The Children’s and Family Emmys, or “CAFE” award show, was created to recognize outstanding children’s entertainment in a ceremony after splitting from the Daytime Emmys. With about 3,000 submissions, this was the most competitive event in the history of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.
“This community has been producing such a quantity of quality content over the last few years it needed its own event. It’s just amazing the level of passion and energy that’s surrounding this celebration of children’s programs,” NATAS President and CEO Adam Sharp said.
As Donna May, a nominee for her work on the movie “Muppets Haunted Mansion” said so succinctly about the importance of CAFE, “the Muppets don’t win a lot of Emmys because they’re usually up against taller people.”
The Creative Arts ceremony on night 1 was hosted by JoJo Siwa, the dancer, actor and singer who rose to fame after her role in “Dance Moms.” Siwa was nominated two times in the outstanding choreography category. Decked out in her signature sequins, Siwa described her experience at CAFE as “perfect.”
“It’s such an honor to be here tonight, surrounded by so many of my amazing peers. When I found out I was nominated, I lost my mind. When I found out they wanted me to host, I lost my mind,” Siwa said.
When asked if she had any advice for high school students, Siwa said that it’s okay “to stop and laugh and realize you made mistakes.” She recently came out as part of the LGBTQ+ community in 2021.
“That’s why humans were made with forgiveness and love,” she said. “It’s not easy to come out, to tell people you feel different, but it’s such a beautiful thing. I’m grateful that today’s world is starting to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community. The hardest part is ripping the band-aid off, but once you’re there it’s the best thing ever.”
The girl group XOMG POP!, created by Siwa and her mother Jessalynn Siwa, was the opening performance for the first night of CAFE. Dressed in bedazzled jackets and glittery high tops, they cited Siwa as one of their fashion inspirations.
“All of our different costumes we wear, we get to help design. Kimberly loves her skirts, and I love ruffles and shorts, so everybody adds their own flair to their costumes,” member Leigha Sanderson said.
“As you can see though, we all love sparkles and lots of colors,” added Tamara “Tinie T” Andreasyan.
Presenters Haley Jenkins and Frankie Cordero, also known as Donkey Hodie and Purple Panda from the show “Donkey Hodie,” brought puppeteering onto the CAFE stage.
Donkey Hodie said she hoped children “come away [from the show] knowing they can do great things. If they just keep trying and trying, that’s the most important thing.”
“And they can have a lot of fun doing it!” Purple Panda chimed in.
Presenters Jevon Whetter and Shaylee Mansfield, known for being an American Sign Language consultant and the first ever sign-over actor on the series “Madagascar: A Little Wild,” shared their experiences with their roles.
“It really gives us deaf people an opportunity to show people what the deaf world looks like. We have our own culture, grammar and syntax,” Whetter said. “We had to be extremely creative to work during the pandemic, [but] it was a blast. We as deaf people live it everyday. We are natural problem solvers. We’re survivors. It was great to bring our own lived experiences with the animation team.”
Mansfield talked about what it meant to her to play a deaf character in the series, a little girl also named Shaylee.
“In terms of my experience growing up, I always wanted to have a role model. I watched a lot of animated programs, but they never had sign language or deaf characters. I felt like I missed out until I got involved with Dreamworks,” she said. “I hope other children will watch me and feel inspired and even more eager to learn sign language.”
On the red carpet, Malia Baker, a presenter and nominee for her performance as Mary Anne Spier on the series “The Baby-Sitters Club,” talked about her activism outside of acting.
“Everyone has that power in themselves to make a difference,” Baker said. “It’s so stereotypically said to ‘make a change, make a difference’ but it’s the little things like signing a petition, typing out an email, making sure your friends know what’s going on, that are the important things.”
At the end of the night, the Creative Arts ceremony awarded 33 Emmys, with one tie, in 32 categories. A full list of winners can be seen in Variety.
“Children’s entertainment at its best isn’t just entertaining and informative, but it’s [also] a window for kids to see beyond the end of their sidewalk,” Sharp said. “It gives that comfort that there’s a whole universe out there where you can be you. Telling that story well is so critically important to that audience that it needs to be celebrated.”