This was supposed to be a different kind of article.
Two weeks ago, The Nerds of Color youth correspondents and their parental units were invited to attend the premiere screening party for Disney Jr.’s landmark new animated series, Mira Royal Detective (premiering on Disney Jr. today in the United States and India) and interview the cast of voice actors from the South Asian diaspora on the red (or rather blue) carpet at Disney’s Burbank studios. It was a celebration of diversity and community, of difference and commonality, full of music and laughter, of children of all colors and artists and craftspeople from all parts of Hollywood joining together to marvel that this milestone of representation was finally on-screen.
Two weeks ago, my daughters stood on the side of a crowded red carpet with a full cohort of press, we watched the first episode in a full theater munching on popcorn, and mingled, ate, and danced with those who had created the show and the other happy families who had gathered to celebrate it in a teeming, brightly decorated courtyard on the studio lot.
Two weeks ago, we couldn’t have imagined that we’d be awaiting the show’s first television airing under virtual lockdown, parents and children stuck inside together for the foreseeable future while our state, our country, and the world struggle with a scary new disease and the new status quo it has brought us.
15-year-old Lucy and 11-year-old Emi were excited to be invited not only to attend a premiere screening and reception on the Disney lot but to interview talent on a red carpet for the first time. At the end of a long line of pros and semi-pros with high end equipment and on-camera talent filming stand-ups in pleather pants, little sister charmed with her cuteness and big sister took charge with her iPhone recording audio in one hand and her expertly rehearsed questions about what being part of such a special “first” meant to these actors finally able to play characters reflecting their diverse cultural backgrounds without fake accents for an audience of children of all colors.
And over and over again, these actors kept coming back to the same things: that this means the world for brown kids to be able to see brown characters voiced by brown actors on screen, and at the same time, that their much-needed specificity is also what makes them universal.
16-year-old newcomer Leela Ladnier, the voice of title character Mira, a child and commoner who is named royal detective by the queen of the fictional, Indian-inspired kingdom of Jalpur, saw her involvement this way: “I’m just so proud to be a part of a movement that my mom’s generation has been deserving for so long and waiting for. And now, little kids are gonna grow up being exposed to our culture and hopefully embracing diversity…. I think there are many universal themes that not just people of South Asian descent can relate to, but I hope that people can take away that we’re all more alike than we are different.”
Food Network star Aarti Sequeira, who voices a chef and cooking competition host in one episode, got personal in explaining the show’s importance: “When I was little, the only Indians or brown people that I saw on TV were in Bollywood films, and there weren’t really kids in that. And as far as cartoons went, there were no cartoons with kids that looked like me. And it didn’t bother me, honestly, because I didn’t know anything different. But I did grow up with this sort of belief that like, there was something about my skin color that was a disadvantage. And so I have two daughters, they’re six and four, and I’m just really excited for them to watch this show, and for that to be normalized, so hat we all start to really internalize that the color of our skin, our features, none of that has to do with your brain and your heart and your soul. You know what I mean? That’s what was really important.”
Genre veteran Karen David (Galavant, Once Upon a Time, Legacies, Fear the Walking Dead), who voices a number of guest characters on the show, also reflected on her childhood and how far we’ve come: “When I was Emi’s age, I wish that I had shows like this, with relatable characters, where I felt like I could fit in, where I felt important and valid, you know? And to know that that’s happening today is such a magical and miraculous thing to happen for us. You know, we talk about diversity and how important it is to tell the stories of all walks of life, and I feel like today is playing a huge part in that. But to me, diversity shouldn’t be a trend. It shouldn’t be the ‘in’ thing, you know? It’s a reflection of the world we live in. And we’re all brothers and sisters, at the end of the day. We’re all united through kindness, through compassion, through empathy. And it doesn’t matter where you’ve come from. Kindness, compassion, empathy is a universal language. And I feel like with a show like Mira, whilst it celebrates everything about our culture, through song and dance and music, through food and our culture, it also represents those important qualities of kindness, compassion, and empathy. And that’s something I’m very honored to be a part of. The little girl in me just lights up like a light bulb every time I go to work and I’m in that recording booth. I just feel very lucky that I get to pay my bills by doing something so important, something so inspiring, and something so wonderful, that I can only hope that a lot of big kids, little kids from all walks of life will just enjoy.”
Veteran actor Parvesh Cheena (you definitely know him when you see him), whom the girls remembered from an unforgettable episode of the old Nick Jr. show The Fresh Beat Band (he was a genie whose signature line was “Poof out!), and who voices guest character Manish the bandit, put the show’s importance this way: “This is a huge deal. As people of color, we get to see ourselves finally on screen and we’re also not just the one, we’re not just like the friend of the friend of the friend who shows up…we are actually like, we’re all a part…. When I was your age, I wish I’d had this show on. So the great thing is our friends, our relatives who all have kids, you get to watch your show, and you yourself can watch it too. Parents will end up watching these cartoons too…. Don’t forget, everyone gets to benefit from seeing different cultures on screen. We just learn, and the times when we think that the world gets very scary and small, this is just bringing us all together in a better way. Not to get too political, but…it’s a very nice thing that this is a moment where we celebrate diversity and different cultures. So I feel very honored and blessed to be a part of it.”
After watching episode one, “The Case of the Royal Scarf/The Case of the Missing Bicycle,” Emi, who at 11 is closer to the show’s target age group, said she had three favorite things about Mira, Royal Detective. One, the “very catchy” music which suffuses every story (it’s basically an original musical every episode). Two, royal-sidekick-slash-inventor Prince Veer’s very target-age-appropriate (though YMMV, grimacing grown-ups) exasperated catchphrase, “Soggy samosas!” (Cue groans.) And three, to me the most important takeaway at this strange moment in time: “her helping out people, no matter what.”
Two weeks ago, we were four people in a crowd of people of all ages and backgrounds celebrating reflection and connection. Today, we’re at home, sheltering in place, socially distancing, protecting our communities by isolating ourselves while remembering that it is our connections to each other that make us stronger, make us who we are. Neighbors, family, citizens, helpers. So take some time to sit down on the couch (or get up and dance) with your kids, watch something new that you haven’t rewatched over and over (yet), and take care of yourselves, and each other.