Burbank Library Hosts Racial Diversity In Animation Discussion

Image Courtesy Burbank Public Library

The Burbank Public Library hosts Color Changes Everything: Racial Diversity In Animation, an online discussion featuring animators, artists and writers on Thursday evening, October 29.

The discussion will be moderated by director, animator, writer and producer Musa Brooker and feature motion graphics artist and educator David Dodds, Disney Channel Worldwide Associate Writer/Producer Chi Ogbue and animator/designer Caress Reeves.

“It’s such an interesting time right now in the animation industry that can influence and reflect what’s going on in the wider world. The industry, much like the larger society, now seems to be more aware of a lack of equal opportunity for underrepresented communities within the world of animation,” commented Brooker. “I am hopeful that this newfound awareness can help push the medium and the community forward with fairness and opportunity for all who seek it.”

Animator, writer, director and producer Musa Brooker on set. (Photo Courtesy Musa Brooker)

“I’ve been very fortunate in my career and right now, I am creative director for a company – Six Point Harness – that really values representation, diversity and inclusion. That is reflected in the projects we create, the people we hire and the general culture and community of the organization. But throughout my career, that has not always been the case.”

“Animation is all I’ve ever wanted to do professionally, and again I’ve been fortunate that my entire working life has been in the animation world – but that doesn’t mean its always been easy. To be clear I don’t believe I’ve necessarily ever been overtly discriminated against.”

“Most of the people I’ve worked with throughout my career are wonderful, thoughtful craftspeople and artists who encourage inclusion,” Brooker continued. “But most of the time I am also the only person on a project that looks like me, or the only person of color on a production in a leadership position.”

Musa Brooker sets up the shot. (Photo Courtesy Musa Brooker)

“I’ve been on projects where it was clear that certain crew members did not trust that I had the skills, abilities, or experience to do the job at hand. Sometimes it’s been subtle, other times not so much. And I have seen multiple examples of colleagues with comparable talent, but far less experience promoted ahead of me.”

“I’ve done my best to keep making good work and rising to the occasion whenever opportunities present themselves. And as an adjunct animation professor, animation supervisor, director, and creative director on multiple projects, I’ve worked hard to encourage opportunities for women, people of color and other underrepresented groups within the industry,” added Brooker, who has taught for the USC School of Cinematic Arts since 2010.

“I’ve certainly had to raise questions and make people aware of the importance of representation and inclusion, for both ideas and characters on the screen as well as for staff and crew hires behind the camera. I think this panel and the discussions I hope it will generate are a natural extension of that work.”

Still from animated music video Musa Brooker directed, created for the show “Black-ish,” of an original song by artist Jhene Aiko, highlighting some of difficulties involved in voting. (Image Courtesy Musa Brooker)

“We all want to be respected and appreciated by our colleagues and community, and given a fair shot to move ahead on our career paths. And that’s the goal – fairness, equity and inclusion. We’ve come a long way, but we still have further to go.”

“The content that gets made and the representation that occurs in media has a lot to do with the people behind the scenes making creative decisions. As we see more diverse faces behind the camera, we will continue to see more diverse and inclusive stories being made and shown,” Brooker also said. “Hopefully, the artists, creators designers and executives in animation will continue to look more and more like the larger society in which we live and therefore the projects being made will too.”

More information on Brooker’s work can be found on his website.

Animator and educator David Dodds will launch an animation festival partnering with Adobe in 2021. (Photo Courtesy David Dodds)

“The first challenge I faced was being told it would be hard for me to make it as an animator, that there was hardly any African American animators in the industry. Turns out they were right,” commented Dodds. “However I become more determined to make my mark in the industry in spite of the low representation of African Americans.”

“I think the issue of representation in the industry will continue to be an issue until we see a more diverse representation in key decision making positions in this industry.”

“I have always believed deep inside of myself I was destined for greatness. When I was selected to be an Adobe Education Leader I was thrilled that this organization was going to help me to make an impact in my community!” Dodds added.

“I’ve been able to travel the world and use my voice to empower others, and to lead creative workshops in low income Black communities.”

Animator and artist David Dodds has worked with brands such as Disney, NFL, Netflix, Hulu and Marvel. (Image Courtesy David Dodds)

“As an educator, artist and public speaker, I’m in the position to have a positive impact on others. I know what my breath is for,” he also said.

“My purpose for being on this planet is to help others reach their full creative potential. I am here to help others that come after me, especially Black animators.

Dodds, who teaches at UCLA and through online learning platforms, went on to say, “I’m excited to announce in 2021 I will launch an animation film festival with Adobe. This film festival will represent all voices but it will definitely include the underrepresented Black voice.”

More information on Dodds’ work can be found on his website.

“For me, the biggest challenge was getting my initial foot in the door. With kids who go to UCLA, USC, NYU or Emerson College, some  simply have to apply to an internship, contact a legacy that’s at one of these big time companies and presto! They have an internship, which can lead to a full time offer,” commented Ogbue.

