For working and single parents with small children, one of the less dire but still persistent challenges of staying at home during the COVID-19 pandemic has been finding ways to educate and entertain kids while working from home.
We try to get them outside (if it’s safe where we live), we play with them, we attempt to homeschool alongside our own jobs and obligations, and we give them lots of love and support in these precarious times.
But sometimes we all—children and parents—need a little break.
As the daughter of a media scholar whose research revolves primarily around representations of gender and race, my six-year-old has very little tolerance for shows and movies without compelling female characters.
At four, she complained that while, yes, Merida (of Pixar’s 2012 Brave), was cool, “It’s not fun that the only girls in the movie are Merida and her mom—and her mom’s a bear most of the movie!”
At five, every time someone mentioned The Little Mermaid (Disney, 1989), of which she’d only seen clips, she railed against it: “Why would you give up your voice and awesome tail for some boy you just met?!”
So, we, like so many others, have spent more time recently browsing streaming services like Netflix in search of fun—and feminist—content.
Besides a few longtime favorites (I’m looking at you, My Little Pony), we’ve also discovered some newer shows featuring strong girls and women that my daughter and I are happy to recommend.
1. Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts
(TV-Y7, 1 season, 2019-present)
A terrific and beautifully animated new show based on a webcomic by Radford Sechrist, Kipo and the Age of the Wonderbeasts takes place in a post-apocalyptic world 200 years in the future.
The show follows the adventures of 12-year-old Kipo, a “burrow girl” who finds herself lost on the surface, separated from her father and the rest of her underground community. While trying to find her way home, Kipo learns how to persevere in a world overrun by “mutes” (mutant animals–some hostile, some friendly) and makes new friends—including Wolf, a brave warrior girl, and Benson, a fun-loving, nurturing teenage boy.
While the show features some chase and fight scenes, Kipo frequently solves problems with her ingenuity instead of violence—often prevailing over even seemingly hostile mutes because of her empathy, kindness and love of music. It’s also worth noting that all three human kids in the show are people of color, and one of the main characters comes out as gay mid-season.
(TV-Y7, 1 season, 2019)
Hilda is a charming British-Canadian show based on a graphic novel by Luke Pearson. Growing up in a forest full of magical creatures and (super)natural wonders, young girl Hilda initially balks when her mother wants to move her and her deerfox, Twig, to the big city of Trolberg. In the forest, she’s free to run through the woods all day, sketching trolls, helping giants, and negotiating with elves. In the city, Hilda worries about having to go the school, make new friends, and being bored out of her mind without the magic of the forest.
And yet, in Trolberg, Hilda finds that there are still many wonders left to explore.
3. She-Ra and the Princesses of Power
(TV-Y7, 4 seasons, 2018-present)
Based on the 1980s cartoon parents might remember from the Saturday mornings of our childhoods, the She-Ra reboot (developed by Noelle Stevenson) features a familiar cast in wonderfully updated new incarnations.
When Horde soldier Adora discovers a magical sword in the forest, she transforms into She-Ra, Princess of Power, and realizes she’s on the wrong side of a war over the fate of the magical land of Etheria.
Joining the Rebellion, Adora, and her new friends Glimmer and Bo, set about gathering an alliance of the land’s princesses, all with their own unique powers, to defeat the Evil Horde. Some parents may decide to wait until their kids are slightly older, as the show’s themes—war, betrayal, imperialism—have a dark edge to them and its plots can be complex.
She-Ra features myriad smart, strong and compassionate characters, most of whom are girls and women of color, as well as a number of LGBTQ+ characters and at least one non-binary character.
Moreover, the show emphasizes the importance of working together, protecting the rights of marginalized communities and how even a few people can change the world.
4. Carmen Sandiego
(TV-PG, 2 seasons, 2019-present)
Another series based on a character originally introduced in the 1980s, Carmen Sandiego shares with its predecessors—a series of educational video games and shows in which detectives hunted down the titular thief as she escaped across the globe—an emphasis on geography, weaving information about its locations, from Brazil and Morocco to the Netherlands and Australia, into its plots.
Now a reformed thief, Carmen hopes to expose her former V.I.L.E. colleagues, destroy their operation and donate the stolen goods to charity. The show is better suited to older children due to the complexity of its story line, but the appeal of a Robin Hood/James Bond type action heroine is timeless.
5. DC Super Hero Girls
(TV-Y7, 1 season, 2019-present)
Developed by Lauren Faust (creator of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic), the new DC Super Hero Girls show is based on a popular web series of the same name. Like its predecessor, the show features a host of familiar comic book villains and heroes as teenagers in 10-15 minute mini-episodes.
The six main characters—Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Batwoman, Zatanna, Green Lantern, and Bumblebee—all offer different versions of heroic teenage girlhood, variously strong, smart, rebellious, disciplined, gregarious, and caring. One caveat: unlike the other shows listed above, there’s a tremendous amount of merchandising tied to DC Super Hero Girls—as one might imagine given the connection to DC comics—which may be of concern for some parents.
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