When you talk about influential people the same names are often brought up: Churchill, Shakespeare, Newton. However, a Nickelodeon animation has really got me thinking about things. In Nella The Princess Knight, the main character is a little, black princess who goes on quests in shining armour as a fearless Knight. She’s a mould-breaking and forward-thinking character geared towards the three plus age group. And I argue she’s more important that Barack Obama for promoting a fairer, label-less future.
Sure, Obama may have dealt with modern warfare during his time as President but Nella has dealt with her fair share. In one episode she broke up a snowball fight between two feuding, Giant brothers – international relations. In another quest, she helped rescue her steed Clod whilst he was trapped on a bubble mountain – humanitarian disaster. Political tribulations aside, it’s what Nella is that makes her such a powerful tool for equality. A black, female protagonist who embodies male and female heroism.
Like a lots of mavericks – yep, I’m calling Nella a maverick – Nella carries with her the legacy of other non-white faces in popular culture. Their faces readjusted perceptions of character norms. In 1962, the book The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats was published. It broke grounds and according to Horn Book magazine, The Snowy Day was the first full-colour picture book to have a black character as the hero.
Disney broke out of the white princess mould in 2009 Disney when they presented their first black Princess, Tiana in The Princess and the Frog.
Nella The Princess Knight, first broadcast in February 2017 on Nickelodeon, promotes female protagonism too. As a child, my first ever videogame was Lara Croft Tomb Raider. I never questioned gender roles or why a girl was so adept at fighting of bears and wolves with a Glock 19. I argue that it’s this notion that makes Nella so powerful. She is a Knight and a princess. She has a bow and a sparkle Sword and all Obama had was Joe Biden.
President Obama, who took office in 2009, did actually have several notable achievements. He signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to help discrimination in pay against women. He also spearheaded bringing down the Defence of Marriage Act. A law from 1996 which defined marriage as a union of one man and one woman and prohibited homosexual couples from the same rights as heterosexual partners.
While these successes are important, my argument for Nella is that she embodies the change in input. Obama has changed the output. We have constructed a world with sexism, racism and a pre-disposition to fear or shame positive deviancy. I would argue that we have done it though projection of ‘ideals’ – in part, down to culture and media. Variety combats this and in doing so, prevents the fear of difference from weaving itself into choices and legislation.
Children’s media and entertainment have a dutiful responsibility to project a reality without prejudice. If our entrainment is brave from an early age, I would argue we are more likely to be bold and unafraid of difference as we grow. Suck it Obama.