Sprout's (the 24/7 kids channel) Michele Lepe talked to us about the network's new original animated series, “Nina’s World” about a 6-year old Hispanic girl and the multicultural neighborhood she grows up in. Similar to the popular show "Dora the Explorer,” “Nina's World” incorporates English, some Spanish and American Sign Language, to emphasize inclusiveness, as well as the value of communicating across multiple languages and appreciating other cultures. Lepe is the EP of the show and also lends her voice, playing Nina's mom, alongside the legendary screen and stage Hispanic actress Rita Moreno, who plays Nina's 'abuelita'.
We spoke to Michele about TV for kids and what it was like for her growing up and how she teaches her children the importance of embracing their multicultural background.
Latin Times: What is it about children’s shows that you most enjoy?
Michele Lepe: I have a 3 and a 5 year old, so my perspective of kids shows is bit skewed to what is available for that age bracket right now! My daughters love shows that have catchy songs that they can sing along to and of course I love it when there is a positive message being communicated to my kids. Not something that is right in your face, didactic, but rather a show that might make an impression and leave them thinking or inspire them to ask questions. I love shows that encourage kids to use their imagination and spark their curiosity, which is what Sprout is all about. I feel honored to be a part of it.
LT: What was your favorite TV show when you were a little girl?
ML: Without a doubt it was Sesame Street on Saturday mornings! So it’s easy to understand why its a dream come true for me to be on a show [The Good Night Show] with a puppet! Star!
LT: How do you think entertainment has evolved with multicultural shows?
ML: People watch TV and go to the movies for many different reasons, but, as a viewer, if I'm not seeing myself or my community represented, I'm going to feel marginalized, left out, or unimportant. I think the entertainment industry as a whole is coming around to the idea that being more inclusive of different ethnicities and cultures is resulting in more interesting and appealing content. I think that for the evolution to really have a positive impact with audiences, the approach has to be authentic and sincere. The only way that happens is by having the diversity not just on the screen but have it extend to the production team, writers and executives. Slowly, but surely, it’s happening and I’m excited to contribute my part. Sprout is really passionate about educating its viewers on cultural inclusiveness, as well as the value of communicating across multiple languages and appreciating other cultures. Both of my shows on Sprout, "The Good Night Show" and "Nina's World," truly embody this - teaching viewers both Spanish and sign language.
LT: What are the main pillars a good children’s TV show should have?
ML: Like I mentioned earlier, I think a good show will spark a child’s imagination and curiosity. I think it’s important to respect our young audience and remember that they are the leaders of tomorrow. It’s in our best interests to create children’s shows that model empathy and kindness. I also think that when we represent cultural and ethnic diversity it exposes children in a small way to the wider world out there.
LT: Other than the shows, how else do you teach your kids about multicultural backgrounds?
ML: It helps that my own family is diverse culturally and my neighborhood is very diverse! So, we make an effort to make friends in our neighborhood. Through those relationships we learn about different languages, traditions, food, holidays, etc. As a parent, I want my children to grow up feeling comfortable and confident no matter where they live, essentially to be “global citizens”. By exposing them to different cultures at a young age, my kids see fewer and fewer differences and more similarities instead.
LT: What’s it like to work with the legendary Rita Moreno?
ML: Being around Rita Moreno is like getting a Master Class in Life! She is extraordinary, kind, hysterically funny, intelligent, and I just don’t think there are words to describe how much I admire her.