In a segment criticizing a new train engine in the popular children’s show “Thomas and Friends” about character Thomas the Tank Engine and his train pals, NRA spokeswoman and NRATV host conservative commentator Dana Loesch implied that by adding a new character, a train named Nia from Kenya, then that must mean the original Thomas and crew were members of the Ku Klux Klan. The trains are wearing Klan hoods and robes as Loesch mockingly says the show was a “blight on race relations” hence the inclusion of new more ethically diverse characters.
The two-minute segment came near the end of the near-hour-long Sept. 7 showing of Loesch’s “Relentless” on NRATV.
Mattel is debuting two new train characters on “Thomas and Friends” which has over the years added character trains from various countries including Belgium and Brazil. The show has been on the air since 1984 and in its 23rd season has the trains traveling the world.
The new series has 20 episodes and a number of half-hour specials with themes related to traveling and exploring the world. The show is now seen in the U.K. where it originated, the U.S., Australia, Mexico, Brazil and Germany.
According to Animation World Network, the show “has undergone a major refresh that sees iconic blue engine Thomas traveling farther than ever before, taking kids on a journey of wonder and curiosity as he adventures around the world to discover and learn about new countries and cultures.”
“The show has a more contemporary feel, a brand-new theme tune and a refreshed Steam Team to include three girls and three boy engines, and Thomas, ensuring gender equality across the show, increasing global appeal for preschool viewers. This all-new format series will feature faster-paced action, increased humor, new music, new international friends, animals and exciting fantasy elements.”
The NRA’s Loesch however saw the addition of Nia, the train from Kenya, as something else entirely.
“Am I to understand this entire time that Thomas and his trains were white? Because they all have gray faces. How do you bring ethnic diversity? I mean they had to paint, what I guess they thought was some sort of African pattern on the side of Nia’s engine?”
“How do you bring ethnic diversity to a show that literally has no ethnicities …because they’re trains,” she shouts, “they don’t even have skin pigmentation…”
Loesch says “Was there some concern that the show had racist undertones …” and then the character trains Thomas, Henry, the green train and James the red train have Ku Klux Klan hoods and robes superimposed on each.
“I’m looking at this picture and I’m really, really struggling to understand how in the world there isn’t any diversity in any of this,” she scoffs in the segment. “Oh, was it because, I see it. It was the white hoods. And the burning train tracks.”
“Thomas & Friends” or “Thomas The Tank Engine & Friends” or just “Thomas the Tank Engine,” was first broadcast in the U.K. in 1984. It came tot he America as “Shining Time Station” in 1989 and is based on the 42-book series begun in 1945, “The Railway Series,” written by Rev. Wilbert Awdry and Christopher Awdry, his son.The books, first written by Awdry for his son, follow Thomas and his fellow anthropomorphized tank engines and locomotives on an island called Sodor.
Back in October of 2017, Mattel announced the changes including female characters like Nia, “a train engine from Kenya, and Rebecca, a strong-willed, outspoken electric locomotive. Other female characters include an aeroplane from Australia and an Indian train yard controller. The changes are all an effort to modernize the Thomas brand and give it a distinctive international flavor,” it was reported.
Mattel said it did extensive research among the show’s young fans and their parents around the world and consulted the United Nations Organisation for Education, Science and Culture (Unesco) to create an accurate and reverent African character. The train too is authentic: it’s based on an East African Railways engine, the KUR ED1, which ran on the Kenya-Uganda route during the late 1920s, it was reported at the time Mattel made its announcement. And wile Loesch mocks the designs on the Nia train, the colors and patterns are “based on traditional Maasai and Samburu patterns.”
Mattel and show producer Ian McCue said that while they’d added female characters before, “they tend to fall into the background after initial introduction …what we wanted to do here was really bring these two female characters to the forefront.”
So it’s about gender equality as much as it’s about diversity and “global citizens.”
“[Thomas’ new direction and the addition of new, more representative characters] is really about learning about the world and bringing the world into the living room for [young viewers],” Kate Schlomann, vice-president of branding at Mattel was quoted as saying. “Which we haven’t done before.”