‘Maya the Bee’ Controversy: A Question of Trust Between Animator and Audience

Every day, parents sit their children down in front of entertainment that presents itself as child-friendly and child-safe — and the majority of it is — but there’s a catch. Not everyone who works on these shows may have children’s best interests in mind.

Recently, “Maya the Bee,” a popular European cartoon offered on Netflix, became the center of a controversy when a mom noticed a very inappropriate drawing of a male body part etched in the background of a scene, and posted about it on Facebook. She wasn’t dreaming or mistaken — it was there.

Here’s the reaction from the studio, as published in The Hollywood Reporter:

“An absolutely inappropriate image has been discovered in a four-second fly-by scene in one episode of the total of 78 episodes of the series,” said production group Studio 100 in a statement on Friday. “The origin of this image obviously results from a very bad joke from one of the 150 artists working on the production.”

And from Netflix (which pulled the episode):

“This is indeed unacceptable to the Studio 100 Group as owner of the brand and all its partners and doesn’t reflect the quality of its work and its values,” the company’s statement continues. “Legal action has already been started. Studio 100 very much regrets this incident and would like to offer its sincere apologies to all Maya the Bee fans. At the same time the company is taking all suitable technical measures to remedy the situation.”

It’s a little hard to imagine the mindset of an artist who would think it was funny to put such an image in a show intended for small children. But, different sorts of people work on these shows, especially animated ones, and they all have their own sensibilities. I remember doing an interview with a producer turning out animated shows for kids on Nickelodeon. He said that he and his fellow 20-something animators basically did the shows primarily to amuse each other, and delighted in slipping in little jokes.

I don’t know that he or his pals did anything like the “Maya the Bee” animation artist (but it wouldn’t surprise me if they did). But this was before the rise of social media, so if they did, it wouldn’t have gotten the immediate response that the parents who took “Maya” to task on social media did.

In a perfect world, parents would pre-screen every bit of TV that their children watch — but we don’t live in a perfect world. We do, however, live in a world saturated with media. While the producers of “Maya the Bee” may not have had any ill intent, things slip through. This might be a good teaching moments for parents to explain how entertainment comes to be, how it’s made up of writers and animators, voice actors and producers, studios and networks.

The more kids know about the process, the less godlike and mysterious it seems, and the more they realize that people who make TV are flawed human beings like the rest of us. In our world today, there’s far too much hero-worship of those in showbiz, rather than a grounded realization that it’s a business like any other.

And if you see something in a show that caters to children that offends you or your values, speak out. Enough parents doing so caught the attention of both the “Maya the Bee” studio and Netflix, and action was taken.

In this highly competitive media environment, viewers matter. Every producer and network knows that people rely heavily on word-of-mouth, often through social media, to choose programming for their children. Never forget the power you have — and don’t be afraid to use it.

As Ronald Reagan used to say, “Trust, but verify.”

Image: Courtesy Netflix

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