Photo by Victoria Borodinova via Pixabay

“Think of the Children!”: Representation in Animation

Animation and children’s media should encourage us to seek diverse characters and stories.

By Ana Rosales

Animation and children’s media should encourage us to seek diverse characters and stories.

[HEADS UP! This article contains some spoilers for seasons one and two of The Owl House.]

“Think of the children!” It’s a rhetoric often used by conservatives to argue against, among other things, diverse characters in children’s media⁠.

Now, it’s important to preface that “animation” and “children’s media” are not one and the same. Animation is for everyone, including people of all ages. However, it’s important to remember that “everyone” often includes children from a diverse range of racial and ethnic backgrounds, with all sorts of abilities, of all genders, and of any sexual orientation. Everyone deserves to see themselves represented in the things they read, listen to, and watch. 

The truth is, under the guise of so-called age-appropriateness, “think of the children!” pushes a closed mindset that prevents young people from becoming empathetic and informed in a healthy and digestible way. In simplest terms, children are the future of our society. If we want to create a more humane world, we need to seriously consider the media diet young people are consuming. It’s not just silly, unimportant fluff to be dismissed; there is immense value in understanding and analysing cartoon content⁠. Yes, even stuff like Peppa Pig⁠— but we can save that for another time. 

Right now, we’ll be talking about Disney’s The Owl House. 

The Owl House is an animated television series created by Dana Terrace. The show is a perfect example on the discourse of inclusion in animation because it is produced by a large, mainstream studio (Disney TVA), and is currently ongoing with features of ethnically diverse and LGBTQ+ main characters. 

The show revolves around a 14-year-old girl, Luz Noceda, as she pursues her dream of becoming a witch despite not having magical abilities. The first season introduces us to many loveable characters including Willow Park, a young witch with two fathers who are Asian and Black. Luz also befriends Gus Porter, a young Black witch studying at the Hexside School of Magic and Demonics. That school also eventually leads Luz to begin her own magical studies and meet fellow student, Amity Blight. 

Amity’s character in The Owl House is nothing short of revolutionary. Starting the season as an antagonist, we watch as she slowly loses her edge and develops a crush on Luz. Her romantic feelings are confirmed in the episode “Enchanting Grom Fright” when it’s revealed Amity planned to ask Luz to be her date to the “Grom,” Hexside’s school dance and their own version of prom. And that’s not even mentioning our protagonist’s cultural background as a Dominican-American! This shows a huge step forward for Hispanic representation in television, especially in an era of the (majorly under-discussed) “Latino in red hoodie” trope. 

Season two of The Owl House takes us leaps further too. During the episode “Knock, Knock, Knockin’ on Hooty’s Door”, audiences see Luz and Amity confess their romantic feelings for each other and officially become a couple. 

The same season also introduces viewers to Raine Whispers, a non-binary witch who uses they/them pronouns. Therefore, many young genderqueer fans of the show were elated to see a non-binary character on screen being normalized. 

Unfortunately, this milestone is not without roadblocks. Some dubbed translations of The Owl House, including Latin-American Spanish, changed Raine’s pronouns to be gendered. Consequently, many Spanish-speaking fans were disappointed, including Avi Roque, Raine’s voice actor. Roque took to Twitter to express their disappointment with the change.

“This saddens me and I wish I could do something to remedy it,” Roque writes in Spanish. “I hope Disney TVA fixes this soon.”

The Owl House has also gained negative attention from conservative parent groups, calling for its cancellation. Sadly, these kinds of “scandals” have become commonplace for shows featuring racially diverse and queer characters.

❝Kids are so much smarter than they get credit for.❞

One Million Moms is a socially conservative advocacy group created by the American Family Association, an organisation known for opposing LGBTQ rights and expression. In early 2020, OMM released a petition campaign against The Owl House, calling it “extremely dangerous” for “inundating young minds with secular worldviews that reflect the current culture”. OMM supposedly “fights against indecency in the media”, but based on their parent organization’s history and the common thread between the media which offends them (generally LGBTQ-friendly content), the true nature of their bigoted agenda becomes clear. 

And herein lies the problem: the assumption that children are “too young” to learn about identity. We, as adults, do young viewers a severe disservice with the assumption that they somehow won’t be able to “handle” certain topics. Kids are so much smarter than they get credit for. All too often, the argument against inclusion is that it would be too complicated and too difficult to explain⁠— unless, of course, the characters are white and straight. 

But that’s just it. Not all children are white, and not all children are straight.  Yes, Queer kids exist! They’ve been around, will continue to be around, and they deserve representation as much as anyone else. 

❝There are certainly bigger and better things on the horizon for the future of animation…❞

The Owl House is currently on hiatus after the mid-season two finale, and although the series has seen a bit of a bumpy ride with its reception from certain viewers and executives, its existence proves that change is possible.

In a medium where pretty much anything is possible, introducing young viewers to delightfully diverse casts is such a treat! And The Owl House is not doing it alone.

Both Nickelodeon’s Legend of Korra and Netflix’s She-Ra and the Princesses of Power feature romantic relationships between two female protagonists. Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts, also on Netflix, showcases a relationship between two boys, Benson and Troy, who are both also characters of colour. Additionally,  there is also the Bardel Entertainment production on Netflix, The Dragon Prince, which spotlights the deaf character of General Amaya, who regularly uses sign language.

Although most of the previously mentioned shows have officially concluded, I get the feeling they will not be the last of their kind. There are certainly bigger and better things on the horizon for the future of animation, including children’s media. Personally, I’m very excited to see where we’ll go from here.

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