Elizabeth Ito discussed the inspiration behind her award-winning show.
On April 17, Crossroads’ Equity & Justice Institute hosted writer and director Elizabeth Ito for a discussion as part of the Younes and Soraya Nazarian Equity & Justice Distinguished Lecture Series, a key feature of the Equity & Justice Institute. The series helps stimulate dialogue and inspire action among students, educators and community leaders on social justice topics including racism, poverty, war, environmental degradation, educational inequities, religious persecution, genocide and other forms of injustice.
This year’s theme is the City of Los Angeles, also the setting of Elizabeth’s Peabody-Award winning children’s animated Netflix show, “City of Ghosts.” The show highlights LA’s diverse neighborhoods while focusing on subjects including language, Indigenous cultures, gentrification, tradition and family.
“I tried to make sure that the look and the sound of the show reflected the LA that I know, but in a way that honored history and the past by using the concept of ghosts,” said Elizabeth. “Within that, [I explored] the differences between how a kid might feel about ghosts and history versus how a grown-up might feel.”
Elizabeth grew up in Santa Monica and attended UCLA and Cal Arts before starting her career in animation, working for companies including Cartoon Network, Dreamworks Animation and Disney TV. She has developed, written for and directed numerous shows and short films. She is best known for “City of Ghosts,” as well as her work on other hit TV series including “Adventure Time” and “SpongeBob SquarePants.”
A common thread in Elizabeth’s projects is her desire to tell stories of underrepresented individuals and subjects that she’s curious about. Her Cartoon Network short film, “Welcome to My Life,” takes viewers through the experience of a monster navigating feelings of belonging in high school.
“My brother had written this autobiographical essay about himself for one of his classes in high school. He was talking about how he didn’t feel like he fit it. I thought that was really relatable,” said Elizabeth. “When it came out, the story really resonated with a lot of people who feel like my brother, where they’re treated differently because of physical differences and how others react to them.”
During the post-talk Q&A, one attendee asked how parents, educators and adults could better support young people to express themselves in an authentic way. Elizabeth encouraged adults to provide opportunities for creative expression, while developing patience, noting that children need time and space to grow and learn. When asked her advice for young people interested in starting a career in animation, she encouraged them to infuse their passion into their work.
“If you get the chance to make something about what you love, you should go for it,” said Elizabeth. “That’s my number one [piece of] advice because that’s how I’ve made the work that I’ve made.”The next event in the 2022-23 Distinguished Lecture Series will take place on May 11 at 7 p.m. In this moderated talk, a diverse panel of LGBTQ+ activists, advocates and artists will discuss the role of art, spectacle and creative expression in the movement for LGBTQ+ rights. To RSVP, click here.
To view a recording of Elizabeth’s presentation, click here.