I just graduated with a BFA in Screenwriting from DePaul University and I’ve been babysitting and nannying for ten years now. Trust me, I’ve been exposed to quite a lot of children’s media, good and bad. I still love hanging out with kids as much as I did when I started. Kids are constantly learning, asking questions, and figuring out what boundaries and rules exist in the world. That’s one of the reasons I believe that children’s media is one of the most important places for diverse and inclusive representation, across race, gender, class, sexuality, etc.
Studies have shown that consuming media increases the self esteem for white boys, but
decreases self esteem for everyone else. Imagine a world where that’s not the case. Imagine the power a generation could have if they’re taught from an early age to see themselves as heroes and leaders, no matter race, gender, or sexuality. We’re getting closer. Television shows have so many more children of color and women than when I was a kid, from Sofia the First to Doc McStuffins. But there’s still such a long way to go.
Children seeing a reflection of themselves in the media they consume is incredibly
important. But what’s also important, perhaps even more so, are children seeing people not like them as heroes and protagonists and leaders. We aren’t born with hate; it’s something that we’re taught. Kids learn racism and sexism through their parents, the world around them, and of course, through the media they consume. If kids grow up empathizing with people different from them, they will be more accepting and inclusive.
I convinced the two boys I nannied (ages 6 and 8) to watch Mulan. They’d never seen the movie before. While incredibly sweet, sometimes they’d make comments like, “Well, girls can’t play baseball” or “you’re bad at baseball because you’re a girl.” I’d explain that I am not bad at baseball because I’m a girl, but simply because I have thrown a baseball exactly four times in my life before meeting them (they’re obsessed with baseball, if you can’t tell). However, kid logic
doesn’t work exactly the same as adult logic. They had never seen girls play baseball on television or in a stadium, and here I was, a girl, who was bad at baseball. The conclusion? Girls can’t play baseball. After the movie ended, I asked them if they learned anything. The oldest said, “Yeah! Girls can fight just like boys.”
Really subtly, I also asked, “Do you think that means girls could play baseball too?” The oldest thought about it for a moment. He said, “Oh. Yeah. That makes sense.” A 90 minute movie did more than I had all summer. That’s the power of a film. That’s why diverse and inclusive characters in children’s media are so incredibly important.