Proud Family Reboot To Feature LGBTQ+ Representation
The Proud Family is back! Before Disney+, there was this thing on cable called The Disney Channel and it aired some of the best series and movies IMO (anyone else remember Zenon and Johnny Tsunami?!), including The Proud Family. The show followed 14-year-old Penny Proud and the hijinx that her family and friends often found themselves in. Besides having witty dialogue that was highly entertaining and good at addressing important life lessons, The Proud Family was also a leader in having diversity and representation in a children’s TV series. Now we’re getting a Proud Family reboot that will appropriately be called The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder.
What’s The Latest News Regarding The Proud Family Reboot?
In February of last year, Disney+ announced that The Proud Family would be getting a reboot as a Disney+ series. Despite airing 18 years ago, the show seemed like it would continue where the original series had ended and no characters would age. Earlier this week, Disney+ shared that Pittsburgh natives Zachary Quinto (Heroes, Star Trek) and Billy Porter (Pose, Kinky Boots) would be joining the Proud family cast as Barry Leibowitz-Jenkins and Randall Leibowitz-Jenkins, mixed-race adoptive parents to 14-year-old activist Maya Leibowitz-Jenkins, who will be voiced by Keke Palmer.
Barry Leibowitz-Jenkins and Randall Leibowitz-Jenkins/Image via Disney+
Maya Leibowitz-Jenkins/Image via Disney+
Shoutout to Pittsburgh for giving us Quinto and Porter, but also Disney+ for continuing to make sure characters of different backgrounds are featured in their shows. It’s no secret that Hollywood has a diversity problem (just as Ava DuVernay, who launched a new database to make sure Hollywood isn’t slacking), but it’s heartening to see that one of the biggest media companies is trying to be more inclusive.
The entire original voice cast will be back for Louder and Prouder, including Kyla Pratt (Penny Proud), Tommy Davidson (Oscar Proud), Paula Jai Parker (Trudy Proud), Jo Marie Payton (Suga Mama), Carlos Mencia (Felix Boulevardez), Maria Canals-Barrera (Sunset Boulevardez), Alvaro Gutierrez (Papi), and Cedric the Entertainer (Uncle Bobby Proud).
Newcomer EJ Johnson will also be joining the cast as Penny’s non-conforming trendsetting guy friend, Michael Collins, who serves fierce looks at school and on the basketball court. Michael Collins was originally voiced by Phil LaMarr.
Louder and Prouder will be executive produced by Bruce W. Smith (The Princess and the Frog) and Ralph Farquhar (Moesha), both of whom led the original series. Calvin Brown, Jr. (Moesha) is co-executive producer and story editor, Jan Hirota (Big Hero 6 The Series) is producer, and Eastwood Wong (Carmen Sandiego) is art director.
The Proud Family Cast And Characters: A History
The Proud Family characters were created by Bruce W. Smith, an American character animator, film director, and television producer. Smith grew up on Saturday morning cartoons and cites that plus the Disney movie 101 Dalmations as the catalyst that made him realize he wanted to animate as a full-time job. He eventually got his foot in the door and worked on the animation for films like Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Space Jam, but he still dreamed of creating his own TV series. Enter The Proud Family and its diverse cast and characters.
Image via screengrab
Smith wanted his TV series to be like The Simpsons and he started to brainstorm what the characters and plot points would be like. He eventually co-founded his own animation studio with Tom Woolhite called Jambalaya Studios when he realized that there wasn’t a lot of content that catered to diverse voices. As one of the few Black animators, he noticed that the “cultural melting pot” was too often ignored and he wanted more conscious of “what would roll off my pencil.” When Smith showed his co-founder some concepts, Woolhite unintentionally gave the show its name, saying, “They’re an interesting proud family.”
When first pitching The Proud Family characters to networks, Smith said the show almost went to Nickelodeon. In an interview with The Walt Disney Family Museum’s “Happily Ever After Hours,” Smith said:
“I remember pitching it around town and initially we pitched it to Disney first, an earlier version of Disney Television. This was 1997, 98. At the time, they weren’t really vibing the idea. Black folks in animation was still a very tender topic in town. There’s no one to check for accuracy in creating characters, so there’s a lot of fear of doing African American characters because we don’t have a lot of African American animators. We made the pilot with Nickelodeon and it was great. Nickelodeon ended up sitting on it, I think mainly because on TV you test a lot of things. The problem was it was a Black show and they were testing it in very white areas, so the response wasn’t exactly what they were looking for. Everything was sort of geared towards our culture so if you’re not embraced in the culture, you might not understand it.”
Luckily, a Disney Channel representative attended several of The Proud Family screenings and called Smith to say if Nickelodeon passed on it, Disney would be interested.
Smith wanted to make sure he had full control over The Proud Family and its creative direction (writing and animation), which he was able to due thanks to the creation of Jambalaya Studios. He credits bringing on Ralph Farquad as the main reason Disney let him have so much control. Farquad was a legendary sitcom writer who had worked on Happy Days, Married with Children, and Moesha. In the “Happily Ever After Hours” interview, Smith said:
“I remember showing him the characters and written synopses and immediately he was like I got it, I got it… He had a great taste for it, he got it, he got the temperature. Disney was impressed.”
Because of this, Smith was able to create what we now know as the highly successful Proud Family show. He created over 50 episodes the Disney Channel and also worked on The Proud Family Movie. He’s proud of what the show has done for representation thanks to a diverse cast of characters, including:
- Penny Proud (voiced by Kyla Pratt): Penny is the protagonist of The Proud Family. She’s a 14-year-old African American girl that enjoys hanging out with her friends, despite the trouble they get into. She loves her family and always wants to do good by them.
