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How Shabnam Rezaei Is Working Towards Diversifying Children’s Shows For the Next Gen

July 28, 2019
3 min read time

Shabnam “Boo” Rezaei is out to change the landscape of children’s programming. As the mother of two daughters, inclusive entertainment is of paramount importance to her; something she’s able to spearhead as the head of the mini animation studio Big Bad Boo.

While there is a lack of diverse programming in adult live-action film and television all over the world, it's sad that it's the same for children, so that yet another generation might have to suffer with just the status quo. “The CBC found that, over those 10 years (2007 to 2017), the representation of female characters did not change, programming focused overwhelmingly on male characters, and it remained dominated by male creators behind the scenes.” In Hollywood, we often lament about the lack of inclusion. It's the same for children's programming everywhere, even though in America, we don't see that pointed out in the news as much.

Big Bad Boo decided to do something about all of this. It's a family effort. After stints in New York City and Burbank, California, Shabnam and her Canadian husband/business partner decided to take advantage of production tax credits in his home country. They are enjoying the west coast lifestyle in Vancouver, British Columbia, where Big Bad Boo makes its magic. Their daughters, aged three and seven, help with input on everything from development to post-production. They are the Big Bad Boo's “research and development” team—they even have company email addresses already. They're being raised right; to have opinions.

Canada and the US are two of the biggest media ‘outlets’ all kinds, Shabnam reminds us. “What we make reaches far and wide. There are kids in Asia and Africa watching content by white men and accepting that point of view as the standard. It shouldn't be that way.”

Shabnam gets it. She says she grew up with male superheroes during her childhood, so when she began to write, “my lead characters were male in my head—that's what I watched as a kid.” But this needs to change. Shabnam echoes the need for writers with lived experience; not just the same white male creators guessing what it would be for people who don't look like them and live like them. "I wanted the writers to write for these characters from real experiences, so that the episodes would resonate with kids," she says.

Big Bad Boo started with one show and now they have two in production and two in development. Their very first one was all about the beauty of Persian New Year and featured Catherine Bell (Hallmark Television's The Good Witch), who is of Persian descent.

Right now, Shabnam and her team are making 16 Hudson, a pre-school series about four friends who live in a small apartment in the big city. They are from diverse backgrounds and the show has specific cultural episodes. Recently, they made one about the Moon Festival, which is an Asian mid-autumn tradition.

Currently, you can watch Bravest Knight on Hulu—and you should.  The first six episodes are up, with seven more to follow this October. It's about a little Black girl with two dads; one Black and one White. Two weeks ago, Big Bad Boo's partnership began with The Trevor Project, which works to prevent suicide in LGBTQ youth. Hulu will donate fifty thousand dollars to The Trevor Project if Bravest Knight gets fifty thousand views in the next two weeks.

All of Big Bad Boo's awesome inclusive shows, including 1001 Nights based on the book Arabian Nights, can be seen Oznoz in The United States. It's a kids' video-on-demand platform featuring shows in ten different languages.

Big Bad Boo is also working in partnership with Google Expedition on a show called Galapagos X about four kids who solve climate change issues around the world. There will be a Virtual Reality element where viewers get to travel to the places where these missions happen. Big Bad Boo is currently looking for broadcasting partnerships for Galapagos X.

Their second show currently in the works is Judge Jodhi that they're working on with CBC Kids. It's about a little girl named Jodhi who holds a mock court in her backyard. She hears neighborhood cases and uses a soup ladle for a gavel.

So far, Big Bad Boo has produced mainly animated shows, but they’re open to all kinds of formats. After all, their mantra is: “Showcase more people who are underrepresented.” Both in characters and those behind the camera.

Shabnam didn't start in entertainment. Even before she entered “the industry”, she witnessed other fields where female talent went underrepresented. Of the fifty students in her computer science degree class, forty-eight were men. She thought this was the norm. It was Ernst and Young's Women's Program where Shabnam learned how few women CEOs and executives there are. It lit a fire in her.

Shabnam makes sure inclusion is in the fabric of all of Big Bad Boo's shows. She's been quoted as saying how much she admires how Ava DuVernay handles her teams and how that's the woman to emulate. All background characters in Big Bad Boo shows are fifty percent female. Shabnam credits hearing about this from Geena Davis' See Jane initiative. Shabnam's had a woman Asian-Canadian assistant on a show, who suggested changes for more authenticity to things like food in shows. Shabnam works hard to bring women into positions where there are none. An example where women are still missing is storyboarding where it's still very male-heavy, she says. She wants to hire more women to bring balance. All of her writers' rooms are gender balanced.

If Shabnam and others like her stay funded to make this important work for children, our future generations will surely benefit from it. As the world is getting more diverse every day, entertainment for kids and grown-ups has to keep up.

 

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