Many of us grew up watching cartoons, and just like any aspect of media, representation matters both in front of screen and behind the scene. Or this case, in front of and behind the cel.
Writer and producer Taylor K. Shaw recognizes that the animation industry isn't exactly the most inclusive of fields, so she is doing her part to make sure the diversity ratio improves. When Shaw began searching for black female animators for her own project in Chicago, she realized the pickings were slim.
"I went on a search, and I couldn't find any. Black women in this industry are truly unicorns," the 22-year-old Chicago native told Teen Vogue.
There was nothing out there that specifically supported black female animators so — as black women usually do — Shaw took it upon herself to create Black Girls Animate. Black Girls Animate is the first animation company designed specifically for black women. Its members receive talent agency services, original content services and a collective of training and development.
Shaw notes animation teams rarely include women, let alone women of color.
"In animation, you don't really see any women at all. You see a few white women, very few women of color, and hardly any black women at all. What we're doing [here] is transforming the media landscape, and making sure that women of color are included in this space," she said.
Shaw added that there's also a poor understanding of why black women aren't represented in the field.
"There's no research at all. These demographics show women in animation, yes, and they show that most university animation programs are mostly women. But who is getting these jobs? White males. Men are getting the jobs, women are not," Shaw said. "Our goal is, one, to get some studies out there that show the demographics of women of color in the industry, but you won't find the numbers broken down because they don't exist. The fact that there aren't any numbers proves that there are very few — if any black women, and if there are we need them to be a part of our collective."
Black Girls Animate is made up of 20 members. There are three levels of the membership, including a youth group for ages 10-18.
"Black women in this industry are invisible," Shaw said. "Black Girls Animate is designed to make them visible, but not only make them visible, get them work, get them jobs, and build a community for them."
With Black Girls Animate, Shaw's ultimate goal is to support the company's members, and to possibly funnel them toward major animation and media companies. Her company also houses two animated series of its own, and is developing a feature film.
As much as Shaw believes in being a pioneer with Black Girls Animate, she also hopes to become the resource for other animation companies looking to evolve their diversity sector.
"It's time for media companies to start reaching out to all people that are out there, and it's time for them to do that in a conscious way, and you can only do that consciously by hiring and incorporating the narratives of all people," she said. "We're starting here with women of color — with black women. I'm so excited about it but it's challenging work. It's necessary work."
You can learn more about Shaw and Black Girls Animate at her personal website!