The first Playmobil figures were released in 1974 with the goal of accurately representing society in order to free children’s imaginations. The first brown-skinned figures were introduced in 1978, and since then Playmobil has played with brown- and orange-skinned figures to represent ethnic diversity. Their efforts have occasionally been admirable and more often problematic, although in recent years there appears to have been a more concerted strategy to integrate a few non-white figures in a more inclusive manner.
In 2000 Playmobil introduced its first series depicting the Three Wise Men (Heilige Drei Könige), part of an expanding series of Christmas-themed sets that has continued uninterrupted into the present. Following conventional understandings that date back to the Middle Ages, the set represents the figures as a multicultural trio. Leading a camel laden with gifts for the Christ child are three kings differentiated both by skin color and by dress. Strikingly, the three figures are identified through clothing that mark their origins. The peach-skinned figure wears a crown, robe, and jewelled necklace that would not look out of place in a cartoon about medieval Europe. The orange-skinned figure with the long white beard wears a slightly more elaborate crown with feather and a robe with vaguely exotic designs on the hem, while the brown-skinned figure is marked as the most foreign through his turban. As such, the set draws most on depictions of the Three Kings dating to the early modern and colonial eras, in which the Black Magus shifted from a glamorous but not necessarily foreign figure to an orientalized, exotic figure. This set was offered until 2010. Although the subsequent editions have made minor changes to the composition and dress of the figures, the one constant has been that the brown-skinned figure has been given the most elaborately exotic dress as a contrast to a peach-skinned figure in recognisably “European” medieval garb.
Playing with the Three Wise Men (2000) by Jeff Bowersox is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://blackcentraleurope.com/who-we-are/.