You could be thinking, “She’s brown?” Tears spring up in the young girl’s eyes as she watches Halle Bailey, in the role of Ariel, emerge from a cave in the Disney teaser trailer for the live-action remake of “The Little Mermaid.”
Videos uploaded by parents showing their Black children’s reactions to the new Ariel have gone viral, demonstrating the profound impact that seeing themselves reflected in media can have on kids. There has been significant progress in improving representation in children’s media, but much more needs to be done.
Representation on Children’s Television
It’s not your imagination if you’ve noticed an increase in positive portrayals of underrepresented groups on television recently.
One reason for this is the general trend toward increased enlightenment in recent years. One reason is that there are more opportunities than ever for software to fulfill this role. Disney, Nickelodeon, cable, streaming services, and so on are all viable options.
Including kids in the cast of their favorite show does more than just make them feel special. It affects how much viewers take away from a program or how strongly they relate to its characters.
Authentic identification with a fictional character and their story requires more than simply recognizing oneself or a portion of one’s identity in the media.
This topic has been investigated for quite some time. Children are more engaged with and learn more from characters who look like them, according to studies of ‘Sesame Street’ and similar PBS shows. It helps me feel like this is something I can relate to, something I can gain insight from.
Despite popular belief to the contrary, scientists believe that increasing diversity in children’s media has positive effects on all youngsters.
Good media should reflect the diverse society in which it exists. It helps [oppressed people] become accepted as regular citizens. It’s excellent that kids are learning that all individuals are unique and have their own stories, customs, and traditions, and that it’s okay to celebrate those differences. Helpful adults like parents, carers, and educators can provide context and information to aid with this process.
The Importance Of Positive Portrayal Cannot Be Overstated
Some of the first examples of inclusive representations of minorities in children’s television may be seen in programs that originally aired on PBS. These programs have always made an effort to represent a wide range of people and communities that are underrepresented in traditional children’s television.
Halle Bailey’s portrayal of Ariel is just one example of how tales of people of color, people who identify as LGBTQ+, and those with neurological differences are increasingly being brought to the forefront of media. The stories have depth, which is important for a young audience.
When minority children of color do appear in media, they are often reduced to stereotypes or given little to no screen time compared to white characters. That kind of tokenization is almost as harmful as the complete exclusion of minority groups.
Children may interpret tokenism as an indication that their function is secondary or unimportant. Children need to see diverse characters as likable, capable, and people with whom other characters desire to interact if they are to accept these ideas for themselves.
Kids’ TV Still Has Room for Improvement
While on-screen diversity for children has improved in recent years, many youngsters don’t see themselves in popular media. Native Americans are underrepresented in all fields. Latinx people make up a sizable portion of the US population, however, they are underrepresented in the media. Even among Asians, representation is low.
The more tales of Black, brown, and Indigenous people are conveyed without focusing on their race, the more equitable representation will feel. The topic of Ariel’s race is not central to “The Little Mermaid.” It’s purely coincidental that she’s Black.
Images that are highly culturalized, such as ‘Moana, are often used as the jumping-off point for new stories. The story’s focus on Polynesian culture is enhanced by this in-depth exploration of that culture. Like in the film Turning Red, which explores the formation of Asian American identities, characters may become more grounded in reality. I believe that these narratives exist but that there are not nearly enough of them.
In the end, these professionals can’t agree more on how crucial it is for kids to see themselves reflected in media. It’s a tool for inspiring them to make their own versions of more welcoming communities.
The act of representation itself is not the ultimate objective. It’s a crucial step in creating a more just world. While representation is vital, it serves little purpose if there are no sustained attempts to remove the structural barriers that prevent some groups from achieving their full potential. What you see on the faces of these young Black girls as they watch “The Little Mermaid” is proof of the significance of this film.
Increasing visibility in children’s media is a positive trend. Parents and guardians can choose shows that make children feel included. Parents should watch with their children to ensure it fits with the family’s values and be ready to have a conversation about anything troubling or unfamiliar. Through your participation, they may develop tolerance toward characters on screen and in real life who are similar to and different from themselves.