New PBS show ‘Molly of Denali’ to feature Alaska Native in title role

A still from the upcoming PBS KIDS program Molly of Denali (Image courtesy of WGBH Educational Foundation).

The upcoming PBS KIDS program “Molly of Denali” features an Alaska Native character in the title role. (Image courtesy of WGBH Educational Foundation)

A new animated children’s series debuting on PBS KIDS next summer will feature an Alaska Native character in the title role.

“Molly of Denali” is the first nationally distributed children’s series to feature an Alaska Native character in a leading role. PBS announced the new series Wednesday at its annual meeting.

The multiplatform show features 10-year-old Molly Mabray living in a fictional village in Alaska. She helps her parents run the Denali Trading Post general store and bunkhouse and goes on adventures with her dog and friends.

WGBH Boston is co-producing the series with Atomic Cartoons. Alaska Native advisers and consultants from across the state have been brought in, and the goal is to also use Alaska Native voice talent and script writers.

Princess Daazhraii Johnson, a Gwich’in Athabascan producer who lives in Fairbanks, is the creative producer for the series.

Juneau resident and University of Alaska Southeast Professor X̱’unei Lance Twitchell is a language adviser for the program.

“So the idea is, throughout the course of these episodes there’ll be several Alaska Native languages that are featured in trying to utilize that to create a teaching platform for exposure, normalization and so our kids can see it on the television,” Twitchell said.

The show is designed for children ages 4 to 8. It focuses on literacy education. Molly uses books, historical archives and oral histories from elders to explore her world. Some of her adventures may bring her to Southeast Alaska.

“The idea is that she would travel and she has relatives and friends in various parts of Alaska and just also trying to be conscious of making sure that we’ve got accurate representations,” Twitchell said. “A lot of times it’s a very common thing to put on television, but if you’re in Alaska and you see something on television, it’s often not a very authentic experience.”

Twitchell studies and teaches Tlingit and works actively to promote indigenous languages in Alaska. He said he and other advisers for the show hope it will open doors for more Alaska Native representation on television.

“I know I’ve shared a vision with Princess that eventually there’s more and more content that’s not just featuring Alaska Native languages, but the medium is Alaska Native languages and I believe that this is a step to help us move in that direction,” he said.

The series is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Department of Education’s Ready to Learn grant and the CBC.

Thirty-eight half-hour episodes and one hour-long special are currently in production. The show will air on the PBS KIDS channel and digital platforms.

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