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How Animators Can Show Diversity In Animation

ben marvazi 2020

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“Diversity and inclusion, which are the real grounds for creativity, must remain at the center of what we do.”

Marco Bizzarri, Gucci President and CEO

Over recent years, the animation industry has become more diverse and inclusive. This means hiring, casting, and featuring more women, people of color, and members of the LGBT community. 

It’s worth noting that barriers have been broken because of the success of certain animated films and series, such as Turning Red (2022) and Adventure Time (2010-2018). There are even reports stating that diversity in animation is leading the way when it comes to Hollywood diversity. People are talking now more than ever, and it seems like the tide is turning. 

However, the current level of diversity in animation is yet to be big or significant enough, especially when compared to the years of being silenced and manipulated. In short, the struggle is not yet done. 

In 2019, a report entitled “Increasing Inclusion in Animation” was published by USC Annenberg and Women In Animation. It stated that career progression stalls for women, with only 37% of animated films having female producers. 

Furthermore, only 17% of animated films and 37% of animated series had a female lead or co-lead. And out of that percentage, only 3% of animated films and 17% of animated series featured roles for women of color.

The gap is jarring and proves that the movement for accurate representation and diversity in animation still has a long way to go. Therefore, as animators, it’s your responsibility to help bridge that gap by telling diverse stories and casting diverse animators, writers, and directors, among others, in your animation studio. 

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In this blog post, we’ll show you 6 ways you can show diversity in animation, including a list of animators and animated series you can draw inspiration from when it comes to being more inclusive.

6 Ways You Can Show Diversity In Animation

Educate Yourself On The True Meaning Of Diversity In Animation
global audiences are seeking more diversity in animation

GIF by themick via GIPHY

Like all businesses and industries, the animation industry thrives on financial success and a good reputation. You won’t be able to stand the test of time if you’re not getting enough clients or if people aren’t responding to your animations the way you hoped they would. 

Because of that norm, it’s normal to assume that major animated studios or businesses are slapping on the diversity label to attract more people or generate revenue faster, especially since more and more people are positively responding to diversity in animations. Some are treating it as a trend, and that’s plain wrong.

The result? Audiences consume inaccurate representations of diversity or sloppily-done storylines that lack the needed research. Take the criticism over Disney’s Raya and The Last Dragon. The animated film was criticized for lacking Southeast Asian actors despite being billed as the first Southeast Asian Disney movie. 

It was further criticized for lumping together Southeast Asian ethnicities. In an interview with NPR, film critic Hoai-Tran Bui shared, “A few have voiced the same criticisms I have towards the film’s melting-pot approach, and even more are unhappy with the casting choices.”

Based on that, you can say that the most important thing to do before making diverse animations is a lot of thorough research, especially if your animations are targeting a wide reach. 

Whether reading books and articles, watching videos, or conducting interviews, you must be prepared to spend long hours studying to avoid misrepresenting diverse groups and minorities that have long been stereotyped and typecasted. 

Another thing you can do to understand the true essence of diversity in animation is to hire a diverse set of writers, directors, and producers to help tell the story. However, that can’t always be the case if you’re just starting and lack the funds. So, a little research goes a long way. 

Listen To Stories On Diversity From Real People
listen to your audience when animating

GIF by grownish via GIPHY

When we talk to our friends, we learn more about their stories, their likes and dislikes, their hobbies, and so on. Sometimes, it’s almost as if you know your friends better than yourself. In a way, the same can be said when it comes to listening to stories coming from diverse people. 

If you have friends from diverse backgrounds, you can simply talk to them about their experiences. Or, if you come from a diverse background yet feel a little disconnected from your roots, you can connect to parents or relatives who can help you understand your history better. 

Another thing you can do is go on LinkedIn, join diverse animation communities, or even log into social media and connect to interesting people. Chat with them or befriend them if you feel comfortable enough. Fortunately, everything is easier now thanks to the internet. 

Diverse animation representation starts when you listen to real stories. Through such stories, you’ll be able to immerse yourself in their lives and understand their practices and background. 

