Afrocentrism — the study that focuses on the history of people of African descent. By extension, something that is Afrocentric regards Black and/or African culture in a distinguished manner. In this case, it’s the use of black characters in animated shows.
Growing up I remember tossing my bags in the nearest couch and kicking off my school shoes just to make it to the T.V. before 5 p.m. Often I made it just in time to catch the last round of the cartoon classics; Kim Possible, Codename: KND and The Proud Family were some of the staples in my cartoon diet. Let’s not beat around the bush here, I lived for characters like Wade, Numbuh Five, Dijonay and Suga Mama. What do they all have in common? Yup! Their shows ended way too soon…well that and they’re black.
Black characters or The Black Characters?
Save for the Proud Family, most times black characters played secondary roles in some of these animated hits. This may beg the question are they simply black characters or the black characters. Are they just here to pander to the black viewer, or to just show the black (American) experience? Don’t get me wrong, showing how black kids engage with their families and their culture is always a cool viewpoint…to hear characters speak slang and talk openly about issues like colorism and inequality is always a progressive step forward (who could forget that Proud Family episode on segregation?).
But when do we start showing black characters with more focus on them as regular kids? More scenarios of them being fascinated with their imagination, begging for the latest games, trying to do extra chores to earn more allowance, etc. etc. Characters that have more to them than just being “the black one” and fall outside the stereotypes. Characters that aren’t secondary PRIMARILY for the sake of having a diverse supporting cast.
Bring Out The Black Leads!
Into the Spiderverse and Craig of the Creek are just two examples of newer shows to cause quite a stir in the conversation of representation — one being a major Marvel franchise and the other a Cartoon Network series BUT both with black leads. Let’s talk about representing a multidimensional black character.
Sure, Miles is a black kid living in New York that likes Hip Hop, does graffiti art and wears Nikes. Additionally, he gets embarrassed by his parents, is late for class, sucks at making friends and suffers a bit of social anxiety…like every other teenager.
Yes, Craig of the Creek focuses on a black kid and his family, but also about the crazy adventures he and his friends experience at the creek behind his home in the evenings after school, playing pretend and dealing with annoying siblings…like every other kid.
It’s the shared experience of all kids and teens through the lives of black characters that makes these shows so special for me — we all have similar experiences in life, despite our race.
Kam-Kam: The Afro Puffed Heroine
“There seems to be this idea that little black girls don’t find things like science and space exciting.”
That statement from Cree Summer really resonates with me. If you don’t know, Cree has been the voice of many black female cartoon characters in the industry like Number 5, Susie Carmicheal, Valerie (Danny Phantom) and Princess Kida.
There’s a need for little afro-girls to also fit into that narrative of being adventurous kids that aren’t only fascinated with tea cups and the colour pink. The Adventures of Kam Kam is just that — a series about a little Black girl who wants to become a space explorer and go where no one has gone before. She’s a double-edged sword (disclaimer: stay away from swords kids), meeting that criterion of strong, black kid leads and adding to the list of girls as a forefront for adventure and action.
Kam Kam definitely has the potential to be on the levels of a Star from Star vs the Forces of Evil or even another Craig of the Creek. Either way, I can’t wait for the day when kids will be running home from school, kicking off their shoes to catch the newest episode of The Adventures of Kam Kam.
This post was contributed by Jojo McFarlane. When she’s not designing and illustrating characters, she fantasizes about pizza and likes to read on the developing animation industry both locally and abroad.
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