When Penny Proud, The Proud Family, and her whole crew hit the scene in the 2001 Disney television series, it was a hit.
Long before Farquhar and Smith inked their exclusive overall deal with Disney to revive The Proud Family and continue to build out their lane for diverse, meaningful stories, they were both struck by inspiration to become professional creatives in Hollywood.
In March 2021, Zuri Ward at Blavity published an article detailing the history of Black cartoons on television.
When I spoke with Oscar-winner and The Proud Family creator Bruce Smith, he told a story about how he enjoyed Black animated characters like the ones on Zuri Ward’s list, yet he rarely saw Black cartoonists or creators.
Legendary executive producer of the The Proud Family, Ralph Farquhar was a struggling actor who realized there were no roles that he wanted to play that were available to him.
When The Proud Family franchise launched as an animated television series on the Disney Channel in 2001, the show joined the ranks of other animated after-school series such as Recess, Braceface, and Totally Spies!; however, it is the only one among the group that centers on a Black family or includes more than one Black character.
2. For teaching me that every family needs a thumpin' theme song like The Proud Family.
The contemporary version of the theme song is performed by recording artist Joyce Wrice who sings the original lyrics but switches up the R&B melody to complement the heavy-hitting hip-hop mix.
The Proud Family's skillful use of melodic music is also seen throughout the series with musical numbers that further express the artistic elegance and fantastical wonder of the show's universe.
The Proud Family Fact: Beyoncé and Solange's mother, Tina Lawson, makes her voiceover debut on The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder.
The show’s protagonist, Penny Proud, is voiced by Kyla Pratt. Penny is a goodie-two-shoes who isn’t completely a square.
Penny’s best friend Dijonay Jones is voiced by Karen Malina White who brings the spice that is very befitting of the firecracker of a character.
Penny’s arch-nemesis and forever rival LaCienega Boulevardez is Dijonay’s other best friend. LaCienega is voiced by Alisa Reyes, giving life to the girl who sees herself as confident and stylish.
The fourth homegirl to round out this friend group is Zoey Howzer — voiced by Soleil Moon Frye — who plays the peacekeeper with a bit of bite.
Tommy Davidson as Oscar Proud is a father who lights up when he can help solve his daughter’s problems and when Trudy receives his love.
Paula Jai Parker’s Trudy is tender and feminine, which works well for the character because she is the Penny-whisperer when it comes to boys, since that’s a touchy topic for Oscar.
Suga Mama is Penny's grandmother and Oscar's mother. She is voiced by Jo Marie Payton, who gives the character the real kick of a white-haired woman who has lost her filter and has no time for nonsense.
4. To navigate drama in friendships, be forgiving, and keep loving.
Then, when Penny is handing out party invitations at school with the help of Dijonay, her bff is busy being stingy with the invites and doesn’t want to extend one to Zoey.
Dijonay insists invitations are for “cool people only,” which sends Zoey into a speech about meaninglessly excluding people. Zoey’s tune changes as she joins her friends in hiding the invites when the Gross Sisters — school bullies — roll up and want in whatever is going on. By the time LaCienaga arrives on the scene, Penny’s command for Dijonay, Zoey, and their homeboy Sticky to hide invites is met with immediate reception. However, LaCienaga is already aware of Penny’s party, no doubt thanks to Dijonay’s affinity for gossip. That’s when LaCienaga announces that she can’t make Penny’s party because she has plans — hosting her own party on the same night.
On the night of the party, Dijonay rings Penny’s doorbell to see if her mom can park in the driveway, then she scurries away with the rest of Penny’s friends across the street to LaCienega’s party, which has fireworks.
This episode features a guest star appearance from Lou Rawls who performs a musical number scene with Kyla Pratt’s Penny Proud in an effort to cheer her up.
5. The art of balancing the delicate relationship dynamics between parents and a grandparent.
This is how Suga Mama typically brings Penny into some sort of ridiculous scenario.