Although you will never be able to fully feel the years of struggle and pushback they’ve experienced (and probably still are experiencing), you will be able to empathize with them better and understand why certain people act the way they do –– This will help you tell their stories with more nuance and color 

T In turn, diverse audiences will be able to relate and connect to your animations. It’s important to surround yourself with diverse people not just to create accurate diversity in animations but to grow as an individual.

Hire More Women, Persons Of Color, And People From The LGBT Community
for keeping diversity in animation in mind, make sure to hire more poc, lgbtq, and women in animation

GIF by bafta via GIPHY

If you think you have earned enough money and you’re capable of hiring people for your animation studio, then you must give chances to women, persons of color, and people from the LGBT community.

The logic here is simple, one of the best ways to tell other people’s stories is to have them tell them themselves –– That way, you can capture all the layers and nuances with your animated characters. 

Unfortunately, the diversity numbers are very low when hiring women, persons of color, and people from the LGBT community. For instance, the 2019 report by USC Annenberg and Women In Animation states that across 120 of the top animated films and 100 episodes of the top animated series, there were only four colored women directors, and all of them were Asian.

The animation industry is still dominated by men, white men for that matter. 

But diversity in animation is more than just having different genders and ethnicities on screen. Diversity must run within your staff. 

Furthermore, having a diverse workforce in your animation studio will lead to increased creativity, faster problem-solving skills, and better corporate decisions than working with similar people. There is so much power in collaborating with a unique set of people, each contributing ideas you may not have thought of yourself.

On the other hand, if you don’t have the funds to hire anyone yet, you must pay attention to the animation studios you support and the animations you consume. This would entail giving more support to animated videos created by women, persons of color, and people from the LGBT community.

Create Stories Involving Diverse Characters And Conflicts
diversity in animation can be done through its chracters and overall storytelling

GIF by regalmovies via GIPHY

What’s the point of educating yourself and having a diverse staff if you aren’t going to amplify their voices and contribute to the current level of diversity in animation? 

Once you’re equipped with the right knowledge and people to guide you as you create animations, you can start incorporating diverse characters and conflicts in your animated stories.

However, there’s still one thing you must not forget: The client brief. 

In some cases, clients may stipulate particular plotlines or characters. Perhaps they may already have a set of elements you must use. And as a business owner, your top priority is your client’s satisfaction. 

While you may sit with your clients and request to diversify their concepts and ideas, don’t expect them to immediately agree with you, especially when the project is already geared towards a certain demographic. But that doesn’t mean you should give up.

When faced with such instances, thoroughly explain the value of diverse animation representation while reaffirming that all the goals indicated in the brief will be steadfastly met.

What doesn’t work with one client may be ideal for another. Besides, you always have the option to turn down a client you think is rude, disrespectful, or a plain ol’ bigot.

Include Captions In Your Animated Videos
simply including captions opens up your animations to be more accessible to disabled audiences

GIF by booksmart via GIPHY

Diversity in animation means considering people from all walks of life and ensuring that your animations don’t come across as disrespectful towards anyone’s religion or culture. With that, you must not forget audiences who are deaf or disabled in any other form.

Adding captions is the most fundamental step in making your animation videos more accessible. This will help not only deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals but also those speaking foreign languages and anyone who simply wants to understand your video better.

Captions will hold the attention of your audience longer and keep their eyes glued to the screen rather than passively consuming the visuals.

Furthermore, an article was uploaded by the marketing website Digiday showing statistics that out of the 500 million people who watch videos on Facebook every day, 85% of those watch without any sound on. 

The article states that 80% of the viewers have reacted negatively to videos automatically playing with sound. Because of that, about 41% of videos overall are incomprehensible. 

The deaf community is also rapidly growing each year, including the increase in mild hearing loss among the adolescent population

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are over a billion young adults at risk of permanently damaging their hearing and over 430 million people worldwide who suffer from loss of hearing, yet that number is expected to climb to 700 million after a couple of decades. 

