Feb 18, 2021 - Politics & Policy

First look: Nickelodeon unveils Lakota character on "The Casagrandes"

Lakota character Charles Little Bull is shown in a library and making his debut on Nickelodeon's "The Casagrandes."

Photo: Nickelodeon

Meet Charles Little Bull: He's a role-model grad student in his twenties who wears his long hair in two braids. And today, when Nickelodeon unveils his character on "The Casagrandes," he'll become one of the first Lakota figures to appear in a major American animated-TV production.

Why it matters: His debut reflects Native American advocates' heightened campaigning to champion more positive, high-profile representation in media and news coverage.

  • That's happening as they also push for sports teams to drop offensive mascots with stereotypical images of Indigenous people.
  • Consulting producer Lalo Alcaraz, who also worked on the Disney film "Coco," has been an outspoken advocate for getting more Native Americans in film and television.

The details: Little Bull, voiced by Native American actor Robbie Daymond, tutors one of the show's teen Latina characters, Carlota Casagrande. His first appearance comes in an episode titled “Undivided Attention."

  • "Charles is a patient, encouraging, and positive tutor who never gives up on a student no matter how challenging," a Nickelodeon official tells Axios in a statement. "Charles loves to learn, and when he’s not tutoring at the library, he’s hanging at the library."

Between the lines: "The Casagrandes,” which debuted in 2019, centers around an 11-year-old girl trying to survive in a big midwestern city. It's one of the first cartoons in the U.S. to feature a multigenerational Mexican-American family.

  • The spin-off from the network’s popular animation series, “The Loud House,” came as more networks were taking chances on Latino-themed shows.
  • Some activists are hoping other characters from the franchise, like Little Bull, get their own spin-off.

What they're saying: "We’re finally seeing a shift in Native representation in Hollywood and stories that center and include contemporary Native characters," Crystal Echo Hawk, founder and executive director of networking and advocacy group IllumiNative, told Axios.

  • She said she's hopeful Little Bull will be "the first of many Native cartoon characters on Nickelodeon."

The PBS cartoon “Molly of Denali" also premiered in 2019 and centered on an Alaska Native family.

  • That children's production focuses on a 10-year-old Athabascan girl with a video blog about life in rural Alaska. PBS said it was the first nationally distributed children’s series with a Native American lead.

Don’t forget: From Looney Tunes to Peter Pan, earlier cartoons for years portrayed Native Americans using racist and stereotypical imagery. Often those characters didn't have names. Their tribal affiliations were rarely mentioned.

  • John Redcorn from the Fox cartoon series, "The King of the Hill," was a Native American character portrayed as a loner in leather vests and windblown hair. His symbolism on the show was a topic of debate among pop-culture critics.
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