As the winner of the 2022 SCAD AnimationFest Excellence Award who was also named one of the Top 150 Black Women in Hollywood by Essence Magazine, Hulu’s VP of Adult Animation Originals Kelci Parker proved her place in the entertainment industry through accolades and a portfolio. But long before she started overseeing the development of shows like solar opposites, Hit-Monkeyand FuturamaParker’s life calling began to take shape during a childhood steeped in television animation.

“I was so obsessed with Nickelodeon as a kid,” Parker shared – after receiving her award – during a panel at this year’s SCAD AnimationFest. “I have a younger sister and when she was a baby my mum would say, ‘We have to take your sister for a walk’ and I would say, ‘Well, we can’t because Rugrats is on.’ She was like, ‘Okay, as soon as Rugrats is over, we have to go. And I’d say, ‘We can’t because then Doug departures.’ She was upset that I memorized the entire Nickelodeon programming schedule and now I’m like, “Look mom, it paid off.”

SCAD AnimationFest, recently held in person at the Atlanta branch of the Savannah College of Art and Design, is a three-day celebration of animation where animators, directors, industry alumni and executives like Parker are invited to participate in a panel. discussions that offer current students an in-depth look at the careers they will soon be embarking on.

For Parker — an award-winning screenwriter who now oversees both development and current programming efforts for the Hulu Originals roster — her most important role at the streamer will be championing underrepresented creator voices and entertainment genres. that are misunderstood, including tough comedy. animation which, according to Parker, is “great escapism, while telling interesting and relatable stories”.

“I hope and plan to keep pushing the boundaries of funny,” Parker says. “I want things to be provocative and edgy, but not just for fun. We love fart jokes, but deserve your fart joke… the one from Netflix Tuca and Bertie does a great job, where it’s a silly animated show, the girls go out and party, but they’re also going to talk about sexual assault, and address that in a way that can comfort someone who’s been through that kind of thing of trauma. And I think that’s smart.

Parker’s journey into animation was influenced early on by his family. Growing up in the small town of Albion, Michigan with a mother who taught elementary art, a love of the visual arts certainly ran through her veins. But it was Parker’s older brother who helped expand his interests from animation to the wonderfully weird world of comedy.

“My brother was a huge influence on my comedic sensibilities and it’s good because he’s actually a development executive at ABC Signature and we worked together at Comedy Central,” Parker says. “I really think I was following in his footsteps, asking, ‘What are you doing? That’s great.’ Or I’d be 12 and it’d be like, “Your friends are cute.” What are you looking at ?’ just trying to hang out with the boys.

Majoring in screenwriting at the University of Michigan in 2011, Parker planned to create dramatic features like Little Miss Sun and Juno. She worked as Spike Jones’ personal assistant on Bad Grandpa when she met Annapurna Pictures founder Megan Allison, who brought in all her favorite directors and let them direct their passion projects. Parker decided that was what she wanted to do — without having the money to start her own business — and Allison advised her on the path to becoming a development manager.

Having worked on Loafer Squad At Adult Swim, Parker also realized his passion for television comedy. After applying for an assistant position at Comedy Central, getting the job in 2014, and rising through the ranks as coordinator and then director, in 2020 Parker gained a deeper understanding than comedy, especially adult animated comedy. , was just as much an underdog. in the industry as she was: a young, black, small-town woman with alopecia, working her way through a predominantly white male business.

“It’s always underdogs, animated movies, TV, and mostly adult animation,” Parker says. “People will see something animated and instantly think it’s for kids. That’s not to say kids’ programming isn’t amazing. I’m 33 and I still watch Craig of the Creek and Proud family: louder and prouder, because they tell good stories. I also started watching Cat dog Again. Yeah, it’s still awesome.

She continues, “But I try to get people to take adult animation seriously and subvert expectations of the adult animation space, even telling our fart jokes. And there is a difficult balance there. But I feel really lucky to be in this position and to have a job like this and over the past 10 years to have worked with some amazing people who believe in me and believe in the stories they tell. They helped amplify my voice and allowed me to amplify the voices of others.

Hulu hired Parker as executive director (and eventual vice president) of Comedy Originals in January 2021 ahead of her current role as vice president of adult animation, and it’s no coincidence that the slate of Hulu’s adult animated comedies has been stellar for the past couple of years.

