There are about eight months to go until the premiere of the new live-action version of The Little Mermaid, however, since Disney released its trailer, this feature film has been a trending topic on social networks. The debate was opened after it became known that the one who will play Princess Ariel in this new version will be the singer Halle Bailey, who has been criticized for “not faithfully representing” the 1989 character: supposedly of Danish and Caucasian origins. With this justification, some users have shown the worst side of it, managing to unleash a controversy that has generated doubts in the executives about this debut in theaters.
However, not all responses have had the same tone. Since this news was known, various videos of Afro-descendant girls excited to see a Disney princess similar to them have also gone viral. In Bailey they saw an inspiring figure who allowed them -perhaps for the first time- to see themselves reflected on screen. “I am so grateful to be able to reinvent Ariel and tell other black and brown girls hey, you can be this too. You are magical and mythical and all the wonderful things in between too”, Added Bailey herself on the subject. This intention to contribute with new references and push diverse representations in content for children is not new. It was also seen when, for example, in the film Lightyear a same-sex couple was included in the plot; or in Coco, where the culture and idiosyncrasy of a Latin American country -often stigmatized-, such as Mexico, was addressed.
However, in the field of non-fiction, and in particular in the content broadcast on open TV in Chile, things do not seem to be going the same way. This was evidenced by the consultation carried out by the Department of Studies of the National Television Council (CNTV) and published in August. In the survey, 48.4% of those surveyed declared having seen children and adolescents as victims of crimes on TV, followed by lawbreakers with 37.8%. Thus, 70% of those consulted maintained that these contents are seen more frequently now than in the last five years, while regarding formats, they declared that morning shows are the programs that have most exposed this type of situation on screen.
“Today morning and news programs move from topics such as contingency and especially security. There the figure of boys and girls appears linked to criminal acts and that sets the tone. In general, good news is not seen, so there is a little diverse representation. It is difficult to have it in those spaces, but progress can still be made, taking care in how it is reported”, says Mariana Hidalgo, NTV programming director.
Already in 2017, the study Coverage and Treatment in Press and Television on Childhood and Adolescence in Chile, carried out by Unicef -together with the University of Chile- warned about this reality. In it, it was pointed out that boys and girls occupied only a minor segment within the news, appearing under stereotypes that did not take into account the diversity of childhoods and as passive actors or little consulted on the issues that affected them. “The representations that the media make of children and adolescents are not innocuous and, on some occasions, can contribute to generating erroneous perceptions about children and adolescents, which can imply a violation of their rights. Labeling children and adolescents under certain concepts, especially in those areas that require complex explanations and not just the simplification of the problem in a striking 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 indicates.
Catalina Donoso, author of the book We are not children. Problematic representations of childhood and academic from the Institute of Communication and Image (ICEI) of the University of Chile affirms that, although these data do not attract her attention, she finds it worrying that broader 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 perspective that is very reductionist. This prism that adultcentrism has caused should be questioned, because it generates a kind of blindness and limits the possibilities of imagining the world”.
Although today boys and girls watch less television than a few years ago -the CNTV itself speaks of around 50% less, in a decade-, TV continues to be a popular medium among Chileans, especially if we consider figures such as those of Kantar IBOPE Media that show that the average TV consumption is 6 hours and 8 minutes a day. Faced with this reality, ensuring diverse representations, whether on newscasts or morning shows, is key. And it is that if we show boys and girls in a one-dimensional way, as passive people/victims and only in a role that responds to the logic of a police chronicle, an imagery that is not very reliable with reality can be promoted. “For everyone, it is important to have diverse representations, because society is built through those images that we see in the media. We build our way of capturing life from what we consume as spectators, then the limits of what is possible are established”, says Catalina Donoso.
From there, then, initiatives such as NTV, TVN’s family cultural channel, whose content is focused on children and adolescents, arise. Its director of programming, Mariana Hidalgo, says that, as a project, they have emphasized the issue of representation since they began broadcasting in August 2021. Thus, -she says- they have made every effort to give voice to the diversity of childhoods that are developed throughout Chile. “For us it is important that, from the representativeness of the territory, we can show that boys and girls are part of society, and do not have to fit under 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: in the 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 appear, and therefore, children lose appreciation for the ways of life they have,” he says, adding: “For that not to happen, you have to provide them with quality content that allows them to review experiences through the screen”.
Thus, on NTV you can not only watch animated programs, but also others that explore non-fiction formats, such as What is in the box. A conversation space where five children interview various characters recognized by public opinion, reviewing their biographies and delving into their stories and anecdotes. Something similar happens with What’s going on, a content that addresses contingency and current issues, which are analyzed and discussed by boys and girls. “To comply with the Law, we address all television formats that may be relevant to contribute to the formation of more comprehensive citizens,” says Hidalgo.
In the audiovisual industry, and outside of open TV, Catalina Donoso says that there are also good examples to review to have non-fiction references. In the case of documentaries, she mentions Los Sueños del Castillo, a film by René Ballesteros that deals with the dream world of young people in a Sename detention center. “Every time I can, I repeat it: people never stop being children. If we deny that space, it is worrying because childhood is a place of transformation. And people never stop changing. We are children always, only now we have new responsibilities, ”she concludes.