Children’s Programs for the Diaspora and Beyond

Young white boys who watch television feel better about themselves in the long run, according to a research study by Nicole Martins and Kristen Harrison.  Young girls and young black boys tend to feel worse about themselves.  While women, across a range of television programming, find success in sexualization of their bodies, “Young black boys are getting the opposite message: that there is not lots of good things that you can aspire to,” said Martins here.

The findings are both terrible and wholly unsurprising (see: Clark Doll Test); that the television landscape is desperately wanting of black and female characters who are not either tokenized or peripheral is not particularly new.

There are, of course, exceptions.  Enter Doc McStuffins, a Disney production featuring a six year old black girl who emulates her mother (a real doctor) by playing doctor to her dolls, all the while teaching kids lessons on health and a variety of topics.  The show has been a hit (averaging 918,000 viewers in the two to five age set), and has been signed for a second season.

After the New York Times ran a piece on the show two days ago, the blogosphere has been buzzing about the show and its effects, pointing out outpourings of support like this collage made up of photos of black women doctors:

Interestingly, Doc McStuffins (and Dora, for that matter) was originally written as a little white girl, whose non-whiteness developed later in the character development process.  Was there some sort of appeasement opportunism at play there – one that would give Disney just enough currency to continue across the tried (and profitable) television landscape?

Of course, Doc McStuffins, viewed on its own, is a wonderful development, and I applaud it loudly.  But can it be seen (along with Little Bill as well as a slew of turn of the millennium show/cartoons with prominent, non-stereotypical black characters) as part of a changing tide, or the exception that proves the underlying rule? After all, Disney’s animated shortcomings, from overt racism Song of the South to the more subtly disappointing ‘bridging whiteness’ of Aladdin, are well-known, and we need not rehash them all here.

Little Bill (as in Cosby), on which ran on Nickelodeon from 1999-2004

“Stop waiting for Disney to tell our stories” says Adamu Waziri in a blog piece on his website.  Waziri’s argument is that Disney, a profit-motivated corporation (and value judgments aside), will never be wholly invested in meaningfully telling stories featuring/catering to the diaspora, except to the extent that they protect the Disney brand and provide marketable opportunities.  Black people should find, create, and market their own mechanisms for telling stories to children, argues Waziri.

Waziri is the creator of Bino & Fino, an educational show about an African brother and sister intended for three to five year olds, which has been aired on Sky TV in the UK and has episodes available on YouTube.

The show, which takes place in a nameless African city (though cut, seemingly, from a Nigerian template) teaches children about African independence and how to count to ten in Yoruba and Igbo.  Two clips below: a clip of the show and an interview with Waziri on VOXAfrica:

Someday, we hope, children’s cartoons with black characters will cease to be news items in and of themselves, save for TV Guide. And that watching television (in moderation) will raise the self-esteems of all young viewers.

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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