Rumors always spread like wildfire in the American Girl community. We are an enthusiastic group of fans. Our latest rumor comes from (basically) the confirmation that the newest American Girl Beforever character, “Beforever” being the name of the historical line of dolls from American Girl, would be an African American girl and that she is due to come out in 2016.
This is all exciting news considering that this year Maryellen Larkin, an enthusiastic girl from the 1950s, has joined the American Girl Beforever group of characters.
Two American Girls within two years? That’s quite a treat considering American Girl dolls are very challenging to produce. American Girl has many lines of dolls. They have the Beforever line of dolls that teach girls about history, a contemporary line of dolls, and the Bitty Baby line that favors younger children. Of all of their lines, the Beforever line is the most challenging to create. First, market research must be done to understand how they can appeal the doll to modern girls. Second, they have to find a time in history that is important for teaching and relating to girls today. Then they have to research the time thoroughly while still observing children because the history will be told from a child’s perspective. Lastly, they have to create authentic clothing and accessories that realistically fit a 9 to 10 year old girl (Though I can honestly say lately they’ve been slipping on that. Julie in platform shoes?).
But American Girl has somehow managed to work on two girls at once. They probably got a lot of practice creating those Best Friend dolls over the years (for those of you who don’t know, the “Best Friend” dolls were dolls that were the friends of the lead American Girl characters in their stories and usually accompanied the lead character in the collection). Now, fans don’t have to wait anxiously for the next new Beforever character. It’s exciting news!
Well, since the African American girl is basically confirmed, many have been wondering what time period she could possibly be from. Many speculate that she will be from Detroit in the 1960s. This coincides with the heavy demand for a girl who has experienced the Civil Rights era. With all of the current racial tension being the focus, many people feel that now would be the best time to release a character that touches on controversial issues such as race. This would make the character powerful for now.
But many also are still hoping for that 1920s Harlem Renaissance character, too.
I can honestly say that I’m stuck. I feel that if either comes out, I will be happy and disappointed. I truly can’t decide which time period would be more interesting for African Americans. And honestly, the sad part is, I don’t think American Girl would release an African American character for both time periods, though that would be ideal. So to give in to one time is to lose something precious historically from another. And the chances that they would cover an era twice (with a white girl and black girl representing these periods in history) is just weird and time-consuming…Might as well cover the era once…
As an African American, I feel both times may do many different things for the brand, but what each period does for African American girls will be different. What do I mean by that, you ask?
Let’s look at the 1960s, the most popular rumor.
People have made many interesting points about the 1960s girl being interesting. I’ve always been in favor of the 1960s prior to Maryellen’s release.
The 1960s is a very popular modern era. It relates more to modern African Americans than does the Harlem Renaissance.
The 20th Century is a big deal with children and adults alike. The possibilities for those “stereotyped” fashions are endless. When thinking of Maryellen, for example, people focused on a poodle skirt. Realistically, not every girl flounced around in a poodle skirt all the time and listened to a jukebox. These are stereotypes. But they did exist.
Likely with the 1960’s girl, many people are probably looking forward to fashions that may reflect more of a teenager’s look rather than a kid’s look. I’ve heard some people say they hope her hairstyle looks like something from the Supremes…Like a 9 to 10 year old girl would look like that in REAL life…
So people are not very realistic with their hopes and dreams regarding American Girl’s Beforever, but that doesn’t stop people from wanting American Girl to touch on a moment in history that strongly relates to the parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents of today.
The 1960s were an interesting cultural time for African Americans as well. The “Motown” era emerged when an all-black label helped transcend racial boundaries by producing artists that appealed to those outside of the black community. We have the birth of funk (James Brown, “say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud”). Talking about hippies? The sixties was the true era for that. The afro and all the colorful clothing marked the generation. Of course, we’re thinking about a child’s perspective here. The most she may have is an afro, and I’m inclined to believe she’ll have braids in her hair with hair ribbons.
Last, but not least, the 1960s were known to be a transforming period for African Americans because the Civil Rights Movement sought to equalize people of the minority group with white citizens, and many African American political and social leaders rose from this movement. It was an empowering time for African Americans and influenced many people throughout the nation and around the world. The efforts of African Americans/Black people in this period showed great accomplishment, intelligence, courage, and strength when it came to their use of the justice system during this period. It’s very American.
It also relates to modern African American children, who mostly understand their history through the Civil Rights movement and 1960s music.
People of other nationalities were also greatly affected by the Civil Rights movement. Desegregation moved black children into white schools, changing the environments that they were used to. Much prejudice had to be overcome in order to help this transition work. People of other backgrounds, such as the Native Americans, saw this movement as inspirational for their own Civil Rights movements.
Still, it’s obvious that the Civil Rights Movement mostly impacted African Americans, so it’s fitting for the newest Beforever character.
