The first nationally distributed childrens’ TV show led by an indigenous character has arrived on public television, thanks in part to healthy funding and demand for a wider range of ethnicities and types.
PBS Kids aired the first episode of “Molly of Denali” on Monday morning. The educational animated show, which is targeted at kids ages 4 to 8, follows an Athabascan 10-year-old girl named Molly Mabray whose parents run a trading post in her rural Alaskan town.
To ensure the show’s cultural accuracy, creators Dorothea Gillim and Kathy Waugh (who are not of Native descent), along with producer Boston public broadcaster WGBH, hired more than 60 people of Alaskan Native, First Nations or Indigenous heritage to advise, write the show and voice the characters.
Native people portrayed in mainstream media were historically stereotypes of the Wild West and a recent study said a persistent negativity persists in current programs.
That survey from the First Nations Development Institute found that 78% of people believe “it is important to feature more stories about indigenous people on TV, in movies, and in other entertainment.”
- A 2019 study from the Center for Scholars & Storytellers found that in children’s television programming, 65% of human characters in the U.S. and 74% in Canada are Caucasian. That same study found that only 38% of main characters are female.
- Introducing children to characters that are different from themselves has been shown to prepare them for school and help develop compassion for others.
- Linda Simensky, vice president of children’s programming at PBS, noted to the New York Times that “Molly of Denali” was only capable of reaching its representation goals because of proper funding from both the federal Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the U.S. Department of Education — a luxury many shows, especially independent projects, don’t enjoy.
- The number of scripted television shows in the U.S. nearly tripled to 495 last year from from 210 in 2009, according to Statista.
- Karma Take: Because of streaming, the amount of outlets available has significantly increased the number of shows that can be produced. This creates opportunities to invest in production companies and independent creators developing and producing storylines with diverse characters.