“BOYS COULD ENJOY STORIES ABOUT GIRLS, AND VICE VERSA – IF ONLY WE’D LET THEM”

The first article this week is from The Guardian. It’s by Robin Stevens. She is the author of a series called “Murder Most Unladylike.” It’s for children ages 9-12, so a middle grade novelist. What she talks about how she is often asked to talk to students at various schools. Over the last couple of weeks, she’s gotten requests (two requests) to speak to students, which is not that unusual, but only speak to the female students in the school. And the author has a line in there talking about who her stories are about, not who they are for. And I thought that was really well put. That’s something that I think a lot of us in the industry talk about who care about this issue. One of the things we talk about a lot in DIA is the idea of windows, mirrors, and sliding doors. The media that children should be consuming should be all of those things. They should be windows to a world that they’ve never seen. they should be mirrors that should reflect the world they live in, and they should be sliding doors that open up a new world.

The article actually made me think of the overall idea of empathy and this idea that—one of the things that she touches on towards the end of the article is that a mom had gone up to one of her fellow authors and asked her, “Is this book about girls because my son won’t read any books that are about girls.” And really what she was saying was, “I taught him it’s okay to not really read any books that are about girls.” I think the reason I come back to this idea about empathy is that one of my favorite books is To Kill A Mockingbird, and one of the things that Atticus obviously tells Scout is this idea that you don’t really know someone until you’ve walked around in their shoes. And I think that allowing boys to read books that are about female characters allows them to walk around and feel what it is to be a girl. The article touches on not only books, but really you saw this when The Force Awakens came out and there was really no Rey character to be found. There was no action figure. There were board games that had some of these characters from The Force Awakens; Rey was nowhere to be found. And you saw that with Frozen when Frozen was a huge hit a couple of years ago. I had a mom tell me that her son loved Frozen and what’s Frozen about? It’s about Anna and Elsa. And when he wanted Frozen underwear, there was no boys’ underwear with Anna and Elsa on it. And so I think this article touches on all of those things and it doesn’t just relate to books. You should definitely check it out. They have a couple links in there to the “Where’s Rey?” product fiasco that happened with that, so really good article.

“MAJOR HOLLYWOOD STUDIO TRIES TO TACKLE DIVERSITY PROBLEM WITH A WORKSHOP FOR EMERGING FILM DIRECTORS”

The second is about the movie industry, specifically Warner Bros. This comes from Think Progress. And what the article talks about; it starts with a couple of statistics. Of the major studios in 2010 the number of major studios that were directed by women was 8.1% which was actually a 5-year high. And in 2014, that had dropped substantially. Warner Bros in fact had dropped down to 2.3% of their films directed by women. So what this fellowship program is doing is actually pairing aspiring female filmmakers with mentors from the industry to put together a film. Now, it’s not a full featured film, it’s a film between 3 and 10 minutes. But they have a budget, as I mentioned a mentor, and it’s a good step in the right direction.

One of the things that the article also talked about is this idea, and something we talk about in DIA a lot, is has the word diversity sort of lost its meaning. A better term is something that comes from the director of Selma, Ava DuVernay, who said that we should be talking about inclusion or belonging. One of the things that we’re looking at when we’re talking about our diversity and inclusion guidelines for product is hiring and how you hire. What this article talks about is in Hollywood a lot of times what happens is people look for people that look like them. And one of the things that we put in the guidelines in the initial drafts is this idea of going outside of your network and hiring someone who doesn’t look like you that didn’t go to your school. This is something that Google has started doing over the last couple of years. They were recruiting from primarily 5-10 schools for their engineers, for their product people, etc. They’ve started to now go to historically black colleges and basically widen their search for the people that they want to work for them. It’s very simple. That’s how you get people who don’t look like you. People who have different ideas and that’s how you innovate. So the article I talked about last week touched on some of this, sort of the scientific proof that diversity helps you win in business, but it’s a good article. Definitely check it out. We have a couple of articles from the LA Times touching how diversity relates to the tech industry and one that relates to the Supreme Court. So with that, let’s get to our special guest for this week.