There are Hit-Monkey, the Western adaptation of a Japanese manga about a monkey guided by the ghost of a professional assassin. And solar opposites, about a group of aliens who crash-land on Earth and, while trying to repair their ship to return home, discover that they have built up quite an attractive family life (and a rather extensive anthill – The Wall – filled with shrunken neighbors) in their man-inhabited suburbs, certainly doesn’t follow the typical, exhausted family dynamic. And let’s not forget MODOKa supervillain and a family man who struggles to balance the two, is also a far cry from more mainstream Marvel stories.

But these are some of the very reasons why Parker’s interest in such animated shows peaked.

“When rick and morty started, they didn’t know it was going to be the hit, but they were willing to take that hit and you have to be willing to take those kinds of risks,” she says. “Directing with comedy is what makes a welcome mat to attract everyone. Even if you’re not necessarily the biggest anime fan, you can relate to what these shows are about. Like with Big mouth, everyone’s been through puberty, and everyone kind of knows what it’s like. And then they capitalized on the medium of animation by introducing the hormonal monsters and making it even more intense and crazy.

Animation is definitely an increased visual medium, where the only limitations of content are what animators can’t draw. A talking pickle, an anthropomorphic bird, a giant, hairy, where the wild things are-like a monster representing the need to masturbate? If it can be animated, it can be part of the show. But, because of that, adult anime shows often get a bad rap for raunchy gratuitous content and graphic imagery, simply because they can pull off those shots without a lot of restrictions.

But there’s so much more to these shows, where even a series about a woman carrying Satan’s Daughter (FXX and Hulu’s Little demon) can tell a touching story of a mother’s unconditional love and fierce devotion to her child. In fact, sometimes it’s the raunchy shows that are better at getting those golden nugget messages across.

“Even though they’re animated, these shows are still about relatable things,” Parker explains. “Finding that unique relatability is really important, and then I always want to merge it with comedy because who doesn’t want to laugh all day? We don’t cure cancer, but we can make someone laugh during their treatment. We We don’t change the world with a grand political statement, but we send messages through story, design, score and performance in our work.

Parker also believes the importance of his work is setting a tone for media makers to tell the stories they want to tell and giving audiences the chance to experience the world in a different way that “prepares you to be your authentic self and not be polarized into a small section of who you have been told you should be.

“A friend of mine is also a woman of color, and she’s a director and a screenwriter, and there are days when we have a tough day, where a microaggression has triggered us, or a microaggression about a show that happens to be an underrepresented character can trigger us,” Parker says. “Whenever we have those days, we text each other and she’s always like, ‘You gotta remember we’re the trailblazers. And if we don’t break down those doors, there won’t be anyone else to do it, so we have to do it so that the people who come in behind us have that opportunity.

It’s a weight to bear, ensuring that diverse voices and regularly updated stories both have clear pathways of opportunity and are taken more seriously by the industry as a whole. And the importance and the difficulty of the question are not lost on Parker.

“Comedy is subjective, so I still feel extremely lucky to be in a position that has made me the arbiter of these things,” she says. “I don’t know how it happened, I don’t know who allowed this, but I’m grateful.”

She adds, “If you give people the ability to look at something through a comedic lens, maybe they’ll understand it in a different way. If we can lean into that and do more in the bustling space, and even move away from what we’ve generally seen and who usually tells you stories, that would be great. Hopefully we can continue to push those boundaries in a positive way. »

As Parker closed her AnimationFest awards speech, she shared with students at SCAD Atlanta what she considers the secret to her success over 10 years in the industry.

“I challenge you all to find those doors and open them to people,” she encouraged. “A university like SCAD is uniquely positioned to influence change. With over 9,000 students and alumni working in creative animation and development, you all have the power to open doors for the next generation and think about how you do it. Think big and dream bigger, aim for the stars, take risks and dare to fail, be empathetic and kind to one another, and you’ll be well on your way to incredible success.

The photo of Victoria Davis

Victoria Davis is a full-time freelance journalist and part-time Otaku with an affinity for all things anime. She reported many stories ranging from activist news to entertainment. To learn more about his work, visit victoriadavisdepiction.com.