UPDATED: 3:55 p.m. ET, Sept. 4 —
Nickelodeon has announced it canceled an upcoming animated TV series about a little Black girl after the show was accused of culturally appropriating a similarly styled short film that prompted comparisons between them for all the wrong reasons.
“Made By Maddie, which was set to premiere later this month on Nickelodeon’s Nick Jr. channel, but that will no longer be the case after people said it looked too much like “Hair Love,” the Academy Award-winning short that focuses on natural hair (among other issues) and was adapted from Matthew A. Cherry‘s celebrated book of the same name.
“Made by Maddie is a show we acquired several years ago from Silvergate Media, a renowned production company we have previously worked with on other series. Since announcing the show’s premiere date this week, we have been listening closely to the commentary, criticism and concern coming from both viewers and members of the creative community,” Nickelodeon said in a statement on Friday. “In response, and out of respect to all voices in the conversation, we are removing the show from our schedule as we garner further insight into the creative journey of the show. We are grateful to Silvergate Media for all of their work. And we hold Matthew A. Cherry and the wonderful and inspiring Hair Love in the highest regard.”
“Made for Maddie” is about a budding 8-year-old fashion designer who “uses her imagination and design ingenuity to turn every problem into a positive with the perfect fashion fix,” according to a press release. And while that description decidedly does not match that of “Hair Love,” it was the similarities between what the characters look like from each project that became a source of outrage on social media Wednesday afternoon.
Both feature a nuclear Black family with a young daughter, and in each case the mothers, fathers and daughters all sport natural hair. In fact, both fathers were drawn with dreadlocks that appear to be just about the same length as each other. Both families also have a cat with similar features to one another, as well. Because of the widespread success of “Hair Love” — it played in movie theaters nationwide after being a best-selling book — some people could understandably be confused after a quick glance at the “Made By Maddie” promotional materials.
One major distinction between the two is the all-Black team of author Cherry and illustrator Vashti Harrison behind “Hair Love.” While “Made By Maddie” stars Black actors voicing the show’s main characters, it was created by a white woman the year after Cherry first launched an online crowdfunding campaign to finance “Hair Love.”
That time difference suggested that “Made By Maddie” may have at the very least been inspired by “Hair Love” and prompted claims of cultural appropriation to be leveled at Nickelodeon as well as creator Paula Rosenthal, a white woman.
A number of tweets tagged Cherry on Twitter to bring his attention to what they claimed was a blatant ripoff of “Hair Love.” Cherry, for his part, retweeted some of those claims and tweeted Wednesday without mentioning “Made By Maddie” that his “Hair Love Kickstarter was launched back on July 10th 2017.” Cherry also posted a telling GIF on Tuesday while quote-tweeting a “Black Lives Matter” tweet from Nick Jr.
Both tweets have since been deleted, however.
Meanwhile, “Made By Maddie” was reportedly first greenlit in 2018 with the title, “Fashion Ally,” suggesting the original iteration of Maddie may not have been Black. It was set to debut on Nick Jr. Sept. 13.
Of course, to some people, this is all a “good problem” since it can only mean an increase of positive Black representation in mass media, something that has been sorely lacking amid slow progress in that arena.
Cultural appropriation or not, there was set to be more positive images of the Black family on TV than there were just a month ago, which is a good thing.
Even further, “Made By Maddie” was giving some employment opportunities to Black actors during a time when there is record unemployment. That Black talent includes Alyssa Cheatham as Maddie, Patina Miller as Maddie’s mother and James Monroe Iglehart along with guest voice appearances by Black folks such as Karamo Brown, Rhyon Nicole Brown, Monét X Change, Wanya Morris, Al Roker and D’Angelo Russell.
But the prospects of the thievery of a Black man’s intellectual property by a white person is a scenario all-too-familiar to Black America, prompting legitimate questions about how exactly “Made By Maddie” came to be.