The PBS televisions show “Molly of Denali” was selected for a George Foster Peabody Award in the children’s and youth category this week.
The animated series is set in the fictional Alaska village of Qyah (KEYE-ah). It’s title character, Molly, and much of the cast represent Indigenous people. And many people behind the show are also Alaska Native. Princess Daazhraii Johnson (Neets’aii Gwich’in) is a creative producer on the show. She says the win brings up a lot of emotions.
“I’m so grateful to our ancestors. I’m so grateful to our communities. And I think that, you know, this is an acknowledgment of something that we already know in our heart,” Johnson said. “But the fact is with the show, we had this opportunity in community to fundamentally change the perspective in the way the public views us as Indigenous people. And at this moment in time is so critical. It’s so long overdue. I’m just so I’m kind of at a loss for words, because I did not grow up seeing myself represented in a positive light. And the fact that my kids get to see themselves like this means so much. It means a lot.”
“Molly of Denali” is the first nationally distributed children’s series to feature a lead character who is Native American. The 10-year-old Molly Mabray is Gwich’in, Koyukon and Dena’ina Athabascan – and is voiced by young actress — Sovereign Bill – who is Muckleshoot and Tlingit.
For Johnson, that representation matters.
“It is a reflection of our Alaska Native values, those values of just respect and patience and humor. And the show really, you know, is about in many ways is it’s just a mirror of who we are as Alaska Native people — all those powerful and good things,” Johnson said. “Those are the exact values that the world needs right now. And so their show is helping shift and change a dominant narrative that does not value human life, doesn’t value animal life and plant life and just doesn’t value life in general. So to at least have something that is positive, that we can feel good about right now. That is making an impact that is being acknowledged. It really it means a lot. And I hope that it inspires and encourages people to continue to tell their truth and to live these beautiful values that have been handed down to us.”
Johnson says the show is wrapping up on animation for the first season, as well as working on a special. And she credits a collection of Alaska Natives in a working group for “Molly of Denali” – who are instrumental and critical in shaping the show.
“We’re all just really proud of the work that we’ve been able to do. And we want to continue telling our Alaska Native stories that we know have been so meaningful to so many people in Alaska, but also across the country,” Johnson said. “We have so many other indigenous people that have reached out and said that it meant a lot for them and their families as well.”
The George Foster Peabody Awards pay tribute to compelling and empowering stories in broadcast. A board of 19 jurors unanimously chose all the winners.
“Molly of Denali” premiered in July 2019.