth is just a black line, it's more difficult to see on dark skin.
  • The Boondocks is pretty even when it comes to lips for blacks and girls. Some black characters like Huey, Riley, Granddad and Tom don't have lips, but the more ethnic, dark-skinned ones like Uncle Ruckus do. Likewise some females don't have lips such as Jazmine, Sarah, and Cindy, while the various supermodels do (which makes sense, as supermodels would be expected to wear lipstick) Word of God is that the animation is deliberately done in an anime style (with strong influences from Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo), where mouths and noses are usually set aside so as to put focus on eyes.
  • Layla of Winx Club has lips so large that they often cover her chin.
  • Due to the attitudes following World War II, the episodes of The Beatles cartoon produced in Australia always portray the Japanese in the stereotypical fashion mentioned above, and usually make them rather idiotic to boot. One of the animators later admitted no one could really enjoy those episodes today because of the awkwardness.
  • The early episodes of the 1970s cartoon The Blue Racer had the main character (a blue snake) chase after a Japanese Beetle for a meal. Guess what the beetle looked like. Another episode also featured the snake trying to steal an egg from a Japanese rooster, oddly enough voiced by Mako.
  • Typically any 1940's Wartime Cartoon will have all the Japanese stereotypes.
  • In The Simpsons European people are colored yellow, whilst early on people of East Asian descent had pale white skin with narrower eyes. However, in recent episodes, people of East Asian descent have the same skin tone as the European people, only a little lighter, and still large but almond shaped eyes.
  • Charlie from Mr. Magoo, who is ethnically Chinese, has buck teeth like the politically-incorrect stereotype and almond-shaped eyes, but has a very whitish, ivory-colored skintone. Conversely, Mr. Magoo, who is ethnically white, has a yellowish peach skintone, which is a much more normal skintone for both white and East Asian ethnicities.
  • The episode of American Dad! that had Stan harassing an Iranian family who moved in next door (suspecting them to be terrorists) had the neighbors with black hair and brown skin, like Arabs, even though ethnic Persians are not Arabs and their appearances are quite diverse, running the gamut from dark brown to almost Irish-looking. Of course, if the animators had colored the neighbors a lighter shade, Stan might not have thought they were terrorists, and the plot never would have come about.
  • Stacy and Ginger Hirano of Phineasand Ferb both have almond-shaped eyes.

Other
  • The Onion tells of this being done to create a Five-Token Band of Animate Inanimate Objects.
  • The cover of MAD's Special Racial Issue from June 1967 has Alfred E. Neuman pose as several different nationalities.
    • Another issue showed an array of caricatured faces from around the world, proclaiming that their owners were "living together in peace and harmony" and asking the reader to use crayons to color them the appropriate hues. The correct answer for each? "You were correct if you colored them all green. Because if they're living together in peace and harmony, they must be Martians!"
    • Neuman himself is thought by some to have originated from a racist caricature of Irish immigrants (despite clearly having a Germanic name).

Real Life
  • In a case of a real person using this trope in a Dangerously Genre Savvy way, one member of the Murrieta bandit gang in early California could infiltrate and spy on Anglo-Americans because he was lighter-skinned than the other bandits and did not "look Mexican."