Disney Junior series ‘Firebuds’ aims to normalize Filipino American characters onscreen

Disney Junior series “Firebuds,” which features a half-Filipino main character, will release an episode highlighting and celebrating Filipino culture.

Set in a fantasy world of talking vehicles, “Firebuds” features Bo, who has a Filipino father and a Jewish mother. The computer-animated series follows Bo’s group of friends, all children of first responders, as they embark on adventures to help their community.

The children's show was created by Craig Gerber, whose son was the inspiration behind the main character’s firetruck sidekick.

“When my youngest son was 3, he was obsessed with fire trucks. He would dress up in a fire chief outfit and carry around a toy fire truck, talking to it like it was his best friend,” Gerber tells NextShark. “It got me thinking how happy he would be if his fire truck came to life — and was a ‘kid’ just like him. They could be ‘vroom-mates’ who go on rescues together in a world where people live, work and play with their talking vehicles. The rest of 'Firebuds' grew from that kernel of an idea, all thanks to my son’s love of fire trucks.”

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Gerber’s cast and creative team include many Filipinos, including writers and directors such as Krystal Banzon and Jules Aguimatang.

Banzon, a queer, first-generation Filipino American, took inspiration from her own Filipino roots. In the show’s upcoming episode “Bayani Cookout,” Banzon touches on Filipino culture, highlighting the intergenerational connection within families as well as respect for one’s elders.

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Bo’s grandfather, Lolo Ben, is inspired by the writer’s own grandfather. The episode will feature a scene in which Bo and Lolo Ben make lumpia, a Filipino version of spring rolls filled with meat and vegetables.

“There were many mornings where I remember him rolling lumpia silently in the kitchen, and even in that silence, we knew he loved us, and we loved him,” Banzon says.

“I wanted to show Bo in that awkward and humorous position as a first-generation Filipino American kid, desiring a connection with his Lolo who was from a different time, culture and place,” she adds. “When Bo and Lolo Ben finally connect in their shared interest, it is a magical and musical moment that I hope portrays what I tell my own children: that we can have a connection with our elders, and how lucky we are to have them with us.”

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Banzon, who is married and has two children, inform the stories in the show through her own family experiences. She previously received a Fulbright Fellowship to study theater in the Philippines before working as an assistant director and dramaturg in New York City.

“As a mother and as a Filipina American, it means so much to me to see a Filipino American on a kids Disney show,” Banzon says. “My children are NicaPinos (half Filipino, half Nicaraguan), and I see the delight on their faces when they recognize their family on-screen. I grew up rarely seeing my own culture mirrored back to me. So, the few times I did see Filipinos in a show or movie, a tiny part inside me cringed, thinking, ‘Oh how strange! Do we belong there?’”

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Through the Disney series, the writer hopes her children will not view Filipino or queer families as strange to see on-screen. As the show features a diverse cast of characters, Banzon believes that there is a responsibility to feature underrepresented voices.

“In kids programming particularly, there is a big, beautiful responsibility to show kids the magnificent diversity of the world. The work is particularly fulfilling when a show represents your culture, and puts effort into being inclusive and representative of the world we live in. There can be a lot of pressure when you are writing to represent a specific culture, so I try to speak from my personal experience as a first-generation Filipina American, hoping that resonates with other Filipinos, as well as our audience at large.”

The “Bayani Cookout” episode will be available to stream on Disney Plus on Nov. 30. It will air on the Disney Channel at 10:30 EST and on Disney Junior at 7 p.m. EST on Dec. 16.

 

All Images via Disney