INTERVIEW WITH BRIANA PRESSEY FROM JOAN GANZ COONEY CENTER

Kabir: So as promised, Briana Pressey is here from the Cooney Center. Briana, thank you so much for joining.

Briana: Thank you so much for having me on.

Kabir: And you are a research manager with the Cooney Center. Before we get into that, can you give some background on the Cooney Center, how it relates to Sesame Street, etc?

Briana: Sure, so the Joan Ganz Cooney Center is obviously named after Joan Ganz Cooney, the woman who created Sesame Street. It’s an independent research and innovation lab housed at Sesame Workshop. Sesame has its own research department but we’re more of an independent arm. So we do several types of research, including ethnographic research and national surveys, and quick studies, mostly around how to optimize children’s learning in a digital age.

Kabir: And how many people are there at the Cooney Center in New York, where you are?

Briana: It’s a bit of a tough question because we have probably, in the office, about 10 people. Our network is so far beyond that. We have people all over the place doing work and research with us.

Kabir: So Sesame’s been around obviously since the 60s. How long has this specific research and innovation lab been around?

Briana: I’m pretty sure 2007. So not that long.

Kabir: Relatively new. So you’re a research manager there. How long have you been there and what sort of projects do you focus on?

Briana: So I started here in 2012 as a research assistant on one of the quick study projects. So that quick study project kind of turned into the Families in Media project that I spend most of my time on now. The Families in Media project is part of a large consortium made up of several research arms including us, people at Stanford, Northwestern, Rutgers, Arizona State, and University of Washington. And basically the point of at least this first phase of the research project is to see where media fits into existing family routines, whether they are learning arrangements or opportunities for bonding or connecting with family abroad. Most of us focus on Hispanic/Latino families with the exception of one of the research groups at Northwestern.

Kabir: And this is the first phase of the product, you said?

Briana: Yes, we're coming to the close of the first phase of it. We’re trying to plan for the second phase.

Kabir: Gotcha. And how long was the first phase and what sort of we’re the outcomes? I know you guys put together guidelines, but what was the length of this study?

Briana: Sure. I guess it’s been about three years. So we’ve mostly in the first year, we collected research from our different regional areas all across the country. We spent another year analyzing and doing some cross-analysis and figuring out what sort of themes are similar and different between all of our different populations because while we are focused on Hispanic/Latino family (mostly not all, obviously that word encompasses so many people), we have people from Mexico, Ecuador, Puerto Rico.

Kabir: It encompasses so many different types of people and then also the different makeup of those families, right?

Briana: Exactly. So often people just get lumped into these big groups, so one of our main goals was to pull those apart and not only highlight cultural and ethnic differences, but family differences and the individuality of children and parents.

Kabir: In terms of the study—it was over a 3-year period. Obviously technology chances so quickly, every six months there’s a new iPhone. Did you find that the research was affected by that amount of technology change or did you see the families were still using technology in the same way over the 3-year period?

Briana: Well, you’re so right about the technology changing so quickly, and that’s why we have quick studies. We go in, rapidly collect data, and put something up there usually in one of our Cooney Center reports. But in terms of the families that we studied here, we didn’t study each family over the 3-year period, we just went in with each family, at least with the Cooney Center study, we went in for about 6-8 weeks with each family and visited them in their homes and saw what kids we’re using, how they were using it. So I can’t say whether their patterns have changed over this 3-year period, but they were watching TV with their siblings, playing games on the iPhone, what you would typically see.

Kabir: Geographically, did you see differences? You had a study in Washington. You had a study at Stanford. Did you see a difference with your families?

Briana: Yeah, definitely. So we did our study mostly around [New York], so it’s geographic and it’s also in terms of income. Even in the studies that we did just in our area were different because some kids are going on subways all the time, so they’re playing with their phones on the subway, or somebody out in the middle of class, in the neighborhood. And in Washington, they might be spending more time in a car, in organized sports, in organized piano or something like that. 

Kabir: Yeah, the commute is different. Their life is different. That makes sense. So the outcome of that was a set of design guidelines called “Designing for Diverse Families.”

