Let’s Talk about Audrey Antelope
March 9 2020
Disability on screen has been a rarity for far too long. Elizabeth Wright talks about Audrey Antelope and why she is so important to her.
Let’s talk about Audrey Antelope. She is a character on the Genius Brand’s International show for Netflix, “Llama Llama” and represents all that is good about disability on screen.
A character like me
To say I nearly screamed the house down in excitement is an understatement. People asked me why am I so enthusiastic about a children’s show? Especially as I’m a grown woman and have no kids of my own. Well, I am so enthusiastic because of one particular character called Audrey.
So who is Audrey? Audrey is a character on Llama Llama that has a very visible disability called limb difference. She wears a prosthetic leg. She is active, happy, and fully engaged with life. And she is blowing bad representation of disability out of the water.
Audrey is the disability representation I wanted to see when I was a kid in the eighties.
Representation is so important
The tv shows I grew up watching had little to no disabled characters to speak of. Round the Twist, Alf, The Wonder Years, and Who’s the Boss were my watching vibes. In these shows no-one represented me, there was no disability on screen. The closest I ever got to seeing someone like me, really, was Inspector Gadget, with his extendable arms and legs. Or Captain Hook from Peter Pan, with his snarly attitude and metal hook.
But I didn’t want to be Inspector Gadget or Captain Hook. I wanted to be me and see me in the shows that I watched. You can read more about my comparisons to Captain Hook and my newfound love for Audrey in my blog Why You Need to Know Audrey from Netflix’s “Llama Llama.”
The blog was an opportunity for me to express why Audrey is needed and the affect she has had on my inner child. This blog also brought me the opportunity to interview Jane Startz, who is one of the creators and producers of Llama Llama on Netflix. To talk about Audrey with Jane was insightful, magical, and filled me with such hope for the future of children’s television and movies.
Disability representation is crucial if we are to tackle the stereotypes and negative narratives that still exist in the world today. And with people like Jane as an ally, I think this will change quicker than we can imagine.
So what did Jane have to say?
Initially we started off discussing Llama Llama and how it was translated from the Llama Llama books by Anna Dewdney. Jane’s fellow executive producer, Reed Duncan, was married to Anna, and he had a special reason to want to see the Netflix show made. Jane told me that Anna, who was a close friend of hers, passed away when the series started. Reed, as the keeper of the flame, wanted to bring the characters from the book to life, as a fitting continuation of Anna’s legacy.
A heavy-hearted start to the show, Jane spoke of the love and dedication to honouring Anna’s memory. Each character was crafted from the books with care, to ensure that the show was as close as possible to Anna’s vision. This includes the introduction of the character of Audrey. Jane comments that Anna would’ve felt Audrey was a perfect fit. Just a Anna was a kickass lady, so is the character of Audrey.
Audrey was created by the team from Llama Llama, including head writer Joe Purdy, for two reasons. Firstly, in creating a legacy for Anna, the team wanted a new character that Anna would’ve loved. Secondly, Jane mentioned the drive Netflix has to bring more disabled characters into their shows. This direction Netflix are taking is apparent in shows such as The Healing Powers of Dude, Atypical, and Raising Dion. So it seemed only natural that Llama Llama would contribute to the widening representation of the disabled people in media and pop culture.
Creating a disabled character
So how was Audrey created?
I wanted to understand how the team came to the decision of having Audrey be disabled in some way. Jane ruminated on the fact that they wanted a character who was diverse, and complex. A character that would, whilst fitting in with the other characters, would challenge people’s thinking about difference and disability. Noting that children intuitively know how to be inclusive, Jane wanted to make Audrey “kid truthful.”
I like that term, “kid truthful,” and Jane is right about children being role models for inclusion. When I visit schools to talk to children about disability it is children that see my difference and embrace it. All they want to know is why I don’t swim round and round in circles when I am in the swimming pool and learn how to tie their shoelaces one handed the way that I do.
I think the “kid truthfulness” is why Llama Llama has been so successful with children and families. There is no masking or hiding of diversity in Llama Llama. In fact it is a celebration of difference and inclusion. By acknowledging that all children are different, children inevitably will see themselves in the show, and in doing so they learn that they are important and belong.
Jane pointed out that one of the main characters has a disability, Euclid, who exhibits behaviours that would indicate he has Asperger’s. Euclid is sweet, studious, and quiet, and as a part of the friendship group as Llama Llama, Luna, and Nelly. On that note it is worth noting as well that Llama Llama himself comes from a single parent family. Diversity and difference in a variety of ways is important to the story of Llama Llama, and therefore Audrey seems a natural fit to the narrative.
How does Audrey having a disability impact the storyline?
