If you’re like me and have young children at home (my daughter is 7 and my son is 4), then you’ve probably heard of, or have at least watched, one episode of Disney’s Andi Mack. If you haven’t, this is a show that is both for you to watch, reflect and navigate and for your children as they grow to understand who they are, friendships, diversity and the importance of inclusion. Where as recent Disney pop-culture artifacts such as Descendants 2 was painted with a hyper racist lens that vilified and misappropriation blackness, Andi Mack represents the maturity that a major broadcaster can demonstrate when it comes to addressing and importantly representing “otherness,” on screen.
Let me begin by stating that I unapologetically love this show. In many ways, it really is the This is Us for early teens, tweens and preadolescents. With the narrative of young Andi Mack so dependent on the relationship between the past and present, it presents like This is Us, the complexity of family, choices, relationships and importantly the art of moving forward. If you’re my age, you may remember the early 90s and short lived series My so called Life. Like that show, Andi Mack doesn’t shy away from the realities of the current day; progressive and liberating.
For those, who have no concept of the show, young Andi is an intelligent, charming, innovative and creative Tween (in season 1) who’s life becomes unexpectedly complicated when she finds out an long seeded secret – that her older sister Rebecca, who is estranged for her parents, is really her mother. In having Andi as a teen, Rebecca was sent away and consequentially never truly returned home. As such, Andie’s grandparents acted as surrogate parents with her mother/grandmother laying down a foundation for discipline and expectation. Andi, like Rebecca, is bi-racial (Asian and Caucasian American) and as such, her existence is grounded in finding the balance between old tradition and new, while respecting and embracing who she is as a person, daughter, granddaughter and friend all while having a maturity to be reflective and to be a self-advocate.
It’s with this, that the show runners have created a “kid show” with rich maturity and a range of emotional intelligence. From Andi to her African-American friend Buffy (who is stereotypically athletic but progressively, and equally intelligent and self-directed as she navigates pre-teen life as her mother serves in the U.S. military and leaves a void), to Cyrus (the boy of the group who feels inadequate as a result of the strains that come from divorce, re-marriage and navigating step-parents), each episode provides a teachable moment when watched through a critical lens.
As a parent that is really my personal goal; to allow my young kids to escape and be entertained but to also leverage the time spent together on the couch to shape critical literacy, allow for questions to be asked and to also quietly observe how the kids react to narrative and messaging; perhaps not addressing big ideas in the immediate but taking cognitive note.
This speaks to the show’s most progressive narrative piece thus far. Beyond Andi trying to bring her once teen parents back together within the frame of what she perceives as a “traditional family,” to her mother Rebecca’s rejection of her ex’s proposal or the interracial coupling of both Andi and Buffy with two Caucasian boys, is the narrative of Cryus’ sexual discovery; when he recognizes that while having a girl friend he has feelings for Andi’s boy-crush. This is not to say that Cryus pursues such feelings, but rather the particular episode allowed for his character to verbalize his “internal conflict” and bravely embrace who he is. In conversation with Buffy, he shares the awkward feelings he’s having – cautious and uncertain of Buffy’s reaction. Buffy, emotionally grounded, mature and loving, ensures that Cyrus feels loved and confident in who he is.
As evident in the scene below, the writers, directors and show runners create a touching scene that voids exploitation or dismissal but provides not only the characters but us at home with a cathartic moment that is real for so many people – not just adults.
It’s with this brave programming, that promotes inclusion and respect that we as parents are reminded that our children are multifaceted and in the case of Cyrus, our children need to feel and be loved – accepted for who they are and not who we want them to be. As such, as a parent, I must ensure that the door is left open for the honesty that this show promotes so richly through the lens of children.
Andi Mack airs Monday’s on the Disney Channel – don’t miss it.