Listening to the theme song of The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder and not being met to the sounds of Destiny’s Child and Solange harmonizing immediately caused my brows to furrow. I felt disjointed, a sign that what I was watching was not the same animated series I watched obsessively as a kid.
The animation was clearer and the slang had changed. Instead of flipping through cable channels with the hopes that something I wanted to watch was actually on, I logged into Disney+ and watched the episodes at my leisure, without commercials.
When the original Proud Family aired, the words “streaming service” had zero relevance to my world, let alone the idea that cable and DVR would become virtually obsolete.
But, that’s the beauty, and perhaps the point, of reboots and revivals. They play on our feelings of collective nostalgia, something that has become an even bigger commodity during the pandemic. People want to escape our current reality and increasingly bleak future, so it makes sense to look at the past.
Although there’s been an ongoing joke about the seemingly endless stream of remakes in Hollywood, reboots aren’t anything new. I loved Lindsay Lohan growing up, I’ve seen The Parent Trap and Freaky Friday more times than I could count. I didn’t know that they were remakes when I initially watched as a kid, but that didn’t make the movies any less entertaining to a young girl born in the mid-90s.
This was the attitude I had going into viewing Louder and Prouder; I knew I was no longer the target audience for children’s entertainment but I was excited to see how the story could exist in the future. But in order to fully form an opinion about the revival, I needed help seeing through the eyes of someone who actually was a part of the intended audience: a ten-year-old girl.
I looked to my niece, Ayanna Martin, a young Black girl who reminds me a lot of myself at that age: a self-proclaimed “girly-girl” with an obsession with anything diva-like. Ayanna exudes this same energy with her long braids with intertwined pieces of green and often painted fingernails. She loves both the original version of the cartoon as well as the revival.
While we weren’t able to chat for too long (she’s booked and busy with school and friends), it was clear from our short conversation that while it feels like it’s a whole new world since I was watching as a child, some things remain the same.
“She acts like me in a way,” Ayanna told me when describing why she likes Penny Proud. “She’s sassy and is popular.”
This is what attracted a lot of people to The Proud Family in the first place. In 2001, when the series first premiered, show creator Bruce W. Smith intended to present audiences with an animated series that focused on a suburban Black family, something that was lacking at the time.
After teaming up with Ralph Farquhar (creator of Moesha) to create the series, The Proud Family became a classic in the Black community, due to how realistic the show was without blatantly explaining its Blackness for white audiences.
“A lot of what we’d do was like, ‘Wink, wink. You know what we’re saying, right?’” said Smith to The New York Times. “We were hiding a lot of innuendo and, frankly, family business under the guise of what our characters were saying and going through. Where the show shines is in all of its cultural references.”
While the show’s first run ended in 2005, the impact of the show continues today. Ayanna recalls watching The Proud Family as young as seven years old, and it’s still so universal that she said she has trouble picking which version of the show is her favorite.
But she likes the modern touch of Louder and Prouder, even telling me that she especially likes the new theme song (sigh). The addition of smart phones and influencers appeal to her too, as she’s apart of the generation who knew how to work iPads before they were potty trained.
She especially likes Keke Palmer’s character, newcomer Maya. Maya, who is full of quips inspired by the ideology of Black radical leftists, is clearly the shows answer to today’s increasingly socially conscious culture. Maya’s adoptive parents are gay couple voiced by Billy Porter and Zachary Quinto.
The addition of a character like Maya is often polarizing. A lot of the criticism around reboots stems from some viewers feeling like everything has been made “woke” in an attempt to keep up with the major cultural shifts of the last ten years.
Like Sara Tatyana Bernstein wrote for Buzzfeed: “Nostalgia also enables us to rewrite the past so it looks more like we wish it had been.”
The Sex and The City reboot And Just Like That recieved an insane amount of backlash, with people collectively cringing at the outdated and problematic storylines (like watching Charlotte run around New York to find a Black friend?)
The magic of The Proud Family is that it’s always showcased storylines that emphasized diversity and inclusion in a natural way without alienating white audiences, or making Black audiences feel like we’re watching a watered down caricature of ourselves.
“That’s what I loved about the original: We talked about things that other people shied away from,” said Kyla Pratt, who voices Penny in both the original and the revival. “And we’re doing the same thing this time around.”
Excluding certain narratives from the mainstream results in cultural annihilation. Popular culture, especially television, serves as a tangible example of what is considered acceptable and worth talking about by the dominant culture. By only showing certain faces and certain storylines, the message is loud and clear to the groups that have been excluded: we don’t see you and you aren’t important. You don’t belong in my world.
When recalling watching shows like The Flintstones and Jetsons, Smith told The New York Times: “I didn’t exist in the beginning of time, and I don’t think they’re looking for me to exist when spaceships start flying off this planet.”
The Proud Family was a way that Smith and Farquhar could cement Black faces in popular culture forever.
One of my favorite ways that Louder and Prouder continues to push boundaries is through Michael (currently voiced by EJ Johnson), a character who was flamboyant in the original series and openly a member of the LGBTQIA+ in the new one.
Michael, and Maya’s parents, represent a full circle moment for the show.
Showing openly LGBTQIA+ Black people living full, happy, and loving lives that aren’t dictated by their sexuality allows for more people to feel seen and accepted. I think this is what shows like And Just Like That attempt to do: recreate the magic of the old show while appeasing viewers who felt excluded from the original narrative.
Since the announcement of Louder and Prouder, old fans like myself have taken to social media to discuss our excitement and anticipation for the revival. To me, this is one of the only times that that reception to a reboot has been so positive and welcoming.
The Proud Family is able to remain timeless because it has always told Black stories through Black voices. It’s not necessary to shove diversity down viewers’ throats when it’s woven into the fabric of the show.
Though I will stand strong in my opinion that Chloe x Halle should have sang the new theme song, I’m willing to let go of my attachment to the original knowing that a new generation of kids are getting to experience what I did when watching the series, in a way that’s updated to their life experience.
Ayanna reminded me that some things never change when it comes to young Black girls. When I asked her what she wants to see for Penny in the future she told me:
“I hope Penny finally gets a boyfriend, but he will stay her boyfriend instead of her getting a new guy in the next episode.”
Gotta love little girl shade.