Race and positive representation have become hot button topics in the media. While film adaptations like “The Last Airbender,” “Ghost in the Shell” and Netflix’s “Deathnote” have made headlines for whitewashed casting, others like “Black Panther” and “Crazy Rich Asians” have garnered almost universal praise for demonstrating the financial and cultural power of casting people of color in lead roles.
While this new visibility is a cultural milestone that many celebrate, for some, like local artist David Heredia, it’s still not enough. Heredia created the nonprofit company Heroes of Color in March to promote inclusion for different cultures and highlight the achievements of historical figures around the world.
“I was with my son at a comic book store once and even though I assured him there were plenty of ethnic superheroes, the only one I could find in the store at the time was the black Green Lantern,” Heredia said. “I went home and I searched ‘superheroes of color’ on the internet and then I got so many results for actual historical figures that I made a list of people that I wanted to learn more about. I later decided to start Heroes of Color as a way to give back to the community.”
While working as an animator for the Pearson educational company, Heredia began creating a series of informational animated videos called “Heroes of Color” about some of the people he learned about. His first episode, which explores the history of the Harlem Hellfighters, was accepted into the 2018 PBS Online Film Festival.
“I created the series because I wondered why all these great historical figures with really interesting stories had not been brought into the light,” Heredia said. “Some of the local teachers found out about it and loved the ideas so much they actually incorporated my videos into their lesson plans.”
However, not all the response to Heredia’s videos has been positive. After “Heroes of Color” premiered with the PBS Online Film Festival, the initial comments were overwhelmingly positive but soon gave way to harsh criticism and accusations that Heredia was perpetuating hate and negativity.
These responses confused and discouraged Heredia, who even contemplated abandoning the series. He decided to persevere because he believed he has a “moral responsibility as an artist with a platform” to highlight the topic of race.
“I go to bed at night and wake up in the morning and I still look the same way,” Heredia said. “Certain people can turn it on and off and if they want to talk about race a certain day, they can. They can also decide that they don’t want to confront race on a certain day. My kids and I can’t do that. So when people ask me why I do ‘Heroes of Color,’ it’s because we’re still here and there are still issues that we have been facing since the 1600s. I hope that one day we can live in a society where we can say ‘white’ or ‘black’ without having to whisper.”
The artist’s dedication paid off, and now he is working on a “Heroes of Color” children’s book with Scholastic.
As Santa Clarita residents, Heredia and board member Corey Curties are using the company to have a positive influence on his community. Though Santa Clarita is not as diverse as they would like it to be, Heredia and Curties see this as the perfect opportunity to spread messages of inclusion and inspiration.
“We want to motivate and inspire the young people of Santa Clarita,” Curties said.
Heredia added that though Santa Clarita does have a variety of cultures among its residents, there is still work to be done.
“This would be true even if Santa Clarita was more of a melting pot like New York, where I grew up, and people here are genuinely interested in promoting diversity,” he said. “We all know a little bit about each other’s cultures, but having dialogue about it helps us feel more comfortable the next time we meet someone from that region and be more respectful. It’s not enough for people to just be tolerant of each other, we have to readily assimilate as members of the community.”
Heredia recently completed leading the first session of the Junior ARTrepreneur program, which helps young artists create and sell their own merchandise. The response to the program was so strong that several adults have asked him for a similar workshop geared toward an older audience, and a local school has partnered with Heroes of Color for the second session of classes.
“I think it was Picasso who said, ‘Every child is an artist, the problem is to stay that way,’” Heredia said. “It’s a natural reaction for children to grab a crayon and start drawing. Art is such an important tool because it’s a way for them to take pride in themselves and their culture.”
Though the company is just starting out, the two men have high hopes for Heroes of Color. They plan to expand the youth arts program, have been approved for a freelance artist career workshop with College of the Canyons, hope to implement a speaking engagement series and even to shop the “Heroes of Color” animations to studios like Netflix.
“For someone of color who may not see themselves in the media or in the public eye, representation in art impacts them,” Curties said. “Just last week my 4-year-old daughter asked me why she was the only one with brown skin in her class because that’s all she sees. This is why I’m so passionate about Heroes of Color, because the more the little one can see the accomplishments of people with color the more they can be proud of who they are.”