Briana: Yes, so that was one of our outcomes. We’re also working together on a bunch of academic journal articles and a book. But yeah, the one that we have now is the design guide “Designing for Diverse Families: Using Research to Inspire Design.”

Kabir: Right. Basically what guidelines are is a case study, right? The different families that you went and visited—I really should let you talk about it. But that’s the gist, correct?

Briana: Yeah, so it was written by Amber Levinson who is at Stanford. She did a lot of her study with Mexican families in the San Francisco area. At the time of her research, she was at University of Arizona also working with Mexican families, I believe. And then me, so we were around the tri-state area here [In NYC]. And then Katie Headrick-Taylor who at the time was at Northwestern for her research. So we have all these different locations and we each picked a family to focus on. And the purpose of the design guide was to encourage media producers and app developers and program designers and community outreach and libraries to incorporate ethnographic research into their design process.

Kabir: If you can give me an example of one of the things you guys had in the guidelines.

Briana: Sure. So we had a couple of different cases, so we had one about designing culturally-relevant products. We had one about language in the home because a lot of our families had parents speaking mostly Spanish and kids speaking mostly English and just how to consider that when you’re designing things for children. We had one about connecting home and school learning and one about siblings.

Kabir: If someone wanted to see the entire design guidelines, does that live somewhere on the Cooney Center website? How do they get their hands on something like that?

Briana: The full report is available for free on the Cooney Center website. 

Kabir: I’ll put the link in the show notes… It’s really a great set of guidelines. We’ve sort of looked at it as guidelines that were working on for DIA. Speaking of DIA—

Briana: I was just going to say, we envisioned a bunch of different uses for it so if one person wanted to reflect on it or somebody wanted to use it in class for discussion, or a team of designers wanted to get together and use them as design challenges to create something new or to improve an existing product, there are several different ways you could use it.

Kabir: I’ll definitely post the link… it’s a great set of guidelines. We met a few months ago, and I think it was at a CMA event, correct? And you expressed a lot of interest in DIA. What made you get involved with DIA?

Briana: I’ve always been interested in diversity and representation and having diverse role models for children. So went I went to that CMA event and I saw the panel of people including people like Kevin Clark who I think is awesome… just hearing the different discussions that people were having, I felt like I was with my people.

Kabir: That’s great. And I know you sort of have a special focus on television and movies specifically and diversity and inclusion as part of that children’s content… any particular reason why that’s been a focus?

Briana: My personal focus, that’s what I’m interested in even though I know kids are looking at so many different types of media and platforms. It’s kind of funny why. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a Power Ranger. And I really loved the pink Power Ranger because she did these really awesome flips and I was like “Oh, I want to do that!” Being a little black girl, people often, like when we were playing on the playground said that I had to be the yellow ranger. So luckily I didn’t let that stop me, so I ended up signing up for gymnastics and I stuck with that for 14 years and it just really changed the whole trajectory of my life.

Kabir: That’s awesome. Power Rangers was a little after me, but I was sort of always—I think I always wanted to be He-Man when I was a little younger. But that makes a lot of sense and you’re right, kids consume a lot of different types of media, but I think television and movies dominate what they are consuming, so that makes sense.

Briana: And even if we were going into the homes in 2016, yeah they had iPhones out, and they had their tablets, but a lot of them were watching content they had on television, so I’m just interested in that storytelling aspect and just showing that they can be anybody that they want to be, and if they want to be somebody who looks like them, they have those options.

Kabir: Right, that makes a lot of sense. I have nieces and nephews who sort of open their tablets and phones and going to YouTube and consuming movies and TV and are watching TV, etc. That totally makes sense. You’ve been at the Cooney Center for 3 years. Your plan is to go off to graduate school, correct? 

Briana: Yeah, I’m going to USC Annenberg to study diversity and children’s media and to hopefully create some stuff, so we’ll see what happens.

Kabir: That’s awesome… Briana, I really appreciate your time. This was great, you’re our first guest. We’re going to wrap it up, Briana, thanks again.

Briana: Thank you!