Diversity in Kid’s Cartoons

It was announced recently that the new version of The Powerpuff Girls would be introducing a fourth member, Bliss (voiced by Olivia Olson), and that she would be black. Reactions were mostly positive, with a few noting that the way she was characterized in the show made her out be a stereotype of an angry black girl and some also saying that her inclusion felt a bit like tokenism. It’s a fair criticism.

I was, like most people my age, a huge fan of The Powerpuff Girls growing up. It was rare to see female cartoon characters who got to run around, fight villains, and save the day as they navigated girlhood. For me, it was a really big deal to see such representation. But I’m white, so I never really felt that I couldn’t be like them, nor did I lack cartoon characters who look like me. So for all her faults, it is something that a major kid’s cartoon is choosing to include a dark-skinned black girl who will also run around, fight villains, and save the day, even if her portrayal is a bit problematic.

I think now, more so than before, creators of children’s cartoons have realized the importance of diversity and inclusion. Representation is especially important for kids, as they start to form their sense of self, and especially for kids who aren’t white, who are disabled, who aren’t straight and/or cisgender, or are otherwise marginalized.

The Powderpuff Girls: Bubbles, Bliss, Blossom, and Buttercup

Take a show like Steven Universe. The show revolves around its titular character, Steven (voiced by Zach Callison), who is being raised by three female humanoid jewels (known as the Crystal Gems), and spends his time saving the world and subverting masculinity. There are numerous characters of color, and the show has been widely recognized for its multiple portrayals of queer characters and relationships, non-binary characters, and its ability to frankly discuss consent, gender roles, masculinity, maturation, and anxiety. And yet, the show never really veers into the territory of tokenism, instead letting the identities of its characters simply be a fact of the show. It’s one of the few shows on TV for children that has multiple queer characters, and doesn’t bother with the same tired tropes that most adult shows still haven’t stopped using.

For even younger audiences, there are also shows like Doc McStuffins. The show premiered in 2012 and has been going strong ever since. The premise is that the main character, a young African-American girl named Dottie McStuffins (currently voiced by Laya DeLeon Hayes), who hopes to be a doctor like her mother and practices on her toys that come to life from her magic stethoscope, and who she treats injuries and illnesses each week.

Doc McStuffins

Comedian W. Kamau Bell explained the importance of a show like Doc McStuffins on NPR last year, saying: “And so that’s the thing. It’s not a fantasy…Like, it’s not about wouldn’t it be crazy if I was a doctor? It’s clearly a little girl who wants to be like her mom who is a doctor. And they go to her – and there’s episodes where they go to her mom’s private practice and shows that she’s the leader of this practice, and there’s other black women there…And the dad, who we also see, Marcus McStuffins, he’s always at home, so he looks to be a stay-at-home dad…These are things that break down stereotypes and traditional narratives with, like, yeah, that’s what black dads do. We have gardens of vegetables, and we hand out strawberries. That’s what we do. That’s what black dads do.” 

Or, take the show Elena of Avalor, which revolves around a teenage Latina named Elena Castillo Flores (voiced by Aimee Carrero), who rules over a magical kingdom called Avalor. The show is notable not just for having a young Latina protagonist, but also for putting her in a position of leadership, and giving her power, agency, and some cool magic powers. If you’ve ever doubted the power of representation, I’d like to point to this incredibly sweet clip that was floating around Tumblr recently of an actress at Disneyland playing Elena speaking to a little girl in Spanish.

That’s why all this representation matters. It’s not for me to write about it (although that’s a nice bonus), or for people to argue about political correctness or identity politics. Diversity isn’t just some grand idea or social justice buzzword. It’s a real and important way to ensure that young children get to see themselves in media, in positive portrayals, even if they aren’t always part of the majority.

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Toronto Photographers Raise $13K for Children in Haiti

The couple explores the works of Zark Fatah (left) and Misha Masek (right). Photo by Sveta Soloveva

Zark Fatah’s fifth annual photo exhibit CAPTURE[D] raised around $13,000 to fund Artbound, the foundation that supports charities through the arts. More than 300 people who came to the Waterworks building (505 Richmond St West) on April 28th were able to meet Fatah and three other photographers —Misha Masek, Mark Brodkin, and Peter Cordy — and to purchase the 50 featured pieces. Fatah said that 19 photographs were sold and that all proceeds will be donated to building a school in Haiti.

