Nick Jr.’s Nella the Princess Knight Captures the Zeitgeist of Diverse America

Not all super heroes wear capes—some wear sparkly ball gowns.

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Nella rides into town with a message of self-empowerment. Photo courtesy of Nickelodeon.

Nella, the titular character in Nick Jr.’s Nella the Princess Knight is shattering princess norms.

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This biracial princess knight slays gender norms. Photo courtesy of Nickelodeon.

Equal parts glam, girly-girl and brave warrior, Nella lives in a castle and gossips with her pet unicorn about fashion—yet she’s not afraid to get her pink gloves dirty when trouble arises.

Nella grabs her glittering sword and dons pastel armor, embarking on treacherous quests to save her kingdom.

Oh, and she’s biracial.

Since the show premiered earlier this month, Nella’s attracted legions of fans (besides Nick Jr.’s target audience of preschoolers).

Nella is a hero. Not just for the citizens of her fictional village, but for parents, journalists, television critics, African-American bloggers, college students, women’s studies professors, and child media advocacy groups.

According to People, “[Nella] stands for everything our world needs.”

Here’s why.

Nella is Nickelodeon’s first foray into princess politics.

In a teaser trailer for the show, a voice-over describes Nella as, “A picture-perfect princess.”

Nella is quick to respond. “But that’s only part of my story,” she says.

Princesses of cartoon yesteryear were typically slender, white, and waiting for Prince Charming. These archetypal royals laid the groundwork for what is now known as princess culture.

Princess culture is a phenomenon which, experts say, encourages young girls to become submissive and obsessed with physical beauty. Princess culture is problematic. It’s also trite.

“It’s amazing to see a huge institution like Nickelodeon really embrace girl power and diversity.”

Hello Giggles contributor Trilby Beresford

Nina Hahn, senior vice president of international production and development at Nickelodeon, describes the process behind making Nick’s first princess character unlike any other.

“We had to think about what would make a Nickelodeon princess unique,” said Hahn in an interview with The Huffington Post. “What became crystal clear in the development process is that Nella didn’t have to be a princess or a knight ― she could be both.”

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Nella the Princess Knight is Nickelodeon’s first princess character. Photo courtesy of Nickelodeon.

 

Nella’s world is pure fantasy, but she looks just like an average American kid.

In an interview with People, Nickelodeon Group President Cyma Zarghami explained the importance of making Nella realistic.

“I think that we are telling authentic stories about real kids and real families — even though they’re animated and fantasy-based,” said Zarghami.

Nickelodeon’s statement on racial identity is backed up by statistics.

According to The New York Times, Nickelodeon research predicts most children under 12 will be nonwhite by 2020.” Currently, 17 percent of children are biracial.

For children growing up in this diverse world, Nella looks just like one of their peers.

“To [adults], it looks like we’re doing something cutting-edge and innovative,” explained Zarghami in an interview with Essence, referring to portraying a biracial princess on a kids show. “To the audience it’s like, ‘That’s what they’re supposed to look like.’”

Parents love Nella.

Fatherly called Nella the Princess Knight one of the best new kids shows for February.

ScaryMommy.com author Sa’iyda Shabazz believes the show can appeal to parents who are hesitant to let their daughters become obsessed with princess culture.

“It’s easy to tell our children not to put themselves in a box, but then we do it anyway by trying to guide them away from princesses,” wrote Shabazz. “Hopefully, Nella will appeal to those parents too. Yes, she may ride on a horse with a pink mane and a bow on its tail, but she does so in a full suit of armor with a sword and a shield.”

In fact, quite a few adults are jealous of their kids’ new role model.

“Nickelodeon’s new princess Nella is seriously so badass,” writes Hello Giggles contributor Trilby Beresford. “Where was she when we were kids?”

But Nella the Princess Knight is about diversity and inclusion. Beresford may be an adult, but she’s not going to let that stop her from watching Nella’s kickass adventures on Nick Jr.

“It’s amazing to see a huge institution like Nickelodeon really embrace girl power and diversity.”

Overall, Nella reminds kids that they’re not defined by their physical appearance, but their imagination and self-confidence.

Watch Nella the Princess Knight Mondays at 10 a.m. on Nick Jr. Visit the website for Nella the Princess Knight activities, episodes and more.

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