It’s about eight months until the premiere of the new live-action version of The Little Mermaid, but since Disney released its trailer, this feature film has been a hot topic on social media. The debate was opened after it was revealed that the one who will play Princess Ariel in this new version will be the singer Halle Bailey, who was criticized for “not faithfully portraying” the character from 1989: allegedly of Danish and Caucasian origin . With this justification, some consumers showed their worst side, managing to unleash a controversy that raised doubts among executives about this debut in theaters.
However, not all responses had the same tone. As this news was known, various videos of girls of African descent excited to see a Disney princess who looked like them also went viral. In Bailey they saw an inspirational figure who allowed them – perhaps for the first time – to see themselves reflected on the screen. “I’m so grateful to be able to rediscover Ariel and tell other black and brown girls hey, you can be that too. You are magical and mythical and all the wonderful things in between too,” Bailey herself added on the subject. This intention to contribute new references and push different representations in children’s content is not new. It was also seen when, for example, in the movie Lightyear, a same-sex couple was included in the plot; or in Coco, which talks about the culture and idiosyncrasies of a Latin American country – often stigmatized – like Mexico.
However, in the field of non-fiction, and in particular in the content broadcast on open television in Chile, things do not seem to be going the same way. This is proven by the consultation carried out by the Research Department of the National Television Council (CNTV) and published in August. In the survey, 48.4% of respondents said they had seen children and adolescents as victims of crime on television, followed by lawbreakers at 37.8%. Thus, 70% of respondents claim that this content is seen more often now than in the last five years, while in terms of formats, they say that morning shows are the programs that most expose this type of situation on screen.
“Today, morning and news programs move from topics such as emergencies and especially security. There appears the figure of boys and girls involved in criminal acts and it sets the tone. Overall, there is no good news in sight, so there is little variety in the performance. It’s hard to have it in these spaces, but progress can still be made by being careful how it’s reported,” says Mariana Hidalgo, NTV’s program director.
Back in 2017, the survey Coverage and attitude in the press and television to childhood and adolescence in Chile, carried out by UNICEF – in collaboration with the University of Chile – warned of this reality. It stated that boys and girls occupy only a secondary segment in the news, appearing under stereotypes that do not take into account the diversity of childhood and as passive actors or little consulted on the issues that affect them. “The representations that the media make about children and adolescents are not harmless and in some cases can contribute to the generation of misconceptions about children and adolescents, which can mean a violation of their rights. Labeling children and adolescents with certain concepts, especially in those areas that require complex explanations rather than simply simplifying the problem in a catchy headline, is harmful to them and to society. We know that boys and girls are much more than a handful of themes and roles that do not portray them in their diversity and richness,” the study states.
Catalina Donoso, author of the book We are not children. Problematic representations of childhood and an academic at the Institute of Communication and Image (ICEI) of the University of Chile confirms that although this data does not attract her attention, she finds it worrying that wider representations of children in the media have not yet been developed. “Not allowing a richer spectrum of childhood to manifest is very limiting. In general, it can be seen that there is an adult intention to always try to define childhood and compress it from a point of view that is very reductionist. This prism that adult-centrism has caused must be questioned because it generates a kind of blindness and limits opportunities to represent the world’.
Although boys and girls watch less TV today than they did a few years ago – CNTV itself is talking about 50% less in a decade – TV remains a popular medium among Chileans, especially if we consider figures like those of Kantar IBOPE Media showing that average TV consumption is 6 hours and 8 minutes per day. Faced with this reality, ensuring diverse representation, whether on newscasts or morning shows, is key. And this is that if we show boys and girls in a one-dimensional way, as passive people/victims and only in a role that fits the logic of a police chronicle, it can promote an image that is not very reliable with reality. “It’s important for everyone to have diverse representations because society is built through the images we see in the media. We build our way of capturing life from what we consume as viewers, and then the limits of what is possible are established,” says Catalina Donoso.
From there emerged initiatives such as NTV, TVN’s family culture channel, whose content is focused on children and adolescents. Its program director, Mariana Hidalgo, says that as a project they have emphasized the question of representation since they began broadcasting in August 2021. In this way – she says – they have made every effort to give voice to the diversity of childhood, which are developed in Chile. “It is important for us, from the representativeness of the territory, to show that boys and girls are part of society and should not fit into a stereotype. For example, I have received comments saying that there are children who speak badly in the programs, when in reality it is not that, but that we are so used to listening to neutral Spanish that we forget how we speak: north and south. And if we don’t see that, the sense of belonging is lost. In other words, there are places in the country that never show up and therefore kids lose appreciation for the lifestyle they have,” he says, adding, “To prevent that from happening, you have to provide them with quality content that allows them to view experiences through the screen”.
Thus, on NTV you can not only watch animated programs, but also others that explore non-artistic formats, such as What’s in the box. A conversation space in which five children interview various public figures, review their biographies and delve into their stories and anecdotes. Something similar happens with What’s happening, content that looks at unforeseen and current issues that are analyzed and discussed by boys and girls. “To comply with the law, we are reaching out to all television formats that may be relevant to contribute to the formation of more inclusive citizens,” says Hidalgo.
In the audiovisual industry and outside of open TV, Catalina Donoso says there are also good examples of review to have non-fiction references. In the case of documentaries, he mentions Los Sueños del Castillo, a film by René Ballesteros that deals with the dream world of young people in a detention center in Sename. “Every time I can, I repeat it: people never stop being children. If we deny this space, it is troubling because childhood is a place of transformation. And people never stop changing. We are always children, only now we have new responsibilities”, he concludes.