Louder and Prouder Creators Talk New Show

“The Proud Family,” which originally ran on the Disney Channel from 2001 to 2005, was a quietly groundbreaking animated series, focused exclusively on a Black family growing up in modern America. In the years since, the show has amassed even more of a following and taken on even more cultural relevance. Now “The Proud Family” is back (on Disney+ this time) and at the perfect time, too.

This new “Proud Family” contains everything that you loved about the first iteration of the series (wacky family hijinks, off-the-wall humor) but this time it is infused with more maturity. The first episode opens with Penny (once again voiced by Kyla Pratt) discovering that her body has changed; now she is a woman. There are other changes that you’ll notice right away too – Michael, who was coded as being gay, is openly gay this time around and there’s another new character (voiced by Keke Palmer) who has two dads. It feels like the rare reboot that is actually pushing into new territory while simultaneously maintaining everything you love about the original.

TheWrap spoke to creators Bruce W. Smith and Ralph Farquhar about why they brought the show back, what pushback they got from Disney, and what other hot-button topics they’re exploring later in the season.

Why now for “The Proud Family?”

Ralph Farquhar: The question is, why not now?

Bruce W. Smith: Yeah, there you go. That’s right.

Ralph Farquhar: They asked us. That’s why we’re back. And timing is everything. Bruce and I have been begging them to bring us back now.

Is that true?

Ralph Farquhar: They knew we wanted to come back. We were annoying. We were calling them up, taking them out to lunch, and finally they said, “OK, OK, we’ll bring you back.”

Bruce W. Smith: Yes. I think it’s also the advent of Disney+. Listen, in this new game of streaming, you need content, you need content that speaks to a wide range of audiences. And I think what “The Proud Family” did the very first time we were on the Disney Channel is that we tapped into an audience that probably wasn’t an audience that Disney had on the regular. And I think with social media, you started to really understand the heat around the nostalgia of “The Proud Family” and what it meant to a lot of people who were kids at the time, who are now 30-something-year-olds with certain levels of influence, some with kids. There was a certain hug-ability of “The Proud Family” the first time it entered the atmosphere that you just didn’t get in the 20 years that followed.

That’s the thing, and nothing followed in our wake. And at the core of the show, it was very heartfelt, very funny with a unique set of family members for sure. But we weren’t a crass show. We weren’t anything that was outside of the beaten path. We were just very, very traditional, but in our own Black way.

And that flavor, I think was something that I think they recognize. And then, even Ralph, when we got the initial like, Hey, listen, we want “The Proud Family,” just don’t tell anybody right now. And certainly, the first thing we had to do was touch down with our cast to see, OK, do they sound the same? Are they available?

And so, everybody was as excited as Ralph and I were, but we were sworn to silence. Now, cut to maybe two weeks later, Tommy Davidson who plays Oscar Proud is on the red carpet of some movie that he was in and some random guy just shouts to him. He’s a random guy who ran a little small media outlet. And he runs up to him and says, “Hey, Tommy, when are we going to get some of that ‘Proud Family?’” Just randomly, and then Tommy says, “Oh yeah, about that. Yeah, so we’re bringing ‘The Proud Family’ back. We’re going to be on Disney+.” And this dude lost his mind, went to his social media, threw that out there, and you got to understand Black Twitter, like Black Twitter it’s its own universe, right?

And so, as soon as that seed dropped in Black Twitter, we started trending, and Disney noticed that all this buzz started going towards Disney+. And they were like, “Well, what is this?” And we were like, “Hey, listen, we told Tommy not to say nothing, but look what you got.” From there it just simply continued the wildfire.

This is a very different “Proud Family” in some ways. Was part of this revival you wanting to explore a more grown-up version of “The Proud Family?”

Ralph Farquhar: Well, yeah, exactly. We’re not on the [Disney] Channel anymore. We’re on the streaming service. And one of the first discussions we had were parameters.

Look, we got this opportunity. We’re on this new platform. Are we going to still do the same show tonally? We were always in that direction in terms dealing with subject matter that wasn’t normally handled in family-oriented shows. We wanted to go more in that direction. And so, they came up with a rating for… I forget what the rating was. I mean, we got some rating, they came up just for us that would allow us to be a little…

Bruce W. Smith: A PG rating like TV-13, TV-14. Something like that.