There is something about Suga Mama’s energy that inspires these mini-adventures when Penny’s obedience to her grandmother's requests put her in situations where she has no idea what to do. The sound effects of boings and dramatic music tells the audience that Penny is in a real pickle whenever she’s dealing with Suga Mama. Luckily for Penny, these hijinks are perfect for her social media channel.
Later, when Penny’s Holla'gram — a fantasy Instagram — is poppin’, she receives tons of promotional gifts from businesses that invest in her influencer enterprise.
When modeling some tight jeans on the stairs, she tells her followers that she calls the pants the “Got It from My Suga Mama Jeans,” which sends Oscar into a tizzy. In true granddaughter form, Penny relies on Suga Mama as a shield against her parents’ meddling to further her own goals.
Things change up when Penny’s parents find out she’s been late to school every week, and Suga Mama rips Penny a new one before grounding her.
6. Everyone has a story worth telling, and we all heal when it is safe to be who we truly are.
It is by design that The Proud Family includes such a diverse set of artists across cast and crew. Creators Bruce Smith and Ralph Farquhar want it that way.
E.J. found himself pushing boundaries to create some independence while expressing who he truly is.
7. To create artistically-forward animation, create diverse, eclectic teams.
Tara Whitaker directed the “Bad Influence(r)” episode where Penny goes up against Makeup boy in a battle for the best influencer as part of her campaign to prove to her friends that they are silly for being so into makeup.
Kylee Evans wrote the episode "Raging Bully" where LaCienaga celebrates her quinceañera which is obvs a big deal.
When the ladies visit the salon with Suga Mama to get glammed up, they run into Tina who is voiced by Tina Knowles.
Ms. Knowles plays a diva which is an easy role for her voice to drop in on as Evans' writing kicks up the conflict when LaCienaga's choices clash with her cousin La Brea's suggestions. Later the conflict kicks higher when Sunset and Melrose go back and forth on everything including how many layers they can add to a cake which clearly represents a status symbol for the women. Sunset is so inspired by her tiff with her sister that she changes the theme of the quinceañera to "Diamonds are Forever" 💎. This shows watchers where LaCienaga gets her one-upper spirit from.
The episode features a lot of drama around LaCienaga and La Brea's relationship including when La Brea attaches rockets to her cousin's back then LaCienaga finds herself hilariously hanging by her hair from Suga Mama's dentures at Oscar's amusement park. By the end of the scene, the cousins confess their secrets and forgive each other which ultimately brings the whole family together again.
Calvin Brown Jr. penned the episode "It All Started with an Orange Basketball" where Penny gets roped into a game by her father.
In the second act, Oscar’s desperation leads him to name Penny the new starting point guard on his team, and she isn’t happy about it.
Though Penny is a hooper, she is focused on a young gentleman named Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Brown who isn’t interested in basketball. The drama builds up to a scene where Kareem is waiting on Penny at her house while she’s dominating on the court in her dad’s game. The writing draws a conflict between Penny’s loyalty to her father and her loyalty to her heart’s desires. It forces Penny to take stock of her priorities and make choices about what is most important to her.
In the third act, Oscar loses it on Penny when she isn’t performing well in the game. Penny stands up to Oscar by declaring that none of this was her idea. What follows next is a lesson in young love for Penny and an ego check for Oscar.
Tiffany Thomas wrote two episodes of Louder and Prouder, including one called “Home School” where Penny inadvertently gets her homeless teacher fired.
Penny and Ms. Hill continue to trade blows at school as Ms. Hill’s little bit of sanity left disappears.
When Penny brings Ms. Hill home for dinner, she drops a bomb on her parents, and Oscar Proud freaks out accordingly. At dinner with the family, Suga Mama reveals a secret about Ms. Hill that stuns Penny. The writing in this episode features tons of monologues from Ms. Hill, who is deeply judgmental of everything and everyone. Her solution is always to assign homework. It is fantastically comical and had me on the floor in tears.
In addition to writing credits, The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder writer Tiffany Thomas has also racked up acting credits on series such as Real Husbands of Hollywood and The Boondocks.