"These days, any toy whose sales reach several hundred million dollars, as Doc’s have, is considered significant, given the toy industry’s estimated $22 billion business nationwide. In the past, none of the toys based on Tiana, a recent black Disney princess; Little Bill, a television series starring an African-American boy; or even Michael Jackson in the 1980s have enjoyed such a prosperous shelf life as Doc’s, according to the NPD Group, a market research company.
“This is a different stratosphere,” said Jim Silver, editor in chief of TTPM.com, a website that covers toys.
Mr. Silver, along with parents and analysts, suspects that the key to the “Doc McStuffins” success is the TV character, which appeals to parents and children alike. But social and political changes over the last few decades have also broadened customers’ views.
“I don’t know if this character, 15 or 20 years ago, would have been as successful, because the culture has changed, and attitudes have changed,” Mr. Silver said of Doc. “You go back 20 years ago, and does a black president get elected?”
Margaret Beale Spencer, a professor of comparative human development at the University of Chicago whose research has focused on children, race and identity, said children from all backgrounds derive meaningful lessons from their toys.
“Children’s play is serious business,” Dr. Spencer said. “They are getting ideas about who they are from these objects. There are messages about one’s confidence, one’s sense of self in terms of what I look like and being powerful.”
At the same time, she notes that children of different races or ethnicities do view some toys differently. “When little white girls embrace Doc McStuffins, for them Doc McStuffins is a girl, and Doc McStuffins is powerful,” Dr. Spencer said. “For a little black girl, it may be all of those things, but also that she’s black.””
I love that this is happening, but there is also a message that makes me apprehensive. That diverse representation is only worthy of doing because it makes money.