Looking at the subject from another point of view, adding captions is also a great way to rank up on Google. Search engines don’t have much effect on videos if they don’t have captions, or a transcript of the audio. So, thanks to your captions, more people can find your animated videos online.

Plus, considering how advanced we have progressed technologically, it’s only fitting that all animated videos start including captions.

Watch Animated Series With Diverse Characters And Plotlines
to learn more about how to include diversity in your animations, you can watch more diverse media

GIF by chelseashow via GIPHY

As mentioned earlier, the animation industry has come quite a way since the early days when solely white men were at the helm, and many subject matters and ideas were considered taboo.

Now we have animated films and series featuring black protagonists, all Asian casts, people of the same gender kissing and getting married, and tons more. Women and people of color are also finally being given the chance to write, direct, and produce their stories. These stories, in turn, inspire people from across the world.

However, as the statistics point out, the level of diversity in animation is still relatively small when compared to the reality that there are already people –– men –– who have and are continuing to shape the narratives of various stories over decades. 

That’s why you must continue to watch animated films and series with diverse animation representations. 

Be on the lookout for rising animators or animation studios and animations that feature a diverse set of characters, and support their work. Through consuming such content, you will be able to immerse yourself in different worlds and ideas that can help you learn a little bit more about diversity in animation and which you can incorporate into your animated videos.

But if you’re wondering what the best-animated series to start with is, look no further. We’ve compiled a small list of animators and animated series to help you understand diverse animation representations. These are people and series you can admire and even take some inspiration from when creating your diverse characters and stories.

Animators You Can Draw Inspiration For Diverse Animation Representation

Rebecca Sugar 
rebecca sugar has always been known to push the letter for representation and diversity in animation

Image via IMDb

Rebecca Sugar is the creator of the diverse and wildly-popular animated series Steven Universe. But before that, she worked as one of the writers and storyboard artists on the long-running animated series Adventure Time.

It’s safe to say that both animated series have diverse animation representations, and we can thank Sugar for that. Adventure Time’s showrunner and executive producer Adam Muto credits the show’s former writer for building the foundation and nurturing the relationship between Marceline and Princess Bubblegum throughout the earlier seasons.

Sugar has also made history as the first non-binary woman to create an entire show for Cartoon Network all by herself. 

With such an impressive feat, she’s presented with an award for Individual Achievement at the 5th Annual Women In Animation Diversity Awards. This means that Sugar has been recognized not just for her achievements as an animator and her admirable career progression but also for her contributions to diversity in animation.

Sugar continues to champion a safe and inclusive environment on screen and off screen within the animation industry.

Domee Shii
domee shi has made waves for diversity in animation in the mainstream

Image via IMDb

A Chinese-born animator, director, and screenwriter, Domee Shi is best known for her high-profile animations with Pixar. 

Since working with Pixar in 2011, she has shared her creativity and skills as a storyboard artist for many films, such as Inside Out, Incredibles 2, and Toy Story 4, before climbing up the ladder and becoming a full-time animator.

Despite Pixar’s rich and decades-long history, only now did they bring a woman in to direct a Pixar short and a feature animated film solely.

So, with Shi at the reins, Pixar was able to release Turning Red, a successful film with diverse animation representation. The film’s crew even consists of an all-female team taking on the role of producers, visual effects supervisor, and production designer. 

Shi’s storytelling was commended on its authenticity and nuanced characters as she was able to accurately portray the coming-of-age journey of the Chinese-Canadian girl, Mei Lee. To do this, Shi drew on her personal experiences growing up as an Asian Canadian in Toronto.

But that’s not all she’s done. Before Turning Red, this powerhouse animator has already contributed to diversity in animation with her animated short film Bao, which won the Best Animated Short Film Academy Award in 2019.

