The Proud Family is back like it never left and is still pushing the bar.
Everyone jumped for joy when Disney+ announced a reimagined reboot of the popular animated family sitcom. The original series aired on Disney Channel from 2001 to 2005. Bebe’s Kids creator Bruce W. Smith and Moesha creator Ralph Farquhar are co-creators of the show, with stars like Kyla Pratt, Jo Marie Payton, Paula Jai Parker and more providing the voice-over work for the beloved characters. Virtually all original cast members and some new additions add to the lineup of The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder on the streaming giant’s show.
Just as the first time around, the show puts a spotlight on Penny Proud, aged a few years, with her get fresh crew of friends as she navigates growing pains and balances her crazy but close-knit family. As with any show that grows with the times, the new series introduces new subject matter making it as true to life as possible.
Shadow and Act spoke with Farquhar and Smith about the groundbreaking series and why it was so important to bring it back with the same relevant yet fresh take. They also dished on hopes for the future and clapped back at critics who have a problem with some of the new characters.
S&A: Fans are happy that the show is back, and we get this reimagining of the series that we grew up on. But before we actually get into the newer version, I want to talk a bit about what inspired the original concept. So what gap did you think needed to be filled to bring a show like this to a network like Disney?
BS: For me, it was like simple math when we first did the show. It was the year 2000 and there were a lot of animated sitcoms in the landscape. There were shows like The Simpsons, Family Guy, American Dad, King of the Hill— and none of those shows featured people of color. It was just sort of the sort of All-American, white sitcom. It simply made sense that we can play in this field too. So that was the beginning of [our] aspirations [in] creating The Proud Family.
I’m an artist first and foremost. So I just started world-building, designing the world, designing the characters in the world. And so it just kind of came together. I sort of bluffed Disney and Disney said they love the idea. They asked how I would want to approach the show from a writing standpoint, and I didn’t want to write it in the most traditional way. I wanted real writing. I want real, grounded characters, and I sort of explained to them is like. I thought of what Ralph did with characters he created with shows like Moesha and the great stories in that world. And so so I mentioned Ralph Farquhar. They told me if I could get Ralph, I would have the green light. I acted like I knew Ralph and called him up while he was on the gold course and interrupted his game and here we are.
Ralph, what about the project made you want to come on board? You’re obviously a legend working on shows like ‘Moesha’ and ‘The Parkers.’ So you're used to to to storytelling, but this was a different medium for you.
RF: I had never been involved with animation. First and foremost, I thought it was a great project, and I was attracted by the animation because Bruce had a little presentation piece, which I thought, ‘Oh, well, this can be something.’ And just to underscore what Bruce said, I knew there wasn’t anything like it in the design.
I grew up in the 50s, so there was nothing when I was a kid and I had kids and I knew there was nothing for them, so I thought, ‘Hey this is something I can get involved with.’ But even more so, I thought it was something that parents could get involved with along with their kids. To do a unique story within the space of animation, but also something that would be inclusive in terms of where the kids and the parents can watch at the same time, I thought was a win.
I tried getting into kid shows before and couldn’t. I watched an episode of Teletubbies with my granddaughter and I almost lost my mind. It was psychedelic to me. I was like, ‘OK, we got to get something in here that everybody can understand.’ She couldn’t understand it. I couldn’t understand. So that was another just private motivation for me, which was a chance to do something I could watch with my granddaughter.
The show is back and viewers are thoroughly enjoying it. Was the reason you brought the show back was that you felt there was once again a missing piece for a show like this? Was it difficult to get everybody back on board as far as the cast was concerned?
BS: We knew when we finished the show around 2005, 2006, that we still had unfinished business. At the time, the show was just really hitting its stride and we had lots more stories to tell. So it’s not for lack of us bugging Disney over the years, saying we need to keep going as we keep doing. This is just that. And the landscape of television, especially from an animation standpoint, had really changed. When you realize when our show came out, there was really nothing in the world. I think the only thing we kind of had in the middle of all that was The Boondocks, and if you want to count The Cleveland Show. But it was really nothing in the sort of the “for us by us” brand.
