TV networks have a large reach and heavy influence on kids, which is why it is so critical for children's programming to help kids understand more about people's differences and the world around them. Disney Channel and Disney Junior have long stood out from the crowd in their quest to create diverse and inclusive programming, and their animated shows continue to step up for the youngest audiences. At this year's Television Critics Association summer press tour, producers and cast members of some of their most popular animated kids shows spoke about the importance of having programming that reflect the diverse perspectives and backgrounds that make up everyday society, and shows that give kids a positive image of themselves and of others who are different from them.
"Growing up as Thai-American, I didn't see myself on TV," explained Brenda Song, who is the voice behind the lead in "Amphibia"—an animated series that follows the adventures of a Thai-American girl. "To be a part of a company [like Disney] that is willing to show diverse cultures, diverse people, showing what's really great about this country and the fact that we're all so different. That's what makes it amazing."
In "Amphibia," which comes out with its third season in October, Song represents a Thai-American character for the first time in her life, and she expressed appreciation for being able to delve into the Thai culture for young audiences to view. As a child, she would feel ashamed for speaking a different language, or for bringing in Thai cuisine to school. "So to be able to work on programming that shows it's wonderful to be different, that you should be proud ... is really wonderful, especially for children. Because they're our future, and if you open up their eyes and their brains into being so accepting of that now, it's truly limitless."
When it comes to diversity and inclusion, the network's approach is pretty simple, said Joe 'D Ambrosia, General Manager and Senior Vice President of Original Programming at Disney Junior. "All of our stories really need to act as a mirror and a window ... A mirror where a young kid could watch TV and see a reflection of themselves out there and also as a window where another kid could view another child's experiences."
Disney Junior's show, "Mira, Royal Detective," does this in its storylines, which are inspired by Indian culture. South Asian children can see themselves authentically represented on TV, and at the same time children of all cultures and ethnicities are exposed to a culture they might not be familiar with. But to portray the culture as truthfully and comprehensively as possible, the production staff continually immerse themselves into Indian culture, whether that is by visiting an Indian temple, eating the cuisine, or participating in workshops with a consulting producer to learn as much as possible.
D'Ambrosia also spoke about short musical animated productions in the works for Disney Junior that are meant to serve as a starting point for parents to discuss issues around race with their kids. Hip-hop artist Tariq 'Black Thought' Trotter is the executive producer behind the upcoming series, "Rise Up, Sing Out." Growing up as an artist and creator, Trotter said he didn't seen anyone who looked like him in animation. He added that what also appealed to him about the project was that the writer's room was diverse. "I think they made it a priority here at the studio." Trotter also remarked, "I think representation just across the board is super important. And not only as creatives; representation on an administrative level as well, making decisions about the content is super important."
While audiences everywhere await the fall premieres of a whole new slate of entertaining shows, kids can count on finding acceptance of diverse people and cultures and new learning experiences on Disney Channel and Disney Junior. And as Song said, "Just the opportunity to speak to our youngest audience when they're in this most impressionable stage is super important."