The Proud Family was the first Disney Channel original animated series, airing between September 2001 and August 2005. The show was created by Bruce W. Smith, a black animator most notable for his film Bebe’s Kids (1992)–a ground-breaking animated film for featuring a predominantly black cast–and his work on the Disney film Home on the Range (2004). He approached Disney with the concept for The Proud Family and they fell in love with it. It was a hit, and is an important landmark for representation in animated and children’s media.
A whole generation of folks–including myself, a proud Zillenial–grew up with the show and remembers it fondly. It certainly was a move for the culture, showcasing aspects of African American life in rich and authentic ways; even having educational episodes that talked about racism. So, it is no surprise that, in the era of reboots and remakes (which has been a solid decade now. Thank you capitalism) The Proud Family is among the fray. However, it is one of the few, welcomed revamps; needed more than ever in a time of heightened racial tensions and calls for better, more nuanced and genuine representation in a media landscape that is still majority white (Emily in Paris is a staunch reminder that we still have a loooong way to go).
The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder will be airing on Disney’s streaming service, Disney+ sometime this year. The show is being animated in a new artstyle, and will talk about issues facing the Black community today. One topic that I, and a whole plethora of fans, hope the reboot will address is the concept of colorism, and how it affects one character is particular.
Dijonay, best friend to the main character, Penny, is a black girl with a darker skin complexion. Her character is sassy, loud, and plays into stereotypes of black people in general, and black women more specifically. Contrasting this, Penny has a lighter skin complexion, and possesses characteristics of being nice, feminine and smart. Her mother, Trudy, is presented in the same fashion. The fact that Dijonay is dark-skinned and has such caricatures for characteristics perpetuates a world of harm for black women and girls. This reinforces colorism, a global issue springing from colonialism and imperialism. In America specifically, it dates back to slavery through the House/Field dichotomy. Lighter skinned people worked in the house, and darker skinned people worked in the field. This concept evolved through time, supplanted itself as a byproduct of white supremacy, and has plagued all communities in America. All black people are susceptible to colorism, but it is very violent toward black women and girls in particular because it is usually tacked to other harmful stereotypes, such as the Jezebel and Mammy tropes, and upholds European standards of beauty by correlating the darkness of skin to ugliness.
Concept art for the reboot was posted back in February, which presented Dijonay in a not-so-flattering light. Bruce was confronted on Twitter about this and was called out for perpetuating colorism. Responding to this concern, he simply put a gif of actor Idris Elba giving a nonchalant glance and walking away. Content creator Eloho from I am Eloho on Youtube talks about colorism on her channel, and addresses this incident specifically. She is quoted as saying “this response said to me, “I hear you, but I don’t give a fuck.” That’s exactly what the response said to me as well. As a dark-skinned woman myself, I know for a fact that colorism is an issue that is not to be overlooked. It is all too present in the media, and helps to continue cycles of hatred and violence against black women and girls. So for Bruce to respond in such a manner is agitating because it shows complicity in a very real dynamic that causes black women and girls harm everyday.
Though this is a pretty big blunder for the premier of the series, I am still tuning in to check out The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder, with the hope that it will portray Dijonay in positive light, making much needed space for darker-skinned black women and girls to be seen and heard in our media. And if we continue to claim colorism for what it is, call it out wherever and whenever we see it happening, and get to the roots of the issue to tackle our preconceptions, we can finally kill it and all other ideologies of hatred once and for all.