And that speaks to a couple of things. One is that there are just not a lot of people of color of influence in this business in animation. You have artists in this business but do they have command of the medium as such where they actually can create a show and get it on the air and run the show? That’s a big, tall ask. So you have to kind of deduce it that way. So I think it’s just a lack of minority presence in this business that leads to that lack of projects that will follow it up.
When we got the nod to approach it this time around, I kind of knew we wanted to do it and kind of just take off from where we stopped. We put characters up a couple of years and story started to fall in place where we were in a different place. And I agree that we’re in a different place now. There are a lot of characters that we couldn’t necessarily do the same way this time around.
Speaking of being in a different place and being able to tell stories differently or tell stories that you couldn't necessarily tell at that time. In this version of the show, you introduced characters LGBTQ characters. There have been some online trolls and critics who have not been receptive to this progress. Take us through your journey of feeling like, ‘This has to be a part of this show and we have to be as inclusive with these characters this time around.’
RF: That was the first discussion Bruce and I had when we knew we were coming back, and specifically as it related to the Michael character. Michael’s clearly a member of the LGBTQ+ community, but we just weren’t really allowed or, shall I say, encouraged to explore his story in a more honest and authentic way. Although we did do a very interesting episode when Michael was called a sissy in the first go around, which did address that issue on some level, but we thought, ‘OK, coming back, we have to this right.’
First of all, it was important to have voices of the character with an authentic voice. And that led us to seek out E.J. Johnson to voice the character. And then because we knew E.J. was this kid when he was growing up, so he was perfect and we loved his voice. And then the other part was a character redesign. You know where we portrayed Michael as someone who owned his personality, owned his presence, owned who he was and was confident. I think one of the things the E.J. talked about is he talked about how he wants to portray Michael as being this fierce, confident character. So it could give strength to young kids like him so that they can know that they can be that way and that he wishes he had had that when he was that age. So that was a thing we knew we had to correct about the original show and do.
But along the way, we also decided to add some more characters to the universe because it’s always weird how in shows you have one LGBTQ+ character, and that person has to carry the weight of everything. Everything falls within that character. It has to represent everything. And that’s not true. It’s the same for older shows when they would have the one Black character that had to carry the show. That’s when we came upon the idea because we knew we were going to bring in new kids. Why not make their parents same-sex dads? And that’s led us to Billy Porter and Zachary Quinto.
BS: It was important for us just to have a spectrum of Blackness in the show. And that’s always been paramount.
RF: We knew it was going to be controversial, even though it shouldn’t be, and that we knew there was going to be a discussion, there’s going to be a dust-up. And we invited that. We think that discussion should be had. But if anything, we’re going to air on the side of representation and authenticity. So that’s what we’re about.
What other elements were you guys eager to explore in the show this time around to keep it socially relevant, but also still keep it so that families can watch it together and it can be a conversation starter with viewers?
BS: For us, that’s really what it was about. What we’ve come to discover in this round of episodes and our season 1 is that the one thing we know for sure is that Black people do not go out of style. We stay in focus and everybody’s looking at us. People of color, we drive culture, we drive what you say, how you say it, what you wear, how to wear it, how to move. And those things have never changed. We just drive the culture in America, period. It’s undeniable. And so what we’ve come to discover is that as each episode rolls out, we are somehow right in the contemporary vein of what’s happening now.
Mind you, we’ve been making these episodes over the past few years, and look at where we are right now. We’re not surprised. We’re amused. And we’re happy with what we can actually put forth on the screen. We’re proud that we’re having the opportunity to play in the sandbox and that Disney+ has really made room for us to do the things that we do best.
RF: We’re having a lot of fun, but we deal with a lot of topics. We get reparations, Juneteenth. We examine race relations in a number of episodes. And the hope is they will provoke conversation because we should talk about these things. And it’s things that we’ve all experienced growing up. If you are a Black person, you have a Black family, you experience things and we try to cover those things and shine a light on them in an entertaining and thoughtful, thoughtful way.
BS: And interestingly enough, we’re not a kids’ show. We’re a family show. We’re a co-viewing, family show. So sometimes people make the mistake and call us the children’s show. And that’s not what we are. We’re an actual, regular family show. We’re just showing you a family from the other side of the coin.
Season 1 of the show is currently streaming on Disney+ and season 2 is currently in production.