Are Children’s TV Programmes Diverse & Inclusive Enough in 2022?
In recent years, the TV industry worldwide has begun to recognise there is a greater need for diversity and inclusion in children’s TV programmes. As with books, it is vital for children to see people, families and cultures like their own reflected in the TV shows they watch.
This is essential not only for TV shows to retain interest and loyalty from children but, more importantly, so that children from all backgrounds and situations feel seen and heard. People of different races, genders, physical abilities, cultures, nationalities, religions, sexual orientations, and appearances need to be represented for a fully diverse and inclusive society.
Representing disability in children’s TV programmes
UK video subscription service Hopster completed a report into preschool programmes, Is TV Making your Child Prejudiced?, showed that there is a huge lack of representation for disabilities in children’s TV worldwide. The research found that 16% of children’s TV programmes included characters with disabilities. Of those, over 50% were depicted as a villain or in a “tokenistic” way.
Representing disability in children’s TV shows is essential to promote better disability inclusion and understanding throughout the world. Clearly there is a long way to go in making children’s TV represent children with disabilities living ordinary, or extraordinary, lives alongside non-disabled characters, showing them as fully included in their communities and friendship groups.
Children and parents want greater diversity on-screen
A recent study by YPulse revealed that 74% percent of 13–39-year-olds agreed that more TV shows/movies should star non-white actors/actresses. Of those surveyed, 85% said that TV shows/movies should make an effort to represent all races, and 80% said they wish they saw more BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of colour) people in lead roles.
It’s not just children themselves wanting to see greater diversity in the TV shows they watch – parents are actively seeking out TV shows which include diverse characters and themes. The majority of parents are keen to raise children who are aware of people and cultures beyond their own, teaching them to be tolerant and to have an inclusive approach to people who are different from themselves.
Championing diversity in children’s TV shows
Online video streaming platform Netflix is one of the leading entertainment sources that Millennial parents see as offering diverse and inclusive children’s content. Here’s a few great examples of children’s TV shows on Netflix which are rich in diverse representations:
1. Karma’s WorldNetflix describes this series as: “Lyrically gifted middle schooler Karma juggles rap dreams and rhyme schemes while using her talent, ambition and heart to solve any problem.” Karma is an african-american female leading character, with a diverse friendship group of children from a range of backgrounds.
2. Ada Twist, Scientist
Eight-year-old scientist Ada Twist and her two best friends love working together to discover and learn about the world. This show also features a strong, smart african-american female lead and a varied cast of characters. It recently won Best Animated Television/Media Production for Preschool Children in the 2022 Annie Awards.
3. Barbie’s Dreamhouse Adventures
When you think of diversity, Barbie may not be the first thing that springs to mind. Over the years, Barbie has earned a bad reputation for its unrealistic body image portrayal and lack of diversity. In 2015, Mattel gave Barbie a revamp, launching a range of dolls with different skin tones, body shapes and sizes, and one in a wheelchair. This animated series includes a diverse cast, with Barbie’s friendship group representing different ethnicities and physical appearances. In Barbie’s family, her mother is a highly intelligent and talented engineer and is the breadwinner of the house, giving positive messages about gender roles that divert from the traditional.
4. Team Zenko Go
This new release for 2022 features four superhero friends who embark on exciting missions and do good deeds. Featuring a leading character in a wheelchair, this programme is being celebrated for showing a disabled character in a positive and non-tokenistic role.
5. She-Ra and the Princesses of Power
This reboot of the 1980s series features orphan girl Adora who finds a magic sword that transforms her into a warrior. The show includes a widely diverse cast of characters with different ethnicities, species, body shapes and genders. One of the characters has same-sex parents, and there is a main story arc of the romantic love developing between female characters Adora and Catra.
What makes this programme a big hit for diversity and inclusivity is that these sex and gender representations are incidental to the story, not made to be a big deal or as some big moral lesson, simply portrayed as a normal part of this world which is accepted.
6. Blue’s Clues & You
In the latest series of this 90s children’s TV series, Filipino American Joshua Dela Cruz takes the lead the show’s title role. This has been seen as a major breakthrough for diversity in children’s television, with Dela Cruz being the iconic show’s first Asian American host.
In a study by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, at least 50% of all stories across TV, movies and digital platforms failed to portray one speaking or named Asian or Asian American on screen – casting Dela Cruz as the lead in a programme aimed at the preschool audience is a huge step towards more inclusive and diverse TV and media.
7. Mighty Little Bheem
This is Netflix's first animated series from India and the fourth spin-off of the Chhota Bheem series, following Mighty Raju, Arjun - Prince of Bali and Super Bheem. It follows Little Bheem, a toddler with super-human strength who gets up to all sorts of mischief in a small Indian town The toddler is a baby version of the mythological-inspired 9-year-old character from the popular Indian series action comedy animated series Chhota Bheem which has aired on Turner Broadcasting's Pogo TV channel. The show celebrates everyday Indian life and culture, broadcast to global audiences – the decision was made to produce the show as non-verbal to make it universally accessible.
Are we moving towards a more diverse and inclusive world?
The examples above show that children’s programmes are becoming more representative of the diverse communities and cultures across the globe. There is some criticism that diversity and inclusion is just a tick-box exercise, with TV directors and producers ‘checklist casting’, trying to cover each ethnic background or marginalised group. Though this may be true in some cases, children’s TV shows like those mentioned above go to show that things are heading in the right direction.
This process of being fully inclusive and diverse is not limited to TV – it is increasingly coming into the workplace, with many business leaders adopting the Rooney Rule to ensure their workforce is representative and egalitarian. The Rooney Rule is a National Football League policy that requires league teams to interview ethnic-minority and female candidates for head coaching and senior football operation jobs.
The hope for the future is that content creation for children becomes less about ticking boxes, and more about including a diverse and representative range of characters as a natural and normal part of the programmes – not as something which is simply there to make a statement that these shows are being inclusive, but as a genuine and authentic shift in how we portray stories and shows for children that are fully representative of our rich and varied world. Ultimately, children need to see themselves and their own cultures reflected in the TV shows they watch, as well as being exposed to ones which are different from their own to teach tolerance, respect and inclusion.
What are your thoughts? Do you actively seek out TV programmes for your children that have diverse and inclusive casts? Connect with us on social and carry on the conversation on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.
Look out for Melissa's latest articles on Anita Frost's author website, where she'll talk about topics including business and publishing, author news and events, and giving back to communities. You can find her in-depth monthly feature on the News & Media page of the Green Bean Collection website, discussing children's books and reading, early years education, living a greener lifestyle and all things Green Bean!
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