The general consensus is that the animation and design world needs to do better when it comes to inclusivity and equity. With that, there are Black creators speaking up for the multitude of creators looking to break through and using their platforms to elevate others who look like them.
“Animation was always surrounding me, but I didn’t find it as a career to my senior year of high school,” creator Deborah Anderson told Girls United. As a 3D modeler with over 10 years of experience in the animation industry, Anderson kickstarted her career at Digital eMation in Seoul, South Korea where she modeled backgrounds, props, and vehicles for TV shows such as Family Guy, The Cleveland Show and Scooby-Doo. Through her YouTube channel, Anderson is creating a hub for young people, parents and artists to feel seen. “That’s why it’s important for me to have my platform so I can introduce animation to kids at a younger age because it took me entirely too long to find my dream career.”
We caught up with two Black women animators—Thumin, a Finland-based creator, and Deborah Anderson, also known as BlkWmnAnimator, about their experiences in the animation world, their feelings about Black creators owning their content and advice they would give to their younger selves.
GU: The Black animation community has earned more than 40 million watch hours last year alone, which is an all-time high. How does it feel knowing that Black creators are taking control of their content and breaking records?
Deborah Anderson: It feels awesome that people are paying attention because sometimes we get into the discussion of the different algorithms or how different social media platforms work. It seems like white creators are always getting a shine, but to have Black creators finally be noticed for the hours that they’re putting into their content. I think it’s really great.
Thumin: I definitely am so proud and I feel represented the more I see Black women in animation because that’s something that is so rarely seen. Even in the shows that I’m used to watching, the animes and cartoons, there are huge representation issues when it comes to darker skin characters being portrayed in those media. In YouTube itself, to see that there’s this thriving community getting this much recognition, it’s inspirational for me as a young Black woman.
GU: How has the scope of animation in terms of representation and diversity changed since your childhood?
Anderson: The reason I used YouTube is because of the video component. I tell people that I want people to see people who look like them. I do a lot of interviews with Black animation professionals, from people who don’t even see themselves in the industry, to people who’ve been in the industry for over 50 years. I always tell my audience that even though we are few and far between, there’s more than we realize. That’s why I like to interview Black animation professionals on my platform to give you an insight if you didn’t know about this person, which is like 95% of the people I interview.
Thumin: Back in the day, there wasn’t almost any representation and the little bit that we had were either negative or stereotypes. We’ve come a far way from that era. People just need to keep talking about that there is an issue in the first place and the more that situation will change for the better. I’ve been using my own platform to incorporate art commentary where I have actually made a tutorial on how to color dark skin for those that don’t know how to do it. There’s a tutorial available that people can take if they don’t know how to do it correctly, or at least for beginners.
I’ve talked extensively about representation issues in the animation community. I have a whole video on whitewashing and ‘black washing’, in cartoons. There’s a lot of black creators who also take part in these conversations, but because we have much smaller audiences, sometimes it feels like you’re the only one.
GU: For our young GU readers who want to go into the YouTube space, but don’t know exactly how to grow their channel or where to start, what advice would you give them?
Anderson: Some of the advice that I’ll give is to be consistent. I initially started my YouTube channel in 2017 with a diversity in animation video which wasn’t restricted to race and gender. I decided in 2019 to post every week and 2019 was the first year that I posted a video every Wednesday of the year. I put snippets on my Instagram and with my Facebook friends, my audience, or whoever’s following me, in their mind, I’m the animation person now. When they see stuff, they’re like, ‘Let me send this to Deborah because she’s into animation.’
Thumin: First of all, just start. I feel like this was my biggest problem when I was thinking about making a YouTube channel. I had all these stresses, ‘What if my accent is too big? What if people judge me? What if I attract the wrong crowd?’ All of these things were stopping me from making that first video and posting it. After you get over that and you just do it, that opens you up to a whole new world of opportunities. Just start and put those few fears aside for a little bit.
A more technical piece of advice I would give that has helped me personally as a multilingual person is to perhaps write a script. If you are making a commentary-style video or even if you are making a storytelling video animation, it helps you to clearly see what you are going for in the animation. Write it out and if you want to do storyboards, those are just other technicalities. Basically, write a script and find your niche.
GU: If you could give your younger self advice about being a Black girl creator in the YouTube and animation space, what would you tell her?
Thumin: I would tell her to be unapologetically herself. When I was starting out in the art space, not necessarily on YouTube, but just like posting art…unconsciously, I always drew or colored my character white. I always drew what I saw on TV, which was basically very light-skinned characters. The more I came to understand that, ‘Wait a minute, why am I just coloring people who don’t look like me?,’ I started to branch out more and embrace myself and my identity more by expressing it into my artwork.
I started coloring more Black people and darker skin people. Now that’s all I do because it represents me the best. I feel like there isn’t enough representation. Since I have this platform that I have now, I feel obligated to bring that representation because it actually makes me happy. To my old self, be unapologetically you and just go all out. Black girl magic. Love yourself and don’t be afraid of putting yourself out there.
Anderson: To add to that, I feel like actually the journey of a lot of Black artists from my interactions with artists and from my interviews with animation professionals, there’s this thing that we draw what we see. There’s either this outside person who’s looking at your work and it’s like, ‘Why do you never draw Black people?’ It’s not on purpose, but we just draw what we see. We have to come to this realization that we can draw what we see in our lives as well.
I would tell them to definitely be themselves, be their full selves. That’ll definitely be a journey. In my teenage years, I was an excellent student and I did sports and extracurriculars. In my twenties, I kind of was this perfect person becoming more of a real person of sorts but dealing with what people would think of me if I wasn’t what they thought I was. My thirties have just been like, people are not going to like you anyway. So you might as well be who you are.
Photo Credit: Thumin