Artists of color push for more inclusion

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Following public outcry over the lack of representation of blacks in the film industry, animation studios and entertainment companies in general have made known their commitment to diversity and hiring more than people of color at all levels.

While these statements sound like a cultural shift, an important question hangs over them: does this mean that real change is taking place in the animation landscape and that films such as “Soul” are helping to push towards the representation ?

“That’s a difficult question to answer because only time will tell,” says Kemp Powers, co-director of Oscar-winning “Soul” and director of the upcoming “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse 2 “. “Animation is a slow business. It takes four to seven years to make one of these films. It will be years before we see what impact, if any, the film has had. What I hope “Soul” has done is make an impact on how universal animated films featuring characters of color can be as well. I just think based on the global audiences that I’ve seen [“Soul”] eu and countries like Russia and China, proves that being hyper specific, having characters from different cultures, does not exclude any audience, especially when you tell universal human stories. So this is the positive lesson that I hope others have learned from the film’s success, but again, only time will tell.

Kerri Grant, who has been nominated for eight Daytime Emmys and is showrunner and co-executive producer of “Ada Twist, Scientist,” thinks storytelling alone won’t do all the work.

“I think movies and shows do a good job of showing what’s possible to audiences,” Grant says. “I think it works in the sense that kids and people and families see themselves on screen. I think possibility is the first step for people to even think it’s possible to end up in a career like this. When it comes to those movies and TV shows that help open doors, I’m only thinking to the extent that the people behind the scenes are making an effort to really expand opportunities for people of color in the industry. So I was a writer on ‘Doc McStuffins’ and it definitely opened that door for me.

“I think then it’s kind of like mine, people like me in the kind of decisive ranks of the companies that air or produce the shows to open doors for people of color in the industry who work behind the scenes.” . I don’t know if the shows themselves or the movies themselves necessarily open doors, but I think they show what’s possible.

For Breana Williams, production coordinator for Disney TV Animation on “The Proud Family” and co-founder of Black N Animated and co-host of the Black N Animated podcast, commitments to increased representation and diversity are of historic significance.

“Yes, there is a warrant, but it’s a disappointment to me that the warrant came from a dark trauma,” Williams says. “And that’s something I kind of echoed in the past where people have asked me, ‘Isn’t it really great that there’s more pushing?’ It’s great, but it’s a bit unfortunate that it took someone’s murder to make this happen. It’s kind of a double-edged sword to me when I look at it. I am really excited about the content that is coming out. I just wish it hadn’t taken something so horrible for people to realize, “Oh, black people are at my workplace and when I go out it’s my, my friends, my peers. , my neighbors.” We’ve been saying this for a while.

The Black N Animated organization was formed to help form a community for black animators and help them launch a career as a toon.

Rise Up Animation also advocates for animators of color and seeks to broaden representation. One of the group’s co-founders, Frank E. Abney III, worked at Disney, DreamWorks and Pixar during his long career which includes titles such as “The Incredibles 2”, “Coco” and “Toy Story 4 “.

“I started to see some small changes,” says Abney. “I think on the executive side there is still a lot of work to be done. In terms of decision making on the creative front for some of our big studios, I can think of two black female executives, so that’s a problem. I think there is still a lot of work to be done, but I think there have been a few small changes that have started to happen. I think there were waves [of diverse characters] in the animation on the features side more now than I’ve seen in the past. Growing up, I can’t think of a characteristic that had people of color that I identified with or felt like [people of color] were portrayed authentically.

Aphton Corbin, director of the famous Pixar short film “Twenty Something,” saw how information about careers in animation and the high cost of animation education and equipment can be an additional hurdle for animators. black creatives.

“I think within the studios people recognize the need to have more diverse voices for sure,” says Corbin, who is working on a feature film project for Pixar. “But I think there is a gap between accessibility and entry into the industry for people of color. I have met a lot of people who are eager and eager to help, but how to get more people through the door is always a little difficult. I think it all comes down to accessibility. For me, being able to go to CalArts has been a huge plus. But I couldn’t have afforded it without taking out a ridiculous amount of loans and a lot of people can’t take this risk or even access it.

Marshell Becton, executive producer on “Gen: Lock”, worked as a producer on “SuperMansion” and the movie “My Little Pony: Rarity, the fashion queen!” She believes diversity will increase as black creatives have more opportunities to start their careers in animation.

“I think there has been progress, but there is still a lot of room to grow,” says Becton. “I still have to fight as hard for a job as I did 10 years ago. It was a challenge to be seen, but I made sure my voice was heard. One of the things I’m thinking about is if diversity is a trend or if it’s going to stay, and that’s hard to say at the moment. I think it’s important to start giving the opportunity to diverse people. They don’t always have that much experience, but if you want to look at diversity with your team, you have to start somewhere because a lot of people don’t have that first opportunity.

Animation writer Aydrea Walden, who worked on “Ada Twist: Scientist” and “Pete the Cat,” sees social media as a way for creatives to break the noise by showcasing their talent and networking with animation professionals. This could solve some accessibility issues for those who are unable to invest thousands of dollars in a premium program.

“For the individual and for the studio, it was very difficult to find people, even though the studio was going to have a big diversity fair in the mid-2000s,” Walden said. “When I got here it was still very difficult because the studios or recruiters kind of needed to know individual people or it was focused on the demands of the university and when people get to university, some sifting has taken place. So I think the effort is sincere and I was able to connect with people both ways on social media.

Creators including Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, executive producer of “Karma’s World,” a show based on the life of his eldest daughter, are creating the content they hope will pave the way for more representative programming. They also see it as a way to talk to the next generation.

“Inclusion and representation are very important,” says Bridges. “I have four daughters and I love that they see each other on screen. It is important for them to see that this animation is beautiful and that they are beautiful too, because art imitates life. I want to be part of the solution, I try to be the change I want to see in the world.

“Karma’s World” was based on an interactive website of the same name. Bridges is also the founder of Kid Nation, an entertainment platform created with the aim of providing children with academic and health support.

Carl Jones, widely known for his work on “The Boondocks,” Cartoon Network’s first Peabody Award-winning show, agrees that there is still a lot of work to be done in terms of promoting diversity but, like Bridges, he does. also looks for ways to create opportunities.

“I’m really hopeful just because I now have the opportunity to explore so much talent around the world,” Jones says.

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