On August 26th, the Children’s Media Association partnered with Common Sense Media to host a conversation on how kids can find content that reflects their own stories. Betsy Bozdech (Common Sense Media) moderated the passionate group of experts that included Kim Berglund (Disney Jr.), Steven Wolf Pereira (Encantos), and Kevin Clark (George Mason University). Each expert chimed in on how important it is for children to see themselves reflected in the media they watch, and how the cultural landscape of today affects that ideal.
Betsy began by asking each speaker’s thoughts on what diversity and inclusion really means in children’s media. Kim explained the importance of diversity behind the camera as well as on the screen. She spoke on the importance of teaching kindness and respect as early as possible, while also being mindful of children’s development. “It’s never too early to teach kids about race,” Kim added. Kevin followed up by emphasizing the need for creative media to paint an accurate representation of the world so that it can help children find their roles in society. In order for media to be more diverse and authentic, Steven spoke in support of creators of all types simply creating their work and putting it out into the world without having to wait for the slow process of approval through official channels.
The discussion continued into talks on how “tokenism” should be dealt with both on and off the screen. Kevin explained how important it is for kids to see characters on the screen just be people, rather than having to constantly overcome obstacles created by racial ignorance. Characterizing the leads of shows with different backstories, languages, cultures, and experiences is a solution against ambiguity and the right path towards universal representation. Kevin mentioned a quote by Lorraine Hansberry about how to create this universal representation: “In order to create something universal, you must pay very great attention to the specific.” Steven took the baton and explained how crucial it is for creators and companies to build a specific audience for their shows and then to actually engage with them. He also emphasized that content which depicts a certain racial or social group should be benefitting that same group. He encouraged creators to own their own IP and stories so that they can create accurate depictions they have always wished to see in media.
The Q&A portion began with a question concerning how to increase diversity behind the camera given that employers often demand experience that most job-seekers are unable to get. Kim jumped into this topic by describing times she’s seen a recruiter characterize a diverse hire or topic as “risky” and not be as inclined to choose it because of that risk. She hopes to fight against this mentality and change the perspective to a chance for growth rather than a risk assessment. Kevin agreed with this notion and spoke further on the importance of networking so that people know who you are and where you want to go. Both Kim and Kevin agreed on the benefits of mentorship within the industry, but Steven believes that the time for mentorship is over – he feels that it is critical to invest in new talent early as demand for diversity and new methods grow. I hope that creators can hear these words of encouragement to both put their work out into the world regardless of obstacles AND to realize that the best time is always now.