Ralph Farquhar: Right. Some… I don’t know.

Bruce W. Smith: I don’t know either. But we had to complete… Essentially is that we had to continue to reinforce that to them, that they told us that, because we started getting notes through the lens of like a normal Disney Channel show. We were like, “We are not that show anymore.” The fight was constant and real, but, listen, the material that was coming out of the writers room was undeniable. You couldn’t deny that in order to talk about this subject, you’ve got to talk about it in a way that only “The Proud Family” can talk about it. That was a credit to the writers room and Ralph and those guys, because it’s like that what’s really led the way for us to really stay the path and let’s be true to the stories that we want to tell. Let’s be true to what we know our audience is going to expect from us.

Ralph Farquhar: And LGBTQ is probably the one thing… Look, it’s a couple things. That we identified where the change had taken… the most change that we could tell, which is the notion of the LGBTQ community and how we’re incorporating everyone into our daily lives now. That was not acknowledging who people are, respecting their rights. That wasn’t happening too much in 2001 when we first began.

And the other part was social media. That just didn’t… This whole notion of influencers, and we call it Holla’gram and Twiddle is our version of social media. That didn’t exist back when we first began to the extent it does now. Those were some of the major changes we made initially moving forward.

After watching these new episodes I went back and watched the first episode of the original series and things are still there, but they’re much more in the forefront this time around. Like Michael is a cheerleader in the first episode.

Ralph Farquhar: Yep. That’s exactly it. We’re not dodging it. We’re not leaving it on the edges. Michael is a main character within Penny’s clique moving forward. We’re just normalizing what life is today within “The Proud Family.”

Are you tackling more weighty social issues as well in the rest of these new episodes?

Ralph Farquhar: Yeah. I mean, that’s certainly what we’re doing. And we tackle them in a way that they exist within a daily life of “The Proud Family” world, just like they do in real life. That’s our approach to it. Very rarely do we do an episode about it.

But we have a couple. And the topics can range from, like I say, social media to colorism to race. We introduced the topic of race when this blended group of friends for the first time have to confront their racial differences. That’s something we’ll ultimately do. We call it like the end of innocence. We tackle reparations. We tackle a lot of things. But it’s done in the context of “Proud Family.” We think we’re clever, so we do it in a clever way.

Was there any hard guardrail that you came up against in terms of stuff that you wanted to tackle that Disney wasn’t comfortable with?

Ralph Farquhar: Well, all of it in the beginning, to be quite honest. And then, the world changed. The world changed and everyone became very open to us pushing the envelope. The past couple years have changed a lot of attitudes in this business about what we need to be talking about within our entertainment.

Bruce W. Smith: And our voice as well, like magnifying our voice. There’s always been a certain level of suppression to the African American voice pretty much worldwide. But if you take that kernel and you drop it into the world of entertainment, there’s only been so many certain types of movies that has been made. There’s only been certain types of TV shows that we’ve been allowed to make. And now that the world has changed, our voice is now being offered up in more open arms, wanting to really hear our voice in the most original ways possible.

When you think about it. It’s like African Americans haven’t really existed on the entertainment chain in every genre of storytelling. We’ve been stuck into just a handful of genres. But in this version of “Proud,” we explore the identity of the black cowboy. Like Ralph’s saying, we explore the idea of reparations in an animated show. How do you do that? We explore the roots of the city where the kids come from, and how they deal with social injustice and righting wrongs in their world. I mean, there’s so many different approaches to race, it’s not just one approach to that. You know what I mean? There’s a certain awakenings that happen within the stretch of the episodes that you’ll see, and you’ll see growth in characters as well. That’s the beauty of doing a series, is that you have the real estate versus an 85-minute movie. You know what I mean? Where you have to wrap up things neatly in these 85 minutes.

But I love the idea of having more real estate to tell and give more growth and have characters peel themselves back like artichokes. You know what I mean? You get to see multilayered characters, and you normally don’t get that opportunity in animation, let alone standard network television.

“The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder” premieres Wednesday with two episodes, with new episodes streaming weekly.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here