PBS’s ‘Molly of Denali’ to become first nationally distributed children’s show featuring Native American lead
Molly Mabray is a 10-year-old girl who loves vlogging, her pet Malamute named Suki, and helping her parents run their Alaskan trading post. She’s also fictional, and the first-ever Native American lead character of a nationally distributed children’s series, according to PBS.
That PBS Kids show, “Molly of Denali,” premieres Monday and is produced by Boston public television station WGBH. (WGBH is behind the long-running and groundbreaking animated series “Arthur,” as well.)
WGBH executive producer Dorothea Gillim said she has always wanted to make a show about a kid in a store, and thought about having it take place in Alaska when she saw the state in the news a few years back. She said she spoke with her co-creator, Kathy Waugh, who told her that she had an idea about a child who lives with her family in a remote area.
“We teamed up and created ‘Molly of Denali,’ ” Gillim said. “And when we got the pickup for the pilot for PBS, we immediately knew that we needed to partner with Alaska Natives to develop the show to really do it right, to really represent accurately and authentically the culture and the setting.”
WGBH has included Alaska Natives “in all aspects of production,” Gillim said, from collaborating with a working group of Alaska Native advisers to developing a scriptwriting fellowship for six Alaska Natives that was funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Indigenous actors voice every indigenous role in the series, which also features live-action segments with Alaskan kids and regions. And creative producer and Alaska Native Princess Daazhraii Johnson “looks at everything that we do,” Gillim said.
“I’m thrilled that Alaska Native children will get to see themselves and our vibrant cultures represented in ‘Molly of Denali,’ ” Johnson said in a February press release. “Equally important is having a positive representation of Alaska Native culture shared with a broader audience. The show also reinforces for children that no matter where they’re from or where they live, we are all much more alike than we are different.”
In another first, WGBH partnered with PRX and Gen-Z Media to launch a kids’ podcast series in May that serves as a prequel to the TV series.
“Molly of Denali” will run on PBS stations, the 24/7 PBS KIDS channel, and PBS KIDS digital platforms. WGBH is offering Bostonians a free sneak peek of three episodes on Saturday, July 13 (register at eventbrite.com). The screenings will take place during the same time as the ice cream- and carnival game-filled WGBH FunFest outside of the studios, which is also family-friendly but does cost money to attend.