As a mom of teenagers, I don’t usually catch new preschool programs. But while doing research for a parent resource guide, I heard about a series from Disney+ I had to check out.
Released in February 2022, Rise Up Sing Out is a series of three-minute animated shorts featuring a group of racially & culturally diverse kids who learn how to celebrate their differences while building on the foundation of their similarities. The inspiring messages featured throughout the series provides the framework necessary to tackle tough topics such as race, culture, identity, and community.
Although created for children, I was instantly captivated by the inspiring messages, helpful tips and true-life experiences.
So, what exactly do I love about Rise Up Sing Out? Everything…but here are 5 specifics.
1. Variety of Races & Cultures Represented
Representation Matters. I say it all the time because well, it’s true. The group of kids (who by the way, remain kids the entire time…nope, they never turn into an animal, spirit or object) portray an accurate reflection of our ethnically diverse society. By featuring Black, White, and multiethnic or Mixed Race kids they also provide the opportunity to introduce cultural lessons, which they do.
Each episode also features original music by Grammy-winners Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter of The Roots. Including people of color into the narrative, provides a level of authenticity often lacking from today’s storylines.
As a Mixed Race woman, I remember growing up without characters who looked like me or shared my experiences. Shows like Rise Up Sing Out are finally including Mixed Race representation into the narrative which is SO important because according to the 2020 US Census, over 30 million people identify as Mixed Race or multiethnic.
When you see someone like you, suddenly the impossible becomes achievable. Loneliness and insecurity are replaced with confidence in your identity and the vastness of your own potential.
2. Exposure & Explanation of Differences
Lack of understanding is often due to lack of expose to people and experiences different from our own. Episode 2 provides one such opportunity to help close that gap.
Featuring the song, “Super Bonnet” the episode explains the purpose behind wearing a bonnet to bed. In the episode, a group of girls are having a sleepover when one of their mom’s tells them it’s time to wrap their hair and get ready for bed. Amelia, a White girl, is confused by the request because she’s never seen a night bonnet. The other girls use the song to explain the bonnet’s purpose and how it’s used to protect their naturally curly-textured hair
Because bonnets are unique to textured hair, many are unaware of their purpose. Subsequently, kids chose not to protect their hair when sleeping away from home because they don’t want to be different.
I have curly-textured hair. I was 40 years old before I learned the importance of wearing a bonnet to bed! Yes…40!
Recently, videos have surfaced with toddlers as young as two years old finally keeping their bonnets on all night after watching the episode.
3. Encouragement to Speak Up
“I didn’t know that was your mom. Your skin is so much darker than her’s.”
Unfortunately, statements like this are not uncommon for people of color, especially those who are Mixed Race, a part of an interracial families or transracial adoption.
Speaking up should come naturally, but honestly, it’s pretty hard, especially if the comment or action is directed at yourself. In the moment, you’re stunned, too hurt or sad to find the words to properly address the situation. And if it’s difficult for us as adults, imagine how a child or teen feels in that moment.
Often based on one’s skin color or hair texture, the term microaggression is when someone says or does something that makes you feel uncomfortable. Episode 3 addresses the term when Adam makes the above comment to his classmate Gabriel. Fellow classmate Taniya speaks up letting Adam know that statement isn’t ok and reminding Gabriel that his skin is beautiful and to be proud of his appearance.
Taniya encourages us to use our voice. But when we can’t find the words, she reminds us it’s also ok to walk away.
The episode also addresses another common microaggression – touching someone’s hair without asking. This is extremely common and uncomfortable. I personally have had adults, yes adults, put their hands in my hair to feel the texture. Recently, I even had a woman step next to me, take a large section of my hair and place it on her own head while asking if I could share my curls with her.
Having the words and permission to directly handle microaggressions is critical when establishing one’s self worth and dignity.
4. Tips for Correctly Pronouncing Names
I’m terrible at names. But that’s not an excuse to pronounce someone’s name incorrectly. It’s also never appropriate to give someone a nickname because you can’t pronounce their given name. I’ve heard adults do this in social situations when they realize they can’t remember or pronounce someone’s name. “I’ll just call you…,” is never ok.
So-Hyeon is Korean and Black. When one of her classmates learns he’s been pronouncing her name wrong, he apologizes and she goes on to teach him and the other students the Name Tag Game. The song illustrates a catchy, easy way to learn how to pronounce unique names. It also opens the door for the students to discuss the meaning behind their names.
I watched this episode with my husband and 13-year old daughter. Afterwards, she began asking about the meanings behind our own names which led to a great conversation. And isn’t the goal, to spark a conversation with our kids, provide the proper language and responses to situations and expand our knowledge and compassion for others?
5. Tackles Tough Topics
From racism to stereotypes to historical facts, Rise Up Sing Out bravely addresses uncomfortable topics, offering realistic solutions and caring alternatives. For example, when the kids visit a museum and discover there isn’t any art representing Black or Brown people, they decide to make a difference. Although they can’t change the past, they can create a better tomorrow that includes various art forms reflective of many races, cultures and backgrounds.
In another episode, two kids learn their classmate is Mixed Race (Dominican and Black) after assuming he was Black. Gabriel introduces them to his abuela (grandma), as well as his Dominican heritage, foods, and Spanish language. In turn, So-Hyeon shares about her Korean and Black heritage, teaching us not to assume someone’s culture, family background or heritage simply from their appearance.
Still another episode gives us the tools to properly respond when we personally experience racism. In “Let Love Overrule,” Terrell teaches Kingston that when others are hurt or afraid, it can manifest in destructive ways. But that doesn’t mean we have to respond negatively. We can choose to let love overrule.
The Wrap Up
Needless to say, I was wildly impressed. It’s no secret that Disney has been taking strides to correct past racist content while continuing to reimagine today & tomorrow’s programming. They have increased the variety of cultures featured in films such as Moana (Pacific Islander, AAPI), Raya (Southeast Asian), Coco (Mexican), and Encanto (Columbian). They took another step forward by casting a majority of Latinx individuals to voice the characters in the Academy Award Nominated Encanto.
Now Disney’s turned that same intentionality toward their series programming…and I for one am here for it!
Seriously! Disney+ managed to pack more richness into eight three-minute episodes than most movies do in two and a half hours! My hope is that they continue in this direction, allowing the shorts to become a series where we’re introduced to additional characters & cultures, learn more about their families, and how when we work together we can create a beautiful tomorrow.
You can catch Rise Up Sing Out on Disney+.
Rise Up, Sing Out is included in my new Family Movie Guide. This guide was created with your family in mind. It features a wide-range of tv shows & movies for the whole family along with age-appropriate conversation starters so you can begin a healthy, open conversation in your home around race & culture. There are four separate lists including: Elementary, Middle School, High School & Family, so you can have a conversations with your littles and a deeper one with your teens. Click on the link to access your FREE copy today!