University of Alaska Southeast professor <span style="text-decoration: underline;">X</span>’unei Lance Twitchell filled in for the Evening at Egan presentation about “Molly of Denali” Friday, Nov. 30. He introduced the crowd at UAS’s Egan Library to the show’s characters, including Molly’s dog, Suki. (Ben Hohenstatt | Capital City Weekly)

University of Alaska Southeast professor X’unei Lance Twitchell filled in for the Evening at Egan presentation about “Molly of Denali” Friday, Nov. 30. He introduced the crowd at UAS’s Egan Library to the show’s characters, including Molly’s dog, Suki. (Ben Hohenstatt | Capital City Weekly)

Good golly, meet ‘Molly of Denali’

Alaska Natives on screen and behind the scenes of new program

If Kennedy Miller is any indication, “Molly of Denali” will have an audience.

The 9-year-old girl was in the audience for a presentation about the upcoming PBS cartoon that featured a preview of an episode of the show, held Friday in Juneau as part of the University of Alaska Southeast’s Evening at Egan Lecture Series.

“I really like it,” Miller said.

At 9, she’s a bit older than the show’s intended 4-8-year-old audience, but Miller said she would still like to watch the show and could not think of other kids shows set in Alaska.

X’unei Lance Twitchell, University of Alaska professor and language/culture consultant and writer for “Molly of Denali,” said there definitely aren’t many shows with a protagonist like Molly.

“It means a lot,” Twitchell said. “The main character is an Alaska Native female.”

The presentation about the animated show, which is expected to premiere summer of 2019, was the focus of the last Egan lecture of Alaska Native Heritage Month.

Twitchell delivered the lecture instead of the show’s creative producer Princess Daazhraii Johnson, who was unable to fly out of Fairbanks because of delays caused by the earthquakes that rocked Anchorage on Friday.

“Molly of Denali” not only features Alaska Native characters on screen, but involves Native voice actors, writers and more.

Twitchell said it adheres to the “nothing about us without us,” idea.

The narrative sovereignty allowed Alaska Native creators to decide how their cultures and values would be depicted. Over the years, that often has not been the case, which has led to misguided or outright racist depictions of indigenous people.

“How many shows feature Alaska Native characters?” Twitchell said. “As I raise my kids, I’ll go ‘Oh, we used to watch this all the time,’ and it will end, and I’ll say, ‘We’re never watching this again.’”

As an example, he played a snippet of Disney’s “Peter Pan,” and as a counterpoint he shared a few work-in-progress segments of “Molly of Denali.”

While audience members were barred from filming the sneak peek or discussing plot particulars too closely, the show introduced a diverse cast of young characters, including the 10-year-old title character, who lives above a trading post, and her multicultural friends and their relatives.

“My goals are to entertain and put diversity on the screen in an authentic way,” Twitchell said.

The show moved quickly and exposition and morals were dispensed during kinetic adventures. The show’s young characters showed resourcefulness and tenacity in solving problems, but had no qualms about turning to adults for help.

Twitchell said some of the values the show intends to extol are sharing with others, honoring elders, seeing connections and more.

“Molly of Denali” also addressed some sensitive issues related to the historical mistreatment of Alaska Natives that left Kolene James, audience member and coordinator for the Native and Rural Student Center for UAS, emotional.

She commended the show for tackling weighty topics as well as providing characters with whom Alaska Native children will identify.

“Being a parent of three beautiful children, to see someone who looks like them is pretty amazing,” James said.


• Contact arts and culture reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com.


“Molly of Denali,” an animated show about an Alaska Native girl, her friends and family is expected to debut this summer. University of Alaska Southeast professor <span style="text-decoration: underline;">X</span>’unei Lance Twitchell started out as a language and culture consultant for the show but more recently has taken on a writing role. (Contributed Photo | (c) 2018 WGBH Educational Foundation)

“Molly of Denali,” an animated show about an Alaska Native girl, her friends and family is expected to debut this summer. University of Alaska Southeast professor X’unei Lance Twitchell started out as a language and culture consultant for the show but more recently has taken on a writing role. (Contributed Photo | (c) 2018 WGBH Educational Foundation)

University of Alaska Southeast professor <span style="text-decoration: underline;">X</span>’unei Lance Twitchell filled in for the Evening at Egan presentation about “Molly of Denali” Friday, Nov. 30. Twitchell has had a hand in the program expected to premiere in the summer of 2019 as a consultant and writer. (Ben Hohenstatt | Capital City Weekly)

University of Alaska Southeast professor X’unei Lance Twitchell filled in for the Evening at Egan presentation about “Molly of Denali” Friday, Nov. 30. Twitchell has had a hand in the program expected to premiere in the summer of 2019 as a consultant and writer. (Ben Hohenstatt | Capital City Weekly)

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