Into the Archive: Black Action Figures

Last Fall, our former archivist Mary Hueslbeck put together a display at the IU Cinema featuring a collection of toys and action figures of black movie stars.

It’s a pretty interesting collection, and reminds me how action figures and toys have the Janus-like quality of being both fun (I had a great time popping Jim West off of his saddle), and how they are also objects of serious sociological consideration (why is Samuel Jackson noticeably lighter as Mace Windu for preschoolers, and noticeably darker for adults as Shaft?).

Below, some of our selections (click Continue Reading below for more photos and figures).

Will Smith as Captain James West in Wild Wild West (1999). This toy is from the Burger King Kids Club.

In Saddle Vault, one of six toys released by Burger King, James West flies from the horse when you push the saddle down.

Samuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu in the Star Wars series, in a release by Playskool for preschoolers.

Released for the non-preschool set, this Samuel L. Jackson from Shaft (2000) comes with a gun, a Movie Maniacs stand, and a small poster.

Jackson played the nephew of the original John Shaft (played by Richard Roundtree) in 1971.

In this McDonald's Happy Meal release, Samuel L. Jackson is Frozone from The Incredibles (2004).

Mattel's Tiana from the Princess and the Frog (2009), voiced by Anika Noni Rose. The film was Disney's first to feature a black lead character, and was animated by hand for the first time since 2004.

Will Smith from Men In Black (1997) by Galoob Toys

X Toys put out more complex action figures for Wild Wild West, including this one of James West with a hat, three guns, and a demolition pool ball.

Halle Berry as Jinx Johnson in Die Another Day (2002), complete with bikini knife.

Here, Berry is Storm from X-Men (2000). Her eyes change color, her arm raises, and her base lights up when touched.

Does that complexity explain the incongruities of actor and figure?

And to finish off, another version of Halle Berry's character Storm in X-Men, put out by Medicom Toys.

About BFC/A

The Black Film Center/Archive at Indiana University was established in 1981 as the first archival repository dedicated to collecting, preserving, and making available historically and culturally significant films by and about black people. The BFC/A's primary objectives are to promote scholarship on black film and to serve as an open resource for scholars, researchers, students, and the general public; to encourage creative film activity by independent black filmmakers; and to undertake and support research on the history, impact, theory, and aesthetics of black film traditions. View all posts by BFC/A

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