As audiences have long demanded entertainment that is more inclusive and representative, studios, networks, and streaming platforms have begun filling the void. One of the places where TV and movies still fall woefully behind, though, is in their treatment of stories about indigenous people. In the rare instance they make a movie or TV show featuring Natives, Natives are rarely behind the camera. Put simply, Natives don’t usually get to tell their own stories. That’s all going to change, though, with Spirit Rangers on Netflix, part of their upcoming array of more inclusive shows for kids. Because not only is it going to be about Native characters, but it’s also going to have Natives writing those characters.
Spirit Rangers Not the First Animated Show About Indigenous Characters
image via PBS
In case you’ve aged out of PBS’s children’s programming, you might not have heard of Molly of Denali. Set in Alaska, the show follows the adventures of Molly Mabray, a 10yo Native gal. She lives in a small village with her family and friends and she loves to explore. The show is the first national kids’ show in the United States with an indigenous lead. It premiered last year.
So let me say that again. The first kids’ show with a Native lead character hit our TVs waaaay back in 2019. Up until then, Native kids had to settle for scraps. Never the lead character and often just a racist caricature. Molly‘s creators, who are both white, made a conscious decision to make something better. They staffed their show with around 70 Alaska Natives, including all of the voice actors for Native characters. They also take Native advice on how to make scripts more culturally believable.
Sometimes that includes introducing painful but important stories. For example, in the first half of the first episode, “Grandpa’s Drum,” Molly learns about her grandfather’s childhood. Specifically, his time in an Indian boarding school. The schools were not exactly voluntary, if you didn’t know. Further, they existed mainly to strip everything indigenous from children, like their hair and their language and their stories and their pride. They caused incalculable damage to generations. But while it hurts to tell and it hurts to hear about, telling the stories is vital. It’s similar to how Netflix’s adaptation of The Baby-Sitters Club introduced a plotline about Claudia’s grandmother Mimi’s childhood in Manzanar. We may be our ancestors’ wildest dreams, but we should also know the ones that were deferred to bring us forth. Sharing our history is good medicine.
Spirit Rangers and Its All-Native Writing Staff Coming to Netflix as Part of Doc McStuffins Creator’s Deal
Chris Dee, who created shows like Doc McStuffins and adapted Vampirina for Disney, made a multi-year deal with Netflix in 2018. The deal includes her company, Laughing Wild, creating and overseeing content exclusively for the platform. As part of the first batch, we get Spirit Rangers. Created by Karissa Valencia (Chumash), the show is about the Skycedar siblings, a trio with a special secret. They’re really spirit rangers, which means they can shape-shift into their animal spirit form. I don’t know why I’m crying in the club right now.
According to Deadline, Valencia said, “Spirit Rangers is Native-led with a team of Native writers, Native artists, Native actors
and Native composers. As a Native Storyteller, I’ve rarely come across the opportunity to tell my own story. I am forever grateful to be given the chance at Laughing Wild and can’t wait for everyone to meet our funny modern Native family in Spirit Rangers.” I’m excited, too, even if it’s definitely going to lead to an increase in people saying like, coffee’s their spirit animal. (DON’T.)
image via Netflix
The other shows on the slate honestly sound as cool. These include Ridley Jones (Night at the Museum but with a kid) and Dino Daycare, where dinosaurs got meatier, NOT a meteor. (Basically, a little boy helps out at a daycare for dinosaurs, who never went extinct.) There will also be an adaptation of the book Ada Twist, Scientist, about a little girl with big curiosity.
There’s no word yet on when we can expect Spirit Rangers on Netflix or the rest of the shows, but we’ll let you know. And then we can all watch the baby shows together, as a family.
featured image via Netflix
Salomé Gonstad is a freelance writer who grew up in the swampy wilds of south Alabama. She now splits her time between the Appalachian wilds (of Alabama) and the considerably more refined streets of New York City. When she's not yelling about pop culture on the internet, she's working on a supernatural thriller about her hometown. Also, we're pretty sure she's a werewolf.