With the glaring shortage of black role models in the media, could the answer to the lack of motivation in black youths lie in impressionable cartoon characters?
Disney scored quite a few points in promoting diversity with the launch of it’s animated series Doc McStuffins early in 2012. Doc McStuffins is based around a little girl ‘Doc’ who aspires to become a doctor like her mum. She actually kind of is a Doctor in her own right because she fixes broken toys and has a ‘magical’ stethoscope which brings her toys to life when she’s in ‘Doctor’mode.
It’s not just the fact that Doc is possibly the only African American cartoon character that’s made her such a hit, she’s very intelligent, never gives up no matter how hard the challenge, is very respectful and cares about others, it’s because Doc embodies the same qualities we’d all like to see in our kids, that’s why she’s become a hit worldwide with children and adults alike.
In my household, I’m not sure who’s more keen to watch the latest episode of Doc, myself or my three year old. Despite it’s huge success, the show’s creator Chris Nee, an Emmy award winner isn’t surprised at the universal appeal of the series even though she pitched the show to Disney with no particular race in mind.
In an interview with The Voice Newspaper, she tells Davina Hamilton, “Animation takes an incredibly long time to do and when you’re working together as a team, you just hope that you can create a show that you’ll be proud of and that you’ll get enough viewers to make it all worthwhile. But what it has become makes coming to work every day a real joy.”
Indeed. Doc has achieved feats even humans would be jealous of. She’s met Michelle Obama at the White House, and has inspired the launch of a medical society for young women of colour. Myiesha Taylor of CoilyEmbrace.com who launched the society said the program was ‘crucial in changing the future of America’. She was so inspired by the message behind the series that she collected pictures of 131 doctors- all women of color, and published a collage online under the heading, ‘We Are Doc McStuffins.’
It’s not only black toddlers who can’t get enough of Doc though, the show is a hit on Disney Junior and the figures from sales of Doc McStuffins merchandise has exceeded $500 million- dispelling the myth that banging the face of a person of colour on anything will jeopardise sales. With such figures, it’s a wonder that we’re not seeing more animated series and movies with a black character in the lead role or even in any role at all.
When we were growing up, I don’t recall ever having any cartoon character like Doc to look up to for inspiration. I certainly don’t recall any of them having my skin colour. Some might argue that what does it really matter, kids that age are colour blind and putting the concept of race in their heads at that age cannot be beneficial for their development, but I disagree.
It’s safe to safe to assume that many of those toddlers watching Doc now will be inspired by her and possibly aspire to become doctor’s or other professional as a result of watching Doc. I still remember watching Super Ted, Lion King, Little Mermaid and all the animations of the 90’s and some of them left different impressions on me, some of which contributed to who I have become today. My affinity with ‘The Lion King’ is in all honesty a bit abnormal and I strongly suspect this is because as a 9 year old watching it for the first time, I could identify with the fact that the characters were African, even though they were animals and lived in a Jungle.
We may not be able to measure for sure the effect characters such as Doc’s may have on our kids, but surely there’s no harm in promoting them and creating more of them if we really want to lure the next generation of black kids away from gun crime and gang culture?
Earlier this year, Britain’s only black female space scientist Maggie Aderin Pocock lamented the lack of black role models in the sciences. In a survey of teens about to take their GCSE’s by BBC Newsround, it was found that compared to other races, black children were least likely to aspire to want to be scientists.
Pocock said at the time that “we need more black role models out there to show that it’s quite natural to be a black professional and that it’s quite possible to be successful at anything as long as you put your mind to it.”
The show’s creator Chris Nee sums it up quite succinctly, “I do suspect that in 20 years, there will be a certain amount of doctors who will say that Doc had something to do with their career choice. If that did happen, I can only imagine that would be very emotional for me.”
I dare say it would be quite emotional for us all.