'Molly of Denali' creator Princess Johnson on the importance of bringing the show to a national audience: 'We are sharing our Alaska native values'
In an exclusive interview with MEAWW, the children's show creator Princess Johnson talks about the unique way that was used to approach the story of 'Molly of Denali'.
PBS KIDS recently premiered an all-new groundbreaking series 'Molly of Denali.'
'Molly of Denali' is reportedly the first children’s nationally distributed series that features a Native American lead character. Molly Mabray is a 10-year-old Gwich’in/Koyukon/Dena’ina Athabascan girl who is spirited and ingenious. What makes 'Molly of Denali' stand out amongst other children's series is that it aims to help change the scarce representation of indigenous heroines in children’s programs. Apart from being the first series to feature Native American leads, the series also has a live-action representation of Native Americans in their homeland.
The series was created by Princess Johnson, who with her mantra, “nothing about us without us,” is leading the charge in ensuring a real and positive representation of Native Americans. In an exclusive interview with MEA WorldWide (MEAWW), Princess Johnson talks about the importance of bringing 'Molly of Denali' to the national audience and the unique way she used to approach this story.
Johnson said, "When they set out to do the show initially, they weren't even thinking about Alaska, they were just thinking of responding to this RFP and they were thinking about how it would be fun if the show is about a girl whose family owns a store and she got to play in the store. And then they saw footage of when President Obama came up to Alaska and saw how beautiful it was and the Alaska native people and that's when they started thinking about doing a show in Alaska."
Continuing, she said, "Realizing quite quickly that they're not from Alaska and they knew nothing about Alaska or the Alaska native people so they sought out Alaska native people's advice in an advisory group to partner with. The core group, they flew up here to Alaska and met with our core Alaska native advisory group and they really helped shape and set the foundation of the show and how it was going to represent our Alaska native cultures. They also played a pivotal role in shaping the village of Qyah the community members making sure that our Alaska native values were present in the storylines."
Sharing the importance of bringing 'Molly of Denali' to a national audience, Johnson said, "There has been such a lack of representation of us whether it is Alaska native people or Native Americans or indigenous people. And, often, the images that we have seen historically are inaccurate or they are images that have been created and informed by non-indigenous people. So, oftentimes, we have been bombarded in our pop culture American television and film with negative stereotypes. Or just inaccurate stereotypes. So, we just do not see positive healthy representations of ourselves as native people because we haven't been a part of that process."
Adding to that she said, "For an international audience, I would say one of the most important things that I'm so excited about with the show is that we are sharing our Alaska native values and we are showing how inter-gender generational we are. Like one of the first things that we learn as children in our culture is that you respect your elders and you take care of your elders. And so I am excited that in a national and hopefully an international audience, you know will definitely relate. But, I think that this culture of just like caring and sharing the food that we harvest and taking care of one another are the values that the world really needs to know and I think that that's a huge element why the show has been resonating so much with people."
There are a lot of stereotypes about Native and Indigenous peoples. Talking about the challenges of trying to debunk those myths and tell more nuanced stories about these communities, Johnson said, "In terms of like debunking the romanticized image that people have of native people, just showing that we're modern people and we have a sense of humor. Like Molly, she is fallible like she makes mistakes and she's goofy and also she's computer savvy. She knows how to use the internet and we're not relegated to the past. We're modern people but also practicing a lot of our culture and traditions and so they live side by side."
Sharing more she added, "Just by showing us in a modern context necessitates us like debunking some really like romanticized notions or even negative stereotypes about Native people. Because, like any society, we also have like beautiful things like thriving elements of our culture as well and we're highlighting those right now."