Amazon’s first film in a series of specials inspired by the American Girl doll line pulls no punches. In the first two minutes of the film, which focuses on an African American girl living during the 1960s civil rights movement, the following line is stated: “The moon might be a safer place for a black child to grow up in than America.”
That line is spoken by the protagonist’s grandfather, in one of many tough conversations about racial inequality in America. The nearly 50-minute film called “An American Girl Story—Melody 1963: Love Has to Win” is centered around a 10-year-old girl who sees inequality in all directions. That includes police brutality against peaceful African American protesters, young girls being arrested for eating at an all-white lunch counter, and most traumatically the 1963 Birmingham Church Bombing.
The movie—which debuts on Oct. 21 on Amazon’s
Prime Video in the U.S. and U.K.—is surprisingly bold considering the target audience for American Girl dolls and related content is generally between the ages of 8 and 12. In the film, Melody personally experiences many forms of racism—racist classmates, wrongly being accused of stealing a dress at a department store, and seeing a display of white dolls.
Many themes in the film feel especially relevant to what’s happening in America today, in particular the Black Lives Matter movement that has arisen in the wake of dozens of high-profile murders of African Americans by the police.
“We couldn’t imagine it would be as relevant as it is when we took this on,” Tara Sorensen, Head of Kids Programming at Amazon Studios, told Fortune in an interview. “But part of my role in the kids space is telling authentic stories.”
Sorensen says the goal of the American Girl series—four original specials will air through 2017—is to not only tap into the doll’s fan base, but tells stories that can be relevant to a broader base of viewers.
“Our children are seeing this kind of imagery,” Sorensen said, referencing the police brutality that’s generated a slew of national headlines in recent years. “I wanted to make sure that parents and children have a tool for discussions to promote healthy family discussions as they are bombarded with heinous acts of violence across our country.”
Amazon isn’t alone in trying to tackle these stories. The hit family sitcom “Black-ish,” a series that is set in modern times, won praise for tackling police brutality in an episode that aired earlier this year. Both of those programs are geared toward children and their parents. Among adult fare, the FX show “Atlanta” also tackles racism.
The “Melody” film, directed by Tina Mabry and written by Alison McDonald (both African American women), is the latest form of entertainment that the American Girl brand has taken part of since it first launched a television movie back in 2004. American Girl has established a reputation for tackling tough challenges that girls face in different eras—including the American Revolution and slavery—with the hope that they can make those challenges relevant to modern girls. In more recent years, American Girl has been telling contemporary stories as well. That strategy has helped the brand generate close to $600 million in annual sales—making it one of Mattel’s
most significant brands even with high price points for the dolls.
“The story is set in the 1960s but today’s girl can relate to what she’s seeing in the media,” said American Girl President Katy Dickson. She added that young girls today can connect to Melody’s struggle in making sense of the inequalities and injustices around her. The film ends with a hopeful message. “She learns that love and the strength of her family and choosing courage over fear are the things that will sustain her,” Dickson added.