For once, Disney finally got it right when it comes to race. The new Disney Channel Jr. show, Doc McStuffins, has become a hit with kids and parents alike, particularly in the African-American community. The show features a 6-year-old African-American girl who follows in mother’s footsteps –– she’s a doctor –– by fixing up her stuff animals if they have any boo-boos. Averaging a little less than one million viewers between the ages of 2 to 5, the show is a huge success for Disney. Additionally, it has received great reviews from critics and parents who feel like it is a show they want their children to emulate.
What makes this show so unique is that it features an African-American as the lead. This is a big feat for a company that once made a movie that glorified slavery (ahem, Song of the South) and didn’t add a Black Disney princess until 2009’s Princess and the Frog, over 60 years after the first one. However, as positive as all the press has been around the show, the fact that there aren’t more shows out there like this is a problem in its own right.
In the past decade, there has been an increasing trend in children’s programming to feature ethnic children as the main characters. From Dora the Explorer to Ni-Hao, Kai-Lan, these shows have done more than teach children a few foreign words; they’ve also shown networks that characters of color can be more than a friend of a white child.
In a society that is more accepting of racial differences than ever, Doc McStuffins is indicative of the times. Not only does the show promote a positive portrayal of an African-American family, it also flips the gender script by making the mother a working doctor while the father takes care of the home.
Disney still has a long way to go to atone for its racially insensitive past, but it is making strides in the right direction. It is interesting to note that the creator of the show, Chris Nee, had originally envisioned Doc McStuffins as white, but it was Disney that suggested the girl and her family should be Black. Nonetheless, there are a few complaints that the show could be more educational by teaching another language or problem solving skills like the shows mentioned above. Yet in response to those critiques, it is important to remember that education comes in many forms. Showing a generation of young children how to develop healthy habits and that anyone can be doctor regardless of their gender or race is a lesson definitely worth teaching.