Canadian Kids TV Animation Nears Racial Equality, Says Report

Molly of Denali
WGBH Educational Foundation

But young girls remain greatly underrepresented in main human cartoon roles, according to the Children's Media Lab study.

The Canadian animation industry's racial reckoning has received an A from a new report on representation for homegrown kids and youth TV cartoon content.

But the report card on Canadian-made cartoon series like Cartoon Network's Bakugan and Netflix's Cupcake & Dino reveals main characters that are young girls remain vastly outnumbered by main boy characters. The Children's Media Lab at Ryerson University in Toronto on Thursday said on-screen portrayals of people of color on Canadian-made shows had neared racial equity.

Within 121 main human characters analyzed, 51 percent of main roles in the Canadian kids TV content were white, while 49 percent represented people of color. Broken down, the Canadian industry's report card said 14 percent of main characters were Black, and Hispanic and East Asian roles each accounted for 11 percent of POC characters.

At the same time, the report said Middle Eastern, South Asian and Indigenous characters were "largely underrepresented" in Canadian animation product. And on-screen representation revealed few main characters with disabilities.

Other Canadian-made animation analyzed in the report includes Bravest Warrior, which streams on Prime Video and Apple TV, CBC Kids' Addison and Molly of Denali, which streams on PBS Online and YouTube and earned a 2020 Peabody Award.

But Canadian animation has a ways to go before reaching gender equality, as the Children's Media Lab study found 63 percent of main characters were male and only 37 percent were female. "I'm excited to report that we've seen tremendous shifts in racial diversity in human animated characters with people of color representing half of all main characters," Colleen Russo Johnson, co-director of the Children's Media Lab, said in a statement.

"But I'm disappointed to say that we still have a long way to go in our gender representation, with males outnumbering females nearly two-to-one," she added.

Canadian indie producers have long leveraged local tax credits and animation subsidies, including for digital animation or visual effects content, to make homegrown shows and international co-productions that sell into the U.S. market and elsewhere worldwide.

The increase in Black and Latin American representation in Canadian animation is welcomed by local indie producers looking to create animated content for export. Jennifer Twiner McCarron, CEO of Thunderbird Entertainment and subsidiary Atomic Cartoons, told THR that proper representation for main characters, including accounting for race and gender, is a focus for her animation artists and creators.

"I feel a responsibility for every child to see themselves reflected back to themselves in a positive way," McCarron said.

Atomic Cartoons is co-producing the animated series Princesses Wear Pants with Drew Barrymore's Flower Films and NBC co-anchor Savannah Guthrie, and also produces Molly of Denali, a kids series with an Indigenous lead character.

The Children's Media Lab is a follow-up to the earlier Landscape of Children's Television in the U.S. and Canada, a partnership between Ryerson University and Rutgers University that was released in spring 2019.