Power-Con has come and gone and with it, per usual, came a slew of announcements and toy reveals. Within those reveals, Mattel showed off that a (seemingly) new super hero named Sun-Man was on his way to the MOTU-verse. This brand-new Black superhero is a breath of fresh air and great addition to the cast– but to long time toy collectors, Sun-Man may not seem so brand new. In fact, he may seem a little familiar. This will come out more and more as collectors dust him off and reveal that Sun-Man is in fact a relic from the 80s, though he was not created by Mattel.
Confused yet? Don’t be– the Toy Wizard are here to help. And together with our friends at Mattel, we’ve curated a little story about the history of Sun-Man to help make things a little clearer and a whole lot brighter.
Official story via Mattel press release:
The Creation of Sun-Man
Sun-Man was created by Yla Eason, a mother driven to provide a positive image for her son.
“I was taken aback when my son came to me and said he couldn’t be a superhero because he wasn’t
White. My heart broke and I was enraged at the same time.”, said Eason1.
So, in 1985, she created Sun Man, a Black American Superhero character for her son and other children like him. Eason saw the need for more relevant Black toys for the underserved Black children at play market.
Soon after, she launched Olmec Toys. 2
As the first mass market Black superhero toy, Eason made sure that Sun-Man’s super-heroism was grounded in sound character, Black representation, real inclusion, and physical and emotional strength that not only fulfilled a deficit of Black toys for play, but also a toy that reflects the possibilities of greatness for Black children.
In short, Eason’s story is an essential part of the emotional narrative and nostalgic appeal to consumers. Moreover, Sun-Man is not just a Black version of a White toy. It was sculpted to reflect hair with an Afro style, skin tone, facial features, design, accessories, and comic book storyline representing a character of Royal African ancestry (before the Black Panther movie). It has a legacy of empowerment and makes a statement of historical significance, especially to the Black community and to society in general. (The Olmec Toy company that created Sun-Man continued its diversity initiative by also creating positive Hispanic, Asian, and Native American superhero action figures as a part of the Sun-Man, Rulers of the Sun, toy line. The company grew to $5 million in sales).3
While researching the influence toys have on children’s perception of themselves and the meaning of toys in early childhood development, Eason had the honor of securing a meeting with Dr. Kenneth Clark, who with his wife, Mamie, was famous for conducting the Black doll study that led to the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education decision to desegregate public schools. In that study, dolls were used to reveal that segregation caused African American children to have “a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community.4” Dr. Clark helped the visiting mother understand the psychological importance of positive representation in toys and their ability to convey significance in societal roles. He supported her belief that Black boys needed Black superhero toys to see themselves as powerful. He added that his doll study showed that a feeling of inferiority “affects the motivation of a child to learn.”
After this meeting, Eason understood the inherent indoctrination toys can have especially when they diminish Black children’s social status, significance, and worth. Eason analyzed the growing demographic trend represented by African American children, examined the spending power this target audience represented, and decided a viable market existed.