Princess Daazhraii Johnson is the creative producer for Molly of Denali, an animated children’s show that follows 10-year-old Molly Mabray, an Alaska Native girl who helps her parents run the Denali Trading Post in the fictional community of Qyah. The show, which is the first nationally distributed children’s series to feature a Native American lead character, received a Peabody Award in 2020.

Can you share with me the quick story of becoming a creative producer on Molly of Denali?

I initially heard of the show when they were looking for a creative producer to come on board at the pilot stage. When I saw what they were trying to do it really resonated deeply with me because I’ve spent a lot of my life thinking about issues of representation. The history between the entertainment industry and indigenous people has not been a good relationship. So I really wanted to work on that and finally have a show that our kids can look at.

I have kids that are now five and nine. When the show premiered, they were four and eight, which is exactly our age range, our audience. I got to see the joy in my sons’ faces as they recognized our lives. And when you see the real, live reactions of indigenous kids seeing themselves portrayed in this positive way, it’s such a finally moment. Like, finally we get to see this. 

What does your role as creative producer encompass?

Part of it is reviewing premises and having discussions at the premise stage. It’s reviewing the scripting process. It’s making sure that we’re engaging as many Alaska Native people as possible at every single level of production. It’s building reciprocal, respectful relationships. It is about helping out with training up Alaska Native voice talent. We have a number of Alaska Native youth now that have been cast in some of the roles in the series. Last year we created a writing fellowship for Alaska Native writers who had never written for children’s education programming before and now those six writers are full time on the show. We are predominately Alaska Native writers on this show now, which is amazing. It’s amazing.

I read that as a teenager you watched Thunderheart and saw a strong Native woman as a female lead for the first time. 

Sheila Tousey [who portrayed Maggie Eagle Bear].

Molly is such a problem solver and go getter. How does it feel for you now to be the one creating that character for all sorts of young viewers across the nation?

I take such joy in it, and I also take it to heart. I feel a sense of responsibility to all the children who are watching this show. Same with all of our production team. All of us feel a sense of responsibility. You know, we never get to a place alone. Our grandparents, our parents, mentors, and other people in our lives guide us and support us. With this production, I can’t tell you how much we really rely on the guidance of our elders. We have two elders on our permanent working group, Adeline [P. Raboff] and Luke [Titus]. Luke said something really beautiful when we were kicking off season one. He said, “Once we tell our stories, our truths, we can start healing from that history, and then we can create the new.” Molly of Denali is a part of creating the new.

Author

Alexander Deedy is the assistant editor and digital content manager for Alaska magazine.

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