Marley Dias knows how important it is to be the hero of your own story.
Tired of a lack of Black girls in the books she read, the 15-year-old founded the #1000BlackGirlBooks campaign when she was in elementary school. The program supplies libraries, schools and community organizations with titles that showcase Black female characters.
“I’ve had personal experience with not seeing myself represented and my stories not being told. I understand that frustration,” Dias says. “I started the campaign not only to solve my own experience of not seeing myself, but to also help other kids understand there is a value in diversity, and to help Black kids who did not see themselves [in books] become more confident and realize they can do anything they want.”
Since #1000BlackGirlBooks first launched, Dias has continued to build on those pillars of creating accessibility, promoting representation and celebrating Black voices. Now, with the help of Netflix, she’s taking it to the next level.
Bookmarks: Celebrating Black Voices is a live-action preschool series featuring prominent celebrities and artists reading children’s books from Black authors. In addition to hosting the show, Dias is also an executive producer and served as one of the readers.
Announced by Netflix earlier this month, the 12 x five-minute series is set to premiere on both the SVOD platform and the Netflix Jr. YouTube channel on September 1.
Produced by Jesse Collins Entertainment, Bookmarks features guests like Lupita Nyong’o, Caleb McLaughlin, Marsai Martin, Tiffany Haddish, Karamo Brown, Common and Misty Copeland. Fracaswell Hyman serves as showrunner, director and EP on the project. Jesse Collins, Dionne Harmon, David Talbert and Lyn Sisson-Talbert are also attached as executive producers.
Books highlighted by the series include The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson and Anti-Racist Baby by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi. Dias read We March by Shane Evans for the show, but she’s also an author in her own right. At the age of 13, she penned Marley Dias Gets It Done: And So Can You! in an effort to encourage other kids to make positive changes in their communities. The book touches on activism, social justice, equity, inclusion, volunteering and discovering your passions.
Her experience as an activist informed her work as both a host and an EP on the show.
“I was always conscious of the audience I’m trying to serve,” she says. “I think that comes from the unique perspective of being not only a young person, but also a person who continually tries to advocate for the wellbeing of kids and their education.”
And lessons learned from working on the Netflix series will also inform her activism moving forward. Dias says her work on Bookmarks taught her how important it is to advocate for yourself and believe in your ideas. For example, she pushed for the series to have a resource guide similar to the one she launched for #1000BlackGirlBooks.
Dias believes other creators in the kids industry could benefit from watching Bookmarks and taking to heart some of its key messages.
“I think sometimes the phrase ‘the Black experience’ is used to try to [explain] what diversity means or what representation means,” Dias says. “But what we actually talk about in Bookmarks is that we’re all extremely different and those differences aren’t a bad thing. I hope something other productions take from Bookmarks is that we’re trying to value, understand and respect all Black experiences.”
Another lesson she hopes creators learn from the series is to involve more kids in the making of kid-focused content. Dias says she knows Gen Z is sometimes seen as lazy by older generations, but she promises that if producers and broadcasters give children a seat at the table, they will prove to be hardworking and creative.
Involving kids in the creation of content is especially important, she says, because too many movies and series focus on outdated stereotypes that today’s tweens and teens reject.
“I think we need more variety in the teenagers we are seeing on screen. Those stereotypes that exist in the media, we’re dismantling them,” says Dias. “Young people are tired of it because we didn’t come up with those ideas, and we don’t support shows that capitalize on those stereotypes.”