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Kid Insight

Kids TV still lacks diversity, representation

From a lack of overweight females to zero neurodiversity, Canadian kids animation can do better, according to new Ryerson University data.
January 7, 2021

There’s still a lack of diversity and representation in animated kids series airing in Canada, according to new research from Toronto-based Ryerson University’s Children’s Media Lab.

The data for the report comes from a study of more than 120 main characters in 27 shows, all of which are produced/co-produced and airing in Canada, targeting kids from preschool up to age 12.

The report found that most of the animated characters, both human and non-human, were male (63%). And there’s a clear imbalance among non-human characters, with 70% presenting as male. For comparison, human characters were 57% male.

There’s long been a push to help kids see themselves on screen by showing diversity. But the report affirms that it’s also important to have equal gender representation, which needs to extend to animated animals and monsters because kids identify with anthropomorphic characters.

Canadian animation is doing a bit better with racial diversity than in the past. Among human characters, 51% in the shows studied were white, and 49% were people of color. Breaking it down across genders, more people of color were male (51%) than female (46%).

White characters made up the bulk of who was shown on screen, followed by Black (14%), Hispanic/Latino/Latina (11%) and East Asian (11%) characters. Indigenous (6%), South Asian (5%) and Middle Eastern (1%) characters were the most underrepresented.

Digging into this representation scarcity, the report found that the sample of 121 main characters only included one Middle Eastern character, four Indigenous characters (which all came from the same show), and three South Asian characters (in two shows).

Kids aren’t seeing a lot of body shape variety in the animated content they watch, either. Zero female characters in the study were portrayed as overweight, and male characters weren’t much better at just 16%.

Characters with disabilities are also largely absent from Canada’s kids animation. Just 2% of main characters in the study had a disability, and none were portrayed as being neuro-diverse (a variation in the brain that affects sociability and learning, like Autism and ADHD). These numbers don’t reflect the reality that 20% of Canadians live with one or more disabilities, according to the report.

This latest research from the Children’s Media Lab is a follow-up to its “Landscape of Children’s Television in the US and Canada” study, which was released in 2019 through the Center for Scholars and Storytellers, in collaboration with Rutgers University and IZI. That lead report analyzed hundreds of shows that aired on linear broadcasters in Canada and the US in fall 2017.

It found that male characters—especially non-human ones—were dominant in children’s TV. Overall, only 38% of main characters from US shows were female. The majority of characters were also white (65% in the US, 74% in Canada), and females are nearly twice as likely to be portrayed as people of color or racially ambiguous, compared to males.

Photo courtesy of Anna Samoylova on Unsplash

About The Author
Online writer for Kidscreen. Ryan covers tech, talent and general kids entertainment news, with a passion for kids rap content and video games. Have a story that's of interest to Kidscreen readers? Contact Ryan at rtuchow@brunico.com

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