We are beginning to see a growing number of children’s media becoming more inclusive. Disney just released a teaser trailer of the much-anticipated live-action Little Mermaid movie in which the mermaid is black. Not unexpectedly, there’s been a backlash but the overwhelming response has been positive. Peppa Pig has now introduced its first same-sex parenting couple – two lesbian polar bear mummies, a move that led to a senior right wing politician in Italy calling on the state broadcaster not to screen the episode. Meanwhile in the UK, Thomas the Tank Engine has introduced its first autistic character. Children of marginalised communities are starting to see characters like them in their books, TV shows and movies.
Why is it important?
It’s increasingly being recognised that children of all backgrounds should see themselves represented in mainstream media and for films and TV shows to be more representative of society as a whole. According to Psychology Today, children not seeing themselves in the media leads to negative psychological outcomes: the media holds much power in shaping the worldview of children. According to a report by Common Sense Media, seeing their own ethnic-racial group depicted in a positive light, can have a beneficial impact on the way kids see themselves and their community. The content they view also teaches children to be accepting of people who don’t look like them.
What can businesses do about it?
Beyond the ethical case for diversity, representation has positive business outcomes. Although not specifically looking at children’s films, movies that lack representation take a hit at the box office according to research by UCLA’s Center for Scholars & Storytellers. The same study suggested that a diverse team of decision-makers/writers/casting directors should be brought onboard, and a culture created where younger voices are heard. It recommends that content creators seek out people familiar with a particular culture when the work focuses on such a community. Above all, it stresses the importance of the authentic representation of characters and their stories. To help with diversity, companies now have a diagnostic tool developed by NBCUniversal and the Geena Davis Institute. The AI tool “Spellcheck for Bias” measures representation in front of and behind the camera.
By Faeeza Khan
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Image credit: IMDB