Cartoon Network’s Manager of Consumer Marketing Insights and Strategy Maya Litwin spoke to the Arcadia community about the state of minority representation in children’s television on Oct. 3.
Litwin discussed the impact television can have on developing minds and how positive representation can directly influence the way children think and understand the world, mentioning that the vast majority of characters on television today do not represent the reality of viewers. She noted that people of color, women, members of the LGBTQ+ community, those of different body types, people with mental and physical disabilities and other minorities are severely underrepresented in the children’s television landscape. However, Cartoon Network’s animated show Steven Universe is serving as an example for positive pro-social representation.
Litwin’s discussion revolved around how the world of Steven Universe was “aspirational” and defies many of the alarming statistics that currently exist in children’s television, such as how only 1 percent of characters are depicted as having a disability despite 20 percent of the population having one in reality, or how only 35 percent of characters are non-white despite the percentage in reality being closer to half. According to Litwin, the series also presents this diversity in a unique way, in which those of different identities are not “othered” by those around them, creating a universe free from stigma.
“It’s normalizing without telling kids that it’s something that needs to be normalized,” Litwin said. “Steven Universe is expanding their vocabulary of available [positive] stereotypes.”
Litwin wrote her undergraduate thesis on the impact of Steven Universe on young viewers and continues to study the show’s fandom. Her role at Cartoon Network it to develop strategies that will help produce a more diverse and inclusive programming.
Steven Universe is a science-fantasy cartoon about a young half-human, half-alien named Steven and his three alien guardians that present as humanoid females: Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl. The series depicts his coming-of-age adventures, such as protecting his home planet from those that want to destroy it. The show also emphasizes his changing relationships with his father, his best friend Connie, and the rest of the diverse cast of characters.
The cartoon, which premiered in 2013, is the first Cartoon Network show to be created solely by a woman and has received high critical acclaim, including several Emmy nominations, the 2019 GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Kids & Family Program, and the 2019 Peabody Award for Children's & Youth Programming.
This event was sponsored by the School of Education and The President’s Commission on Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI), co-chaired by Dr. Graciela Slesaransky-Poe, professor of Education, and Joseph Sun, director of Strategic Initiatives.