- Dijonay Jones (voiced by Karen Malina White): Penny’s best friend who loves gossip and often acts out of selfishness. She has a crush on their other friend, Sticky. Unfortunately, she doesn’t treat Penny in the best way and eventually Penny loses all trust in her.
- BeBe & CeCe Proud (voiced by Tara Strong): Penny’s trouble-making baby twin siblings. BeBe is a boy, has an afro, and always has a bottle in his mouth. Cece is a girl with brown hair and is always in a pink dress. They love Penny a lot, but can often be rough with her.
- Suga Mama Proud (voiced by Jo Marie Payton): Penny, BeBe, and CeCe’s grandma and Oscar’s mother. Suga Mama loves wrestling and despite her name, doesn’t sugar-coat anything. She truly loves her family, but also isn’t afraid to give them some sass.
- Trudy Proud (née Parker) (voiced by Paula Jai Parker): The mother of Penny, BeBe and CeCe. She’s married to Oscar and is the usually talking him down using logic and reason. She’s a veterinarian and is always giving Penny advice.
- Oscar Proud (voiced by Tommy Davidson): The father of Penny, BeBe and CeCe. He’s married to Trudy and while he can overreact and be overprotective of his children, he’s well-meaning. He owns and operates a food business called “Proud Snacks,” which are actually really gross, but he still manages to stay in business.
- Zoey Howzer (voiced by Soleil Moon Frye): Zoey is one of Penny’s few white friends. She’s very shy, but also smart and kind. She just wants to be accepted by everyone and often needs Penny to talk some sense into her.
- LaCienega Boulevardez (voiced by Alisa Reyes): Penny’s Latina frenemy. She’s considered the most popular and pretty girl at Penny’s school. She’s secretly envious of Penny.
- Sticky Webb (voiced by Orlando Brown): Penny’s other best friend who’s a cool tech nerd who can build or hack into any type of device. He has a crush on Penny despite being the constant apple of Dijonay’s eye.
- Bobby Proud (voiced by Cedric the Entertainer): Oscar’s older brother and Suga Mama’s oldest son. He’s the “cool uncle” thanks to his Cadillac Eldorado with hydraulics. He’s a fan of groups like Kool & The Gang and The Commodores.
Smith wanted to make sure that not only the characters were diverse, but also The Proud Family cast. No white people voicing people of color here, which was way ahead of its time. Only recently has there been a shift in diversifying the voice actor world, and we can only hope it continues.
The Diversity Of The Disney Channel
“Inclusive casting” and “representation” are popular buzzwords that Hollywood and production companies like to throw around nowadays, but The Disney Channel had actually been churning out diverse programming as early as the late 1990s and the beginning of the 21st century, including The Proud Family characters. Many of the Disney Channel original movies were feminist, but also featured characters from different backgrounds and with different abilities. As someone that grew up during this Disney Channel “Golden Age of Diversity,” I realize just how important it was to see characters from different backgrounds portrayed on-screen.
That’s So Raven/Image via Disney Channel
As I’ve talked about earlier in this post, The Proud Family was one of several game- changing shows on The Disney Channel, but there was also That’s So Raven, The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, and The Famous Jett Jackson. All of these TV shows portrayed kids navigating every day life without focusing on the pain or depression that often accompanies stories about people of color. When I worked in children’s book publishing, so many of the books about Black characters often revolved around the Civil Rights Movement or slavery, which is important to know about, but it also pigeonholes books as only being for that certain group (a book featuring a Black character digging for worms in the park?! Unheard of!). Television shows and movies are the same.
The Suite Life of Zack & Cody/Image via Disney Channel
Shows like The Proud Family had characters that were beginning high school (Penny Proud is 14-years-old), and a lot of the Disney Channel original movies also had protagonists that were already in their teens, meaning that not only was diversity addressed, but also more “adult” topics were brought up. For example, in The Color of Friendship, a Black family in America acts as a host family to a white South African girl. Topics of white privilege, racism, and police brutality are all touched upon. In Gotta Kick It Up!, a movie about a Latinx dance team in Southern California, and Up, Up and Away, a movie about a young Black boy whose family are all superheroes, the nuances of being a person of color is part of the movie, but not the main focus, which brings me back to having media that doesn’t just focus on marginalized groups’ pain.
There’s always more that can be done to add more diverse programming to major networks, but Disney, as well as other major channels, have been adding more representation. More than half of shows across Disney, Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, and Netflix have lead characters from traditionally underrepresented populations and we hope that it continues to grow (Loki was confirmed to be gender-fluid and the main character in The Owl House is Disney’s first bisexual lead). We look forward to seeing more diversity in TV series and movies, not only within the Disney universe but on all major entertainment platforms.
Also, just for fun, here’s the old-school video of Destiny’s Child (!) featuring Solange singing The Proud Family theme song!
The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder will air on Disney+ in 2022. Original episodes of The Proud Family are currently streaming on Disney+.
Are you excited for The Proud Family reboot? Let us know in the comments below!
Featured image via Disney
Keilin Huang is a freelance writer that likes the Oxford comma, reading from her neverending pile of books from the library, and Reeses peanut butter cups. She thanks her Dad for introducing her to his Superman comics and probably majored in Journalism because of Lois Lane.