This month, “Dora the Explorer” turns 19. Enjoying a nearly 15-year run as the No. 1 preschool show on television, the groundbreaking Nickelodeon series continues to delight and educate young audiences around the world and do its small part to enrich our nation’s understanding of its own Hispanic heritage and communities. I remember joyfully watching Dora myself when it first became popular, and now find my 2-year-old thrilling at her adventures on TV and online. Time flies!
As a fitting birthday celebration, Dora is now an upbeat teenager getting her own silver screen coming-out party. Paramount Pictures is set to release “Dora and the Lost City of Gold” on August 9 in theaters around the country. A live-action remake of the popular animated show, “DLCG” features a predominantly Latinx lead cast, including Isabela Moner in the title role and Eva Longoria, Michael Pena and Eugenio Derbez — the latter who also has a producer credit for the film. It’s a fitting way to celebrate this landmark character and her world.
Storytelling that reflects the rich diversity of our country is an issue American creative and cultural industries are working hard to better understand so they can deliver richer, more widely valued movies, music and TV. When Nickelodeon first developed Dora in the late 1990s, the Viacom division realized that the Latino population would soon grow exponentially in terms of size and cultural influence, and network executives there presciently moved fast to give a new generation of kids what would fast become its first Latina heroine in a starring role — ever.
Decades later, with much catching up to do, high-profile media movements such as #OscarsSoWhite have raised the stakes on the profound moral case surrounding issues of representation, while successful global franchises like “Dora” ably demonstrate the compelling business case to be made for diverse content and filmmaking.
In 2018, the Motion Picture Association of America’s annual THEME Report found that “the Hispanic/Latino ethnicity was over-represented in the population of frequent moviegoers (24 percent) relative to their proportion of the overall population (18 percent).”
Data that is backed up by real-world experience in the marketplace — as movies like “Crazy Rich Asians,” “Black Panther” and “Us” have all taken the box office by storm, powered by overwhelmingly diverse casts. I suspect that somewhere in Hollywood’s business offices, the audience data and the proven box-office success of previous culturally diverse stories — coupled with “Dora’s” own rich library of intellectual property and enduring appeal — helped this film get its opportunity to shine.
What’s more, there is reason to believe this trend may accelerate. Beyond individual projects, Hollywood studios have announced promising systemic steps to address the need for far more representation and opportunity for diverse actors, filmmakers and crew in front of and behind the camera.
Jim Gianopulos, chairman and CEO of Paramount Pictures, recently announced all their productions will be required to have plans in place designed to create opportunities for underrepresented communities — with “special attention (being) paid to our storylines, our talent in front of and behind the camera, our vendors and our shooting locations.” Under this program, production teams will report their results to Viacom’s newly established Content Creation Council, which will “compile and analyze all data to develop metrics, establish benchmarks and ensure ongoing accountability.”
Paramount isn’t alone. WarnerMedia recently announced the hiring of Latina executive Christy Haubegger as chief enterprise inclusion officer. In 2017 Universal Filmed Entertainment Group launched its Global Talent Development & Inclusion Department, which “works closely with UFEG’s Production and Human Resources teams to identify and develop a pool of creative and workforce talent that builds upon the Studio’s commitment to telling stories and creating art with multi-cultural, global perspectives.”
And in response to the #OscarsSoWhite controversy the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences significantly increased invitations to join its ranks which, if accepted, will result in 38 percent of the Oscars’ governing body’s new class comprising people from underserved communities, increasing their representation from 13 percent in 2017 to 16 percent.
These examples and more begin to paint a promising picture about where the film industry is headed and, while much work remains to be done, these steps are worth celebrating.
The lasting commercial success and cultural impact of “Dora” helped prove that all children can relate to good characters regardless of heritage or skin color — and it’s great to see that film producers are recognizing that moviegoing audiences can, too. So while I suspect “Dora” will find the “Lost City of Gold” she is hunting for in the film, I also hope “Dora” “strikes gold” at the box office, further underscoring the marketplace potential and good business sense behind representative storytelling.