Street Fighter Vs. Ethnic and Cultural Stereotypes

The Street Fighter franchise has enjoyed success for the last 34 years since its debut in arcades in 1987. It wouldn’t truly take off however until its 1991 sequel “Street Fighter II: The World Warrior”. Of course with a title like that you’d expect a decent amount of representation of diversity around the world and you’d be correct. There’s characters from the US, USSR, China, Japan, Spain, Thailand, and India. Notice how there is only one country in the game that is non White / non East Asian. And how exactly is this character portrayed? Dhalsim is portrayed as a famished, old village leader who through the power of yoga and other mystical means can stretch out his arms like they’re clay and fights to earn money for his poor village. A far cry from the other characters who much better off such as a Muay Thai master, a police officer, a blonde millionaire, and an Air Force major. It seems like an easy and low blow to portray India as a poor country that relies on mysticism and antiquated outsider views of the country.

Surely years later they’d learn their lesson when other characters from more countries would get added later right? Thankfully they did improve. The character El Fuerte is introduce in the 4th main series game and is the only fighter to truly be from Mexico. (I say truly because there is one other character who is supposed to represent Mexico but he’s literally a Native American stereotype named T. Hawk. How they thought he was a suitable representative for Mexico when even Aztec and Mayan influenced characters appear in the background of his level I will never understand. And how is he portrayed? Well he’s a fun loving Luchador who takes visual cues from Mexican cultural icon El Santo and also wants to be great chef. He could have been anything but a Luchador to be a Mexican fighter but they took the more obvious choice and made something interesting and fun with him. With him they took a lot more care in his depiction and stands out over other characters even in the much more diverse modern games and more research on the culture of Mexico was done during his development. It’s always good to see how things change for the better and how a cultural stereotype doesn’t have to be used in a negative way. As time goes on, these sort of things can be improved on and each character can have a defining trait that isn’t simply their country of origin.

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Ian McMartin

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