Disclosure: I received promotional consideration for reviewing this American Girl video. All opinions are my own.
As a young Chinese-American girl, I never saw other girls who looked like me on television. In fact, it was rare to see any Asian actor in media. I had no Asian role models in a public sphere to look up to. Eventually there were athletes Kristi Yamaguchi, Michael Chang, Michelle Kwan, actress Ming-Na Wen and news anchor Connie Chung — but they all came later in my life and were not kids. I would have loved to see representation of a like-aged and like-cultured girl in media. Not just a side-kick (a token diverse character), but an actual protagonist.
Fortunately, my daughter has that opportunity. On Friday, June 9, Amazon Studios is releasing an Amazon Original Special An American Girl Story: Summer Camp, Friends for Life starring a Korean-American protagonist. The special is set to launch on Prime Video in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, and Austria. This launch comes on the heels of Amazon Studios’ most recent American Girl release: Ivy & Julie 1976: A Happy Balance, which features a Chinese-American main character.
In An American Girl Story: Summer Camp, Friends for Life, Korean-American girl Z (Zoe Manarel, The Nightingale) and her friend Paz (Alison Fernandez, Logan) enter a S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) camp. To their surprise, the administrator restricts usage of the campers’ electronic devices and instead encourages them to enjoy nature and each other. The girls dread what they perceive will be a boring summer. A mystifying, inspiring camp “counselor” named Jordan (Monique Green, Marriage of Lies) changes all of this by sending them on a curious adventure. The girls — along with new friend Drew (Lauren Donzis, Liv and Maddie) — collaborate to solve a mystery. Directed by Alison McDonald (An American Girl Story – Melody 1963: Love Has to Win), the special also features Camryn Manheim (Extant).
An American Girl Story: Summer Camp, Friends for Life (Official Trailer) | Amazon Kids
I appreciate that the story features an empowering S.T.E.A.M. camp for girls. It could have easily fallen into stereotypes by placing the girls in a cheerleading or singing camp. Or the story could have chosen to perpetuate Asian stereotypes by designating Z as a math kid. Instead, Z wishes to pursue filmmaking. That being said, the special did not really delve into her filmmaking interests. It focuses mainly on science for the girls’ adventure. I would have liked to seen the filmmaking aspect flushed out a bit more so that it would be an integral part of her persona rather than a side note. I do give the show credit for its diverse cast, which reflects America today.
My daughter enjoyed watching the movie. She especially liked the use of science to find clues and resolve the mystery. I asked her what she thought of the main character. She answered, “Z looks kind of like me but older. She seems really nice and smart. I like her.”
To compliment the special, American Girl is bringing Z (short for Suzie) to life as an 18-inch dolls. The retailer is also offering outfits and accessories, like Z’s dog, scooter, camera, smartphone, and tripod. Find the Z doll on Amazon , American Girl retail stores, or at americangirl.com.
An American Girl Story: Summer Camp, Friends for Life is available for Prime members to stream using the Amazon Prime Video app for TVs, connected devices including Amazon Fire TV, and mobile devices, or online at www.amazon.com/originals at no additional cost to their membership starting on June 9, 2017. Customers who are not already a Prime member can sign up for a free trial at www.amazon.com/prime. For a list of all Amazon Video compatible devices, visit www.amazon.com/howtostream.
Images courtesy of Amazon Studios/American Girl