As an adult, I sometimes find it hard to find diverse representation on television and in film.
To find a show that represents queer people, people of color, disabled people, plus sized people, or even people who speak any language other than English, feels impossible.
When I become too frustrated with the adult shows for not offering the diversity I seek, I often find myself revisiting the shows I grew up with. As I rewatched the cartoons that I was so hooked on in grade school, I noticed that the lessons about equality and social justice that I grew up to believe, were ones that I learned from these shows.
Here are three shows that exemplify taught me about the importance of diversity and acceptance.
The Legend of Korra
I’ll admit that the only reason I started watching this Avatar spinoff was because I loved the original and was hoping that some of my favorite characters would make an appearance. I quickly forgot about that however, and got sucked into the show because of the new badass regime of ladies characters that proved that girls could be powerful too. The main character, Korra, grows throughout the series, building not just her talents as the next avatar, but also her emotional and mentally capabilities. The best part of the show for me however, is hands down the knowledge that the series creators shared after the finale — the two female leads, Korra and Asami, ultimately fall in love. Queer representation in kids shows is almost impossible to find, and not only does this show do it, but it does it well.
The Proud Family
From the moment I saw 14 year old Penny Proud, on Disney Channel’s The Proud Family, raise hell so she could join the all male football team, I immediately marked her down on my list of feminist heroes. One of the only cartoon shows about an all black family, The Proud Family was consistently progressive in its approach to all topics of diversity. Some episodes focused on religion, like when the Prouds were shown practicing Kwanzaa, or when Penny learned that she shouldn’t treat fellow classmate Danny McBride any differently than anyone else just because he was in a wheelchair (McBride turned out to be a jerk, and Penny learned to treat him as such). The show had a perfect balance of humor and sincerity to make a long lasting impression on its audience, no matter their age.
The serious undertone of Teen Titans was what was most influenced me as I watched it growing up. Not only was I excited to see a variety of character types, builds, and social backgrounds in this show, but it also presented a lot of serious real world dilemmas like morality and mental health. The team constantly faced hard decisions that tested their beliefs as both superheroes and as empathetic beings, like during season four when Raven was forced to decide whether her loyalty to her father outweighed her desire to do good rather than evil. Or in season three, when Robin, the group’s normally cocky and self assured leader became obsessed with an enemy, Slade, and suffered a mental and emotional breakdown. More than anything, this show helped me learn that the world was not black and white, and that I could be depressed, anxious, or unsure about things, and still be a superhero.
These are just three examples of kids shows that got it right. Do you have any favorites to add?