Noelle Stevenson
noelle stevenson has shown diveristy in animation with her work on the hit show, she ra and the princesses of power

Image via Wikipedia

Best known for the Netflix-distributed animated series She-Ra And The Princesses Of Power, Noelle steven is an American cartoonist and New York Times Bestselling Author. Her works as an author have been nominated for a National Book Award (Nimona graphic novel) and won a GLAAD Media Award (Lumberjanes comic series).

Stevenson’s stories are often whimsical and enjoyable, filled with a diverse animation representation with its cast of queer and colorful characters. Take She-Ra And The Princesses Of Power, which practically featured an all-queer cast. The series’ leading female characters even shared an iconic onscreen kiss with viewers swooning on social media.

In an interview with the lifestyle and culture website Pink News, Stevenson touches on the state of LGBT representation in the media, “It’s been just a whirlwind few years for LGBT+ representation in the media in general. It’s been something that has changed, especially in comics and cartoons. It was so exciting.”

Despite the fearlessness in campaigning for LGBT representation and queer women's visibility in her stories and animated series, Stevenson has admittedly had a tough time coming out as nonbinary and transgender. She shared this in her raw and emotional memoir, The Fire Never Goes Out.

Animated Films and Series With Diverse Animation Representation

Besides the animated films of the aforementioned animators, there are still tons of other animated films and series that show diversity in animation. So if you’re still new and you decide to start watching more diverse animations, you can keep coming back to this nifty list to guide.

Over The Moon
over the moon shows diversity in animation with its chinese asian representation

GIF by netflix via GIPHY

Over The Moon is an animated musical fantasy film. Through the main character of Fei Fei and her family, the film celebrates Chinese culture, shining a light on Chinese mythology, and features diverse animation representation. 

In its entirety, Over The Moon is magical and luminary, with music that amplifies every mood and a talented voiceover cast of Asians. It follows Fei Fei’s journey to the moon as she attempts to prove the existence of the mystical moon goddess Chang’e to her father.

At its core, the film is about moving on. It tackles grief and vulnerability in a beautiful way that’s usually not done in animated films.

The Boondocks 
the boondocks exposed mainstream audiences to black culture

GIF by boondocks via GIPHY

The Boondocks was created by Aaron McGruder for Adult Swim. The comedy animated series follows the dysfunctional family of the Freemans as they settle into Woodcrest, a nice and friendly yet generally white suburb.

It talks about the nuances in black American culture in a fun and lighthearted way, satirizing different racial identities, perspectives, social classes, and stereotypes. Additionally, it often parodies major black films or events, such as the R. Kelly trials.

In a nutshell, there’s a comedy, conflict, and diverse animation representation –– You wouldn’t want to look past this.

Hair Love 
hair grow aimed to inform a younger audience to embrace diversity in animation

Image via Sony Pictures Animation

Created by Matthew A. Cherry, Hair Love is a 6-minute short animated film that won Best Animated Short in the 2020 Academy Award, marking another win for diversity in animation.

The short animation is a tribute to the hair of black women. It particularly encourages little girls to love it. Additionally, it presents most clearly and simply the loving relationship between a father and his daughter. It centers around a father relentlessly trying to conquer the difficulties of doing his daughter’s hair as their family goes through a difficult time. 

It’s a sweet and deeply-moving watch whether or not you're black.

For more, specifically on LGBT representation, you can also check out our list of LGBT characters in animation.

How Can Diversity in Animation Be Achieved?

Diversity in animation is important as the media is a powerful tool in influencing people and impacting change. And progress could be made faster if we all made conscious efforts toward inclusivity. 

As an animator, you can show diverse animation representation more accurately by doing the following: 

Educating yourself on the true meaning of diversity, listening to stories from various backgrounds, hiring a diverse cast of people to work for you, creating unique stories involving different people and conflicts, including captions in your animated videos, and watching existing animated series with diverse animation representation.

This will spur your creativity and open your mind up to new ideas and challenges, which, in turn, will help you grow your animation studio.

For more tips on developing your business skills as a freelance animator or animation studio owner, you can join our informative free masterclass, download a copy of our free marketing handbook, and check out our blog on “How to Start an Animation Studio”!

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