Once Upon A Time & Today

Canadians are leading the way in creating stories that connect with children who see, and define themselves, through the shows they watch

By: Mathieu Chantelois, Vice President, Communications and Promotion, Canada Media Fund

I grew up watching The Flintstones, The Littlest Hobo, Scooby-Doo and Disney fairy tales. As a queer kid, I could never fully relate to these shows, and I couldn’t help but notice that the handsome prince never found his prince charming.

But things are changing. Television is not just about entertainment anymore. It’s a shortcut to understanding each other a little better.

We are truly living in a golden age of content creation. Viewers have a seemingly endless choice of programming. The quality of writing, acting and directing has never been better, and we are finally beginning to see a diversity of onscreen faces, bodies and storylines.

Yet, when it comes to children’s programming, change can be difficult. The world is a fractured place and tackling subjects that divide adults across cultures, and then distilling them into relatable content for children, is a daunting task.  However, it is our job, our mission, to do just that; find the stories that connect with children who see and define themselves, through the programming they watch.

This week, I’m heading to Cannes, as part of a delegation representing the Canada Media Fund and Telefilm Canada at MIPCOM, the largest global market for entertainment content across all platforms. Canada is proudly leading the way in showcasing and celebrating the power and beauty of diversity in children’s programming.

Joining our delegation are the creators of four shows shaking things up:

Vancouver’s acclaimed Big Bad Boo Studios champions LGBTQ storytelling with its animated series The Bravest Knight. The first children’s show to feature lead LGBTQ characters finds pumpkin farmer turned knight Cedric and his husband, Prince Andrew, raising their 10-year-old adopted daughter, Nia. With a stellar voice cast, which includes RuPaul and Wanda Sykes, it’s a joyful and adventurous fairy tale with a family that is no different from any other--except they have to deal with dragons.

The Bravest Knight

Coyote’s Crazy Smart Science Show is a series that delves into the scientific world from an Indigenous perspective featuring Indigenous youth engaged in hands-on science. The series also includes community elders and scientists, role models for children around the world.

Showcasing Indigenous youth, especially girls, is of paramount importance as the community is sorely lacking representation, which is why the series Dreamcatchers is so vital. This live-action, eco-adventure series finds a group of Indigenous tween girls using their ancestral superpowers to stop large corporations from threatening their traditional way of life.

Montreal’s Tobo Studio frames the world’s refugee crises in an elegant and powerful way that is meaningful for children. Its animated series Dounia finds a young Syrian refugee girl making her way across the world, and while the journey is difficult, she possesses magical nigella seeds that aid her along the way. This series reflects the nature of compassion, and Canada is a nation that embraces just that. According to the UN’s refugee agency Canada resettled more refugees than any other country in 2018. But of course, we, and the world, must do so much more.

Television has the power to bring out the best of us. What are the stories we want children to see and hear? The content so many of us grew up watching presented a world that was predominately white, where two straight parents knew all the answers and little girls were relegated to the role of sidekicks and passive observers, rarely taking the lead of any great adventure.

That is a strange and unrecognizable world to today’s children. Canadian content creators make it their mission to seek out the bold, beautiful, diverse and challenging stories that resonate with today’s young audiences. The phrase “now more than ever” is one that is overused, but it carries so much weight and meaning when it comes to engaging children. We must guide them so they discover their place in the world, instill them with pride, inspire them, and show them all futures are possible.

The kid in me can’t help but smile knowing that today there is a child out there who sees that it is possible to find his Prince Charming and live happily ever after.