Count On Me: Remembering Disney’s The Proud Family

The Proud Family was a staple show in the early 2000s, part of the many memorable shows from Disney Channel programming. The show was among others that promoted diversity, inclusion and jokes you could actually laugh at. The Proud family came in the era of That’s So Raven, Lizzie McGuire and Even Stevens.

The animation programming of that time consisted of Jake Long: American Dragon, Phineas & Ferb, Lilo & Stitch and Kim Possible. Subject matter in much of the content was seen on The Proud Family is similar to Nickelodeon’s Hey Arnold. While The Proud Family was not the first show of it’s kind, it’s still relevant for its significance. The early 2000s was a goldmine for animation among children’s networks.

These 3 aspects that I think are important and made The Proud Family for what we watched back then and what we we remember from today: production value, content and cultural significance.

The series was produced by Disney; created by Bruce Smith, known for Bebe’s Kids film, and produced by Jambalaya Studios. The Proud Family is an American animated sitcom that ran on Disney Channel from September 15, 2001 to August 19, 2005.There was a total of 52 episodes and a made-for-tv movie. One of the noticeable things about The Proud Family is the amount of talent uded in the production. The show’s theme song is sung by Destiny’s Child and Solange Knowles. The show hosted many notable thespians of color to portray many of the characters. The show’s main voice cast stars Kyla Pratt from Dr.Dolittle and One on One as the protagonist, Penny Proud. Actress, Paula Jai Parker provides the voice of doting wife and mother, Trudy Proud. Acclaimed comedian Tommy Davidson portrays Penny’s over protective father, Oscar Proud. Other stars include Jo Marie Payton, Tara Strong and Cedric the Entertainer. Each season also had a host of guest appearances including Alicia Keys, Dante Basco, Aries Spears and voice-acting veteran Cree Summer. Bruce Smith’s distinctive style is utilized from the character designs as well as the backgrounds. He is known for his exaggerated shapes coupled by a colorful palette. Here, color is used to highlight the natures of characters, even the minor characters. Speaking of color; the primary show features almost exclusively characters of color with the exception of few white characters.There is an array of cultural fashions and hairstyles that are present in the show. The show also features original music and many of the characters break out into song or dance at a given time.

The show focused on 14 year old Penny Proud, who lives in Wizardville, California with her family. Her family consists of her mother Trudy, a veterinary, and her father Oscar, a businessman with a line of snacks and her baby twin siblings, BeBe and Cece. Penny’s grandmother, Suga Mama and pet dog, Puff, also frequently visit the Proud home. There are other members of the Proud family; Uncle Bobby, who makes sporadic appearance . Like most children’s shows of the previous decade there’s a strong family dynamic throught the show. Content wise, you can compare it to Nickeloedeon’s Rocket Power and Hey Arnold. Similar to Rocket Power, they have celebrity guest appearances and in Hey Arnold, they have a large ensemble cast. However The Proud Family stands out from both of them because one action of the character inadvertently affects the entire cast. The show follows Penny Proud trying to make it in high school. Her core group of friends are Dijonay, Zoe, Sticky and LaCienega.The Proud Family dealt with cultural heritage, teenage angst and bullying. The biggest lesson in the Proud Family was that everyone is included as family, even if not related by blood, and deserves a place to feel welcomed.

The show is culturally significant because many animated shows, that time and now, do not feature a predominately cast of color. I believe that The Proud Family has aged well and many of the aspects of it remain relevant. Animation fans know that the late 90s and early 2000s were a haven for inclusive cartoons. With shows like The Magic School Bus, Recess, and Rocket Power and Hey Arnold! as mentioned before, displays different types of kids behaving like kids in diverse settings.The Proud Family is no different as they include characters of different races, ethnicities and religious practices. This is seen in their Kwanza episode, where the Proud family befriends a family that are staying in a homeless shelter. Another notable episode is when Penny befriends with a Muslim girl,even donning a hijab to gain more cultural competency. Penny even later dates a Chinese-American boy named Kwok, despite their families wishes forbidding them too.

The Proud Family by no means is a perfect animated series.There are some troubling things that potential viewers should take heed of. The issue of colorism arises in the relationship dynamic between Dijonay and Penny. As it is assumed that Dijonay, Penny’s darker skinned friend, is from a lower class or considered “ghetto”. This is a common trope seen in the 90s; where two black female characters are literal opposites of each other but the lighter-skinned of the two is seen as more desirable.There’s a minor character name Michael who is an effeminate young man. In many instances it is alluding that he may be gay, but viewers may feel slighted as he is framed as the butt of most jokes. Many will notice the inclusion of East Asian characters which is great but most of the portrayal fall on the “nerdy” Asian trope.

Although The Proud Family was afrocentric in nature, it still remains one of the most inclusive animated shows of the last decade. Overall I recommend animation fans to checkout The Proud Family. The show is very lighthearted, comparatively to Hey Arnold. It’s family oriented and after all these years, it’s still funny. The episodes are under 30 minutes and viewers may find themselves binging. I am unsure if we will have another animated show like The Proud Family, one created by a black creators that heavily showed contemporary African-American life of all aspects. But somehow Zendaya has seemed to fill that gap on Disney Channel with her show KC Undercover. Displaying an “average” working class African American family that shows the strength of close family bonds, while addressing current and important issues on the show, like sexism and the impact of how black people were treated in the past, as well hiring black writers and producers behind screen.

I recommend The Proud Family as a great Disney Channel animated show to watch in your downtime, and it may just become more than just a throwback bingewatch with its enjoyable script.

Author: Brittney Maddox

Editor: Ammaarah Mookadam

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Keshav Kant, aka Mx. KantEven, is a med student tuned Executive Director of Off Colour!

You’ve probably seen her on Twitter and TikTok, both @MxKantEven, or caught her work on Off Colour's many channels.

From consulting on films & shows, manuscript review, conducting interviews, or hosting podcasts & panels, if there is some way to bring sensitivity and authenticity to diversity, inclusion and equity conversations, Keshav will be there.

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