I was really excited to watch the new series Raising Dion on Netflix. Besides personally knowing the little girl who plays a supporting role in the show, I was very pleased that the show cast a character that both has a disability in real life and in the series. Sammi Haney, plays a little girl named Esperanza, who is a friend of the main character, Dion.
The premise of the show is a boy that has the sudden onset of
super-natural abilities, and the complexities of having those "super
powers" as a child learning to navigate them, and how his widowed mother
learns to cope with her child now being a very different
little boy, than the one that she was familiar with. The show
introduces Sammi's character rather early in the series which I was glad
However, my disappointment grew with each additional episode. The story
line was pretty predictable and felt like almost like a copy-cat to
most super natural television these days. The acting from all the
children was strong and their chemistry matched well with each other.
Watching Sammi act was much like knowing her in real life. She's just
naturally this charismatic sweet child, and you can't help but fall in
love with her. She's a child that exudes positive energy and
happiness. If it was dark out she'd literally light it up with her
personality like a glow stick, so I'm not surprised that
she was chosen for this role.
That's part of the reason I'm let down with the series. They had this
huge opportunity to showcase her more, and she became almost hidden in
the background, with what felt like a guest appearance here and there.
The character of Esperanza is depicted as a child that sees herself as
"invisible." Her peers primarily ignore her, in fact even Dion finds her
annoying and through the majority of the series does his best not be
associated in any way with her as if she's an
embarrassment. It isn't until she serves Dion in attempting to
retrieve his asthma inhaler during a crisis at a birthday party that he
even gives the friendship a chance. The show has this precious character
in Esperanza and no one really wants to be her
friend - not even Dion in the beginning.
One of the most redeeming scenes was one with Esperanza and Dion happily
sharing birthday cake in the back seat of her dad's van. I also think
they did a very poor job with the whole accessible vehicle when it came
to how Esperanza was transported around.
There are scenes where an apartment neighbor whom Esperanza's father
doesn't even know or is connected with is instructed to drive the family
van to get her to the birthday party. It was unrealistic that any
parent would hand over an accessible vehicle to
a stranger they didn't know to drive their disabled child anywhere.
Especially without any explanation as to why Esperanza's parents weren't
the ones driving.
The show had a perfect window of opportunity to show out of the gates
that children with disabilities have just as strong of friendships as
those without, and blew it. Instead they made Esperanza a cast out of
sorts, coming on strong wanting Dion desperately
to be her BFF, despite his first rejections of that idea.
The show also took a turn I didn't really love. Instead of focusing on
this great story line with a child with a disability as a supporting
character, they decided to focus on racial profiling, which had nothing
at all to do with the story line. It felt forced
and out of place. As if they threw it in there to support a climate of
intolerance. I didn't love it. And then they took it step further to
imply that if you have felt that you were wrong by a racial feelings,
that revenge was perfectly acceptable as another
character trips the offender in a school hallway as a payback of
sorts. For a Netflix series dealing with a story line involving very
young children that all just missed the mark terribly for me. It really
was an out of place "problem" for the series and
didn't at all fit whatsoever with the point of the theme. The last
thing we should be promoting is a revenge-like thought pattern to a
childhood school injustice.
I kept eagerly awaiting for them to touch upon Sammi's diagnosis, or a
better explanation of why she was in a wheelchair. Sammi Haney has a
Osteogenesis imperfecta (OI), also known as brittle bone
disease. Never once was her diagnosis ever discussed much less
mentioned and Netflix had the perfect window to spread awareness about
the condition and just fell completely flat.
There is a moment when Dion uses his powers to assist
Esperanza with floating and standing as if he wishes to see her walk.
Esperanza gets very hurt by this, and it causes some minor hurt
feelings. Dion reflects on his actions with the help of
his mother's feedback and decides he owes her an apology where he
explains he realizes she is not broken and doesn't need to be fixed.
And while true, those with disabilities don't need to be seen as broken,
in some aspects the condition of OI does cause bones to break more easily.
I'm really hoping there is a season 2 for Raising Dion
because they underutilized the character of Esperanza, and they could
have really done better showcasing a character with a disability.
Raising Dion was highly predictable and the use of the
music theme used in another Netflix series Stranger Things, was a dead
giveaway to the hidden villain. I wouldn't have stuck with it, had it
not been for desperately wanting Sammi Haney's character to be given
more screen time. She was just sprinkled about
almost as an after thought or what felt like a move to have one foot in
the door with the disability community.
Dear Netflix, you can do a million times better. Now get
that Sammi Haney a leading role or at the very least show us that you
can step it up with a season 2. Don't leave Esperanza behind so much in
the background. And fix the tone you left us
with that those with disabilities are friendless, invisible and
annoying. They are anything but.
While I had hoped it would be a great family series for my
children to watch, I can't say that it meets the mark of the theme I
wish my children to see. I don't like the racial profiling theme nor
the depiction of revenge. I don't want my children
to think that those with disabilities naturally are friendless or have
to beg for a friendship, or to be seen as annoying or an outcast of
sorts. And the super-natural part with a person in a position of trust
being the villain made me very uneasy. You have
a very small child essentially engaging via texts on an IPad messaging
game with someone he thought he could trust who wants access to kill
him. Netflix in my opinion shouldn't be marketing this as kid friendly,
it was much too dark with tones that simply
didn't have as much of a positive message as they needed to have for
Here's hoping Netflix steps it up next time. This one misses the disability mark.
Noah's Miracle by Stacy Warden is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.