The 1960s weren’t all about Civil Rights and funk. The Beatles rock era and Bob Dylan/Joan Baez’s folk music influenced the sixties hippies as well. There are a lot of exciting things to get into regarding this era.
The downside to this era is that, when dealing with African Americans, this era focuses on the negative side of being black in America. It heavily brings out the same problems Addy had: racial oppression. Again, the story focuses on black people being held back versus prospering and inventing. It doesn’t show how African Americans influenced all of American culture. Instead, it shows how racial tension and oppression influenced black people. This is the strength I’ve found with covering the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s. The history is more positive in that era.
The content may also be controversial. This may scare away certain ethnic backgrounds and the sales of the collection may suffer for it.
I also don’t like that the doll is being released so close to Maryellen, the white character who is just 10 years prior to 1965 (assuming that’s where the era would begin if the new girl is from the 1960s). We saw how promoting two girls of different ethnic backgrounds can be when they are from the same time when it came to Marie-Grace and Cecile. Though Maryellen and the new girl wouldn’t be from the same time, they are near one another in very popular moments in history. Having the two girls fight for the spotlight can be rough when it comes to marketing.
The 1920s shows the elevation of black people and focuses on the positive side of African American history.
If you want to know the truth, there isn’t any 1960s without the 1920s. The 1920s were the first time, since the Civil War, black people were able to receive an education, find opportunities to prosper, and grow into the modern African Americans we know today. Know any Black people who live in Harlem, Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans, or Los Angeles? You can thank the Harlem Renaissance. Many African Americans lived in the South prior to the 1920s. Big cities began sprouting upward. Schools, libraries, office buildings, and parks sprouted up all over the big cities in the nation. African Americans moved into the inner city areas which were becoming more affordable for living. With all the modern technology came a social-cultural explosion in music, art, and literature.
In Harlem and other northern cities, many African Americans saw the benefits of their freedom. Many black people owned their own businesses in the North. There were black-owned stores, black-owned libraries, and even schools.
The libraries were the biggest contribution to the black community. Education laws made school mandatory and African Americans benefited from having access to free books to help them study. They began to learn about the laws in America and began taking steps toward “civil rights” through organizations like the NAACP. The rise in education helped give rise to many poets and even to great literature.
One of the biggest parts of the 1920s was music, even outside of black communities. The 1920s were often coined around the world as the Jazz Age. Guess where Jazz originated? In the African American community! Many people do not give credit to African Americans for this fun, modern music that made the 1920s glamorous. But without African Americans, Jazz music wouldn’t have made the 1920s as “roaring” as it became.
The 1920s didn’t just affect African Americans or Americans at that. Big cities around the world, such as Berlin, Paris, and London caught on to the modernized lifestyle. This is why a 1920s girl would be more appealing to others than a 1960s doll. Many African American dolls don’t sell as well as the white dolls. A lot has to do with the fact that most of the African American dolls lack “glamor”. The 1920s were such an exciting moment in history, it would really make African Americans look good. I’m sure the fashion choices would be lovely, though, maybe for a young girl, not too different from Rebecca.
Sure, most people know about Prohibition, flappers, and gangsters, but from a 9 to 10 year old perspective, they wouldn’t have been involved too heavily with these things. Still, the flappers showed that attitudes about “proper” behavior were loosening, especially regarding women. Even the men loosened up.
Home decor became a thing in the 1920s as well. Automobiles started replacing carriages. And the radio stepped into people’s lives.
Women were able to vote for the first time. Imagine how this influenced the modern black woman!
People also began focusing on celebrities and sports stars for the first time. Movie theaters and sports stadiums brought attention to talented individuals in these fields. All-black teams were created, which greatly influences the black community to this day!
Certainly the 1920s can relate to anyone of any background. Because of this, I think that a black girl in this time won’t just be looked at as “the black girl” who fights “racism”. She will be looked at as the American girl, the girl that can relate to any girl no matter their background.
While I know American Girl will only choose one of the two eras for next year, I still hope both eras are eventually represented by African American characters. I often doubt that American Girl is that open-minded and I often get the feeling that, in the future, the 1920s will be represented by a white girl. I would be sorely disappointed if I find a white girl dancing to Jazz without proper respect to the African Americans who brushed in the genre.
From the rumors, it looks like the new American Girl may be from the 1960s, which is really great. But I hope they don’t get rid of Addy because her story touches on racism. There are hardly any 19th century girls as it is. Josefina and Addy are the only two. I also hope that this doesn’t stop them from making an African American character from the 1920s. After all, there are many white dolls from many different times. Why not have many black dolls if they are more suitable to a time period? Anyway…
Which era in African American history would you like to hear? What are your hopes for the newest African American character and any future dolls?
Leave a comment in the comments’ section and let me know what you think!