“There’s so much research on race and identity and media representation,” Ramos says. “But there isn’t really, or at least wasn’t when we got started, a really in-depth analysis of kids specifically.” While various scholarly institutions and other entities have attempted to discern the impact of race and representation in the media, it was Ramos and his group that honed in on children specifically. Ramos’ team spoke with children, their friends, and their families, and noticed a clear difference on the type of conversation that they could have depending on whether or not “a moderator looks like them or does not look like them.”
The findings were quite striking. While adults have a tendency to shelter their children, assuming they are blissfully unaware of the world’s nuances, quirks, and harsh realities, Ramos concluded quite the opposite. “Just talking to kids, you get a sense of ‘oh, they know everything.’” As it would turn out, their life experience, albeit short, lends itself significantly to how they view their world, the things and people in it, and the media they are then subjected to through that unique lens. As parents, we try to shape that, but the world often has different plans. “They’re not giving anecdotes or examples that are from their parents’ lives,” Ramos says. “They’re talking about their day-to-day life and what it’s like to be them going through the world.”
Ramos not only focuses on race and ethnicity, but gender representation as well. Gender is “really interesting”, in his opinion, because it’s often difficult to pinpoint “what is resonating with different genres” when producing new media, new stories, and introducing new characters to children. As Director of Consumer Insights, Ramos is constantly reviewing what they plan to produce and release to the general public, as to not offend the very audience they are seeking to engage and entertain. Ramos is constantly “making sure that [they’re] not perpetuating stereotypes”, and that all races, ethnicities, genders, and identities have representation in the media. “They want to feel seen, heard, and entertained.”
Creating this representation in entertainment requires a whole lot more of the writers and staff than simply covering the “girl” character in “pink stuff” and expecting youth to identify with that. In our modern society where gender has become an increasingly complex spectrum beyond the traditional binary options, it’s crucial to consider these factors at all times. Ramos advocates for thoughtfulness and attention to these identities when coming up with a new concept, but also strives to transcend past the boundaries that are present in storytelling today. He wonders if there are characteristics and traits beyond the gender-specific applications that simply make for a “good character”.
“It’s extremely important to make sure representation is done right when it comes to gender, but also how do you tell a good story that’s going to resonate with everyone?” With this goal and idea in mind, Ramos and his team continue working to identify what stories and characters may resonate universally on a human level, regardless of race, gender, or any other identities that make us who we are.