“Whereas for me, I never went to a school that had a big film or TV program. So I had to do so much more than my counterparts at these big schools, just to get noticed and that can mess with someone’s belief in their self.”

Still from “Jerry’s World” show that gave writer and producer Chi Ogbue his first real taste of show running including writing, directing, acting, set-building and editing. (Photos Courtesy Jared Greenberg)

“I think the biggest challenge I continue to face is my age gap compared to my Disney counterparts,” he added. “There’s a lot that I want to do in my current position and know that I can do but I haven’t been around as long as others, so there’s a level of respect and trust that I understand will come with time and experience, thus presenting better opportunities, especially within my role.”

“I think with everything going on in the world and more specifically, America, today, companies are making sure to make a more concerted effort to represent their diverse audience on screen. So on the Disney front, with the new Moon Girl and Proud Family reboots, which are awesome by the way, we are making a concerted effort to tell more diverse stories, and with that more opportunities for animators of color and that are underrepresented as a whole to get their foot in the door.”

“When I was a junior in college, I had an internship in Massachusetts where my project was to create a show, since that’s what my ultimate dream was and continues to be. I’ve always had this infatuation for Muppets, since they’re manifestations, I believe, of cartoons,  but I felt like currently they weren’t hitting the mark,” Ogbue continued.

Still from “Jerry’s World” show that gave writer and producer Chi Ogbue his first real taste of show running including writing, directing, acting, set-building and editing. (Photos Courtesy Jared Greenberg)

“I wanted to make a show that was funny but not as PC as a Sesame Street or as inappropriate as Happy Time Murders, something that kids can watch and laugh but maybe learn a lesson or two if they pay attention.”

“So after working with a mentor of mine that was at Sesame/Henson, Marc Borders, we created this character by the name of Jerry Fleece, who was a self-centered celebrity who has to learn that sometimes he is not always going to be the center of attention. The name of the show is Jerry’s World. This show helped shape my career because since I didn’t go to a major film school, it was my first hands on experience being a producer and make so all aspects of the show were running.”

“I wrote the scripts, acted, wrote songs, directed, built sets, edited, etc. It was a really hands on experience, so much so that I feel like I have a knowledge base that my major school counterparts don’t have.,” Ogbue explained. “I was also able to create a spinoff called Max’s World, where I traveled to different places around the country with Jerry’s friend, Max Kent (Jeffry Barthold), and we interviewed unsuspecting people.”

More information on Ogbue’s work can be found on his website.

Caress Reeves is an animator, designer, VFX artist and director. (Photo Courtesy Caress Reeves)

“In the past five years I’ve seen an increase in both Black and brown people rising to the role of show runner or director, which has allowed them to create an increasingly diverse array of non-white representations for the next generation to enjoy,” commented Reeves.

“But perhaps more importantly I’ve witnessed an increase in community between people of color in animation when it comes to job recommendations and mentorship – this is the foundation animators of color need to succeed in this industry,” she added.

More information on Reeves’ work can be found on her website.

“Burbank is one of the major animation production centers in the world. Animation produced here gives millions of children some of their earliest and most formative stories about their world and about their personal identity,” commented Burbank Librarian Hubert Kozak, who brought together the panelists for this discussion.

A still from animator and designer Caress Reeves 2012 film “Piccolina.”

“Animation has not been traditionally an inclusive or representative medium for people of color, and its creative work force has not been diverse.”

“When people of color have appeared in animation, they have often been portrayed with demeaning characterizations and with negative stereotypes. This is changing, and you will meet at this event some of the people helping to lead this change, creating animation content that is more representative of all of us, and working to build a diverse workforce in animation.”

“This event will be of interest to parents, who are interested in what their children watch and want their children to grow up in an inclusive and anti-racist society, to those working in the industry who are looking for ways to make animation more reflective of our culture and society and to reach new audiences, and to so many young people of color whose creative talents were nurtured by their experience of animation and who are looking for a way to pursue careers in this remarkably creative and vibrant medium,” Kozak added.

Image Courtesy Burbank Public Library

“In the course of putting together a panel that might address some of the issues regarding diversity in animation, and talking to some of the participants about their own experiences in the industry, I’ve come to the realization that the most important thing that needs to happen if we are to see animation that is more inclusive and representative of people of color is that there has to be diversity in the animation workforce,” Kozak also said. “People who have been too long excluded need to be involved in not only making creative decisions, they need to be involved in decisions about what content will be produced.”

Color Changes Everything: Racial Diversity In Animation is part of the month-long Burbank Reads program by the Burbank Public Library. The Library’s selection for 2020, The Hate U Give, “was chosen to encourage Burbank to engage in conversation about racial equity and the Black experience in America.” More information on Burbank Reads can be found on the Library’s website.

To RSVP for Color Changes Everything: Racial Diversity In Animation and receive Zoom meeting logon information, visit the Library’s webpage on the panel. The event will be held online on Thursday, October 29, from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m.

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