Disney has worked overtime in recent years to leave that past behind, and a surprising groundswell of support from black viewers for a new TV cartoon called “Doc McStuffins” is the latest indication that its efforts may be paying off.
Aimed at preschoolers, “Doc McStuffins” centers on its title character, a 6-year-old African-American girl. Her mother is a doctor (Dad stays home and tends the garden), and the girl emulates her by opening a clinic for dolls and stuffed animals. “I haven’t lost a toy yet,” she says sweetly to a sick dinosaur in one episode.
“It truly warmed my heart and almost brought tears to my eyes when my 8-year-old, Mikaela, saw ‘Doc McStuffins’ for the first time and said, ‘Wow, mommy — she’s brown,’ ” Kia Morgan Smith, an Atlanta mother of five, wrote on her blogCincomom.com. Myiesha Taylor, a Dallas doctor who blogs at CoilyEmbrace.com, took her praise a step further, writing, “This program featuring a little African-American girl and her family is crucial to changing the future of this nation.”
Despite a surge in multicultural cartoons, like Nickelodeon’s “Ni Hao, Kai-Lan,” designed to introduce Mandarin vocabulary words to preschoolers, and 40 years after Bill Cosby’s “Fat Albert,” black cartoon characters in leading roles are still rare. It’s considered an on-screen risk to make your main character a member of a minority, even in this post-“Dora the Explorer” age. Networks want to attract the broadest possible audience, but the real peril is in the toy aisle. From a business perspective, Disney and its rivals ultimately make most of these shows in the hope that they spawn mass-appeal toy lines. White dolls are the proven formula.
Chris Nee, who created “Doc McStuffins,” said, “Disney, to its complete credit, looked at my pitch and suggested that we make the characters African-American.” Her original Doc McStuffins was a little white girl.
Okay, I will give credit where credit it due. Props to Disney for actually thinking about things and not just making her another white girl character.
Gary Marsh, the president and chief creative officer of Disney Channels Worldwide, said “Doc McStuffins” reflects a type of hypersensitivity to the power of television on young viewers. “What we put on TV can change how kids see the world, and that is a responsibility that I take very seriously,” he said. “By showcasing different role models and different kinds of families we can positively influence sociological dynamics for the next 20 years.”
That is honestly a great thing to say, you know? It’s so doubly aggravating that so many Disney fans argue over this- look! This dude is in charge of a bunch of Disney stuff and even he is getting the point here! It makes me hopeful. Hopefully: he means it.