Fatah is better known as a Toronto-based entrepreneur behind hot downtown spots including Blowfish RestaurantEverleigh, and Hammam Spa. But during his exhibit, we talked only about photography and the idea behind CAPTURE[D].

Zark Fatah showcases photographs from his travels during the firth photo exhibit CAPTURE[D] at the Waterworks building. Photo by Sveta Soloveva

Sveta: Congratulations with another photo exhibit, Zark. Could you tell me what is new this year?

Zark: Thank you. This is the first time that I invited other photographers.

S: Did you do it all by yourself before?

Z: Yes, I did about 20 photos. I did three [exhibits] in Toronto and one in Vancouver. Then my friends said, Oh, it looks great! We would like to collaborate together sometime. So I invited friends specializing in something different. Mark Brodkin does beautiful landscapes. Misha captures amazing faces and characters. Peter Cordy has never showed his photos before — this is his first exhibit ever. He does wildlife. And I just picked something from the last seven years of my travels that reflect what I like. I like shooting people and catching a moment of someone else’s life.

Photo by Sveta Soloveva

S: Could you share a story behind one of your photos?

Z: I like shooting candid moments because it’s a fraction of someone’s life. Like a photo of this man smoking cigarette there [points at the black and white picture of a contemplative old man blowing smoke into the air]. I captured that moment wherein you don’t know what he’s thinking about; you don’t know what’s going on in his life. He just looks like he’s living an interesting life. You look at him and you can imagine that if you sit down next to him, he could probably fill your afternoon with amazing stories. I took the photo in Sydney, Australia, in the area called Kings Cross. It would be like Parkdale here, an area that’s a little bit sketchy. You don’t want to go there at night.

Wildlife photographs by Peter Cordy appear on the exhibit for the first time. Photo by Sveta Soloveva

S: You mentioned that a lot of people also like Green Eyes, the photo of a child you took in an Indian village. It looks like National Geographic-style photo. Have you ever done anything with NG?

Z: Not yet. I’d love to one day… The amazing thing about photography is that I don’t have the greatest memory, but I could tell you where I was and who I’ve been with in every one of the photos I’ve taken. The image is captured in my memory.

S: What does the name of this exhibit mean to you personally?

Z: I play on two things. Captured has to do with the moment. Also, I own restaurants, a night club, and a spa in this area, and my company is called Capture Group.

Photographer Misha Masek. Photo by Sveta Soloveva

S: How did you choose the other photographers for the exhibit?

Z: Well, I’ve known Misha for years. She’s great photographer. She travels quite a bit and goes to some really remote places. And Mark Brodkin…his landscape photography is just… He will travel so far and just sit and wait and wait for that moment. And Peter — I actually inspired Peter to start taking photographs. We were on a trip together and he saw how much I enjoyed it. That’s why now he keeps saying to me, You started this for me. It’s your fault [laughs]. He’s really excited to be showing his photos here for the first time.

S: What was the most difficult thing in organizing the event?

Z: It was challenging. I mean, obviously, we were doing something that was done before. But it’s just a lot of moving parts — we got four photographers, 50 photographs, the framing company, the lighting, and the operations of the bar. I had some help from my team, but for the most part it was a lot of organization.

The bar team adds more art into the photo exhibit with some creative drinks. Photo by Sveta Soloveva

S: You’ve been donating 100% of all the proceeds from CAPTURE[D] to charities. What are some results you’ve already seen?

Z: In November we raised $30,000 and built two classrooms in Nicaragua.

S: That’s amazing! Are there any other goals you are trying to achieve with CAPTURE[D]?

Z: It’s about awareness, so people know what we do and what Artbound is about.

Guests explore landscapes by Mark Brodkin. Photo by Sveta Soloveva

S: Who are your guests today?

Z: It’s a mixture of art lovers and friends who appreciate our work. There are people who come to our businesses and know what we do; and people who are supporting Artbound.

S: What do you enjoy most from organizing events like that?

Z: I’m in the events business, so I manage this building. So I’m always used to seeing how craziness comes together in the last minute. But most importantly, I’m super happy with these looks [looks at people hanging one of Brodkin’s landscapes]. You know, this is just unique.

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