Though Audrey isn’t a major character, her introduction on the show is an important one. Audrey’s story is informed by her limb difference, but it isn’t defined by it. In the episode Audrey is introduced you see her through Llama Llama’s eyes and at first he is surprised by Audrey’s missing limbs and prosthetic leg. Audrey, however, acknowledges and explains her disability, before driving forward to talk about the benefits of her prosthetic leg— it is really springy so it helps her jump higher when playing basketball.
So there we are, introduced to Audrey, as a whole, fully formed, multidimensional character. Yes she is limb different, but she is also sporty, friendly, excited to meet new people, and eager to make friends with Llama Llama.
In Jane’s words “Audrey is spunky.” And she is, incredibly spunky, her disability isn’t a tragedy, it doesn’t slow her down, she doesn’t want pity, Audrey just wants to joyfully get on with life. Her disability is simply one aspect of her, just as she is a girl and an antelope. They are all parts of her, but not one aspect defines who she is or what she can do.
Disabled and kickass!
What is particularly lovely with Audrey is that she is just plain interesting. I was curious where they got the idea for Audrey to have such a wide range of hobbies and interests. Jane said, whilst they didn’t speak to any limb different children about their hobbies, they felt that that didn’t matter— why shouldn’t Audrey play basketball and soccer, why shouldn’t she ride a bike and a scooter, why shouldn’t she be a cool, kickass drummer?
And I agree, why shouldn’t she? My limb difference looks almost exactly the same as Audrey and I was a swimmer (Paralympic level don’t you know?), I played netball and cricket at school, I love doing craft, i.e., knitting, cross-stitching, etc, and I am learning how to play the piano.
And anyone who says a one armed drummer isn’t possible hasn’t heard of the band Def Leppard and their one armed drummer Rick Allen.
Disability on screen is too often shown as a setback, an oppressive condition that stops you doing or achieving anything in life. This is a frankly rubbish view. And it is brilliant that Audrey and Llama Llama are challenging these views around disability. As evidenced by two particular words that came up constantly in my discussion with Jane. Spunky and kickass.
Through her kickass-ery, Audrey is a very cool little antelope. This choice of personality for Audrey wasn’t to push a certain image of disability. It was to contrast Audrey with the other characters on the show. To give identity and self definition to characters that reflect all children who watch. Jane specifically spoke about the difference between Audrey and Luna Giraffe. Jane told me that Luna was the real girly girl of the group, she likes pretty things, likes to be a good friend, but also likes to be perfect. Because of this desire to be perfect, Luna can get a little bit anxious; this makes Luna very real and very identifiable for some children. Just as Audrey’s very real disability is just one part of her identity, of her character, so Luna’s perfectionism and anxiety is one part of her character.
I feel very grateful that I got to speak to Jane about Audrey. The insights and depths I now have into the character make watching Audrey and Llama Llama even more rewarding. Jane spoke about her desire and drive to ensure that more diversity is included across pop culture and media, and most especially across television. For Jane, Audrey is a part of her, Reeds and Anna’s contribution to this.
In Jane and the team behind Llama Llama I see a group of disability allies that are wanting to help the disabled community gain equality in representation. But also equality in the wider entertainment world. Jane let slip at the end that the actor who provides Audrey’s voice is a young disabled girl. I laughed down the phone in delight— had they really employed a young disabled actress for the role? Jane affirmed their choice, relating to me that young Mei Onischak was Audrey, perhaps not in terms of having the same disability (Mei’s disability means she uses a wheelchair), but in personality, in vibe, in energy. I’ll be honest I didn’t want to end the phone call with Jane. I was having too much fun and was in too much awe of this lady who’s team was helping to change the face of disability and diversity in children’s media. To watch shows over the years that have included disabled characters, either as the main character or supporting characters, the narrative has always been negative. The “woe is me” trope, quite frankly, gets my goat up. I have wanted to see disabled characters that are real, solid, living life as I and other disabled people do. Jane, Reed, Joe, and the team have succeeded on creating a multitude of characters, Euclid, Luna, Llama Llama, and for me, most especially Audrey, that are diverse, complex, colourful, and shining bright. Here’s to Llama Llama, here’s to the original creator of Llama Llama, Anna Dewedney, and here’s to Audrey, my most favourite, most empathetic, most me character I have ever seen on tv.
About Elizabeth Wright
Elizabeth Wright is a Paralympic Medalist, Writer, Keynote and TEDx Speaker. Her aim is to confront disability stereotypes and tropes, through writing and speaking about lived experience with her disability. You can read more of her writing here. Watch her TEDx here. And you can find her on Twitter, Instagram, and Linkedin.
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