Daniel Errico Discusses New LGBT-Friendly Series “The Bravest Knight”

Reading Time: 10 minutes

When I first received screeners for The Bravest Knight, I was stunned. The new children show on Hulu was charming, featured a hero that married his prince instead of his princess, and was easily one of the best LGBT depictions I’ve seen in children’s animation to date. I was elated to get a chance to speak with the writer and executive producer, Daniel Errico.

Sean
Just to start us off, could you tell us who you are, and tell us a little bit about Bravest Knight?

Daniel
Sure. I’m Daniel Errico. I’m the author of The Bravest Knight Who Ever Lived kids’ book, and then also the creator of The Bravest Knight upcoming Hulu Original show. The story centers around a pumpkin farmer turned knight, named Sir Cedric, and on the show, he is married to Prince Andrew, and they have an adopted daughter named Nia.

Nia is learning how to become a knight like her dad, through stories of when he was her age. It follows their tale in a serialized story, his adventures, alongside a troll named Grunt, and a messenger raven named Saylor. They go through a lot of basic, classic fairytale scenarios, with new twists.

Sean
I saw the trailer, and I saw the screeners, and I really loved it. I have to ask how did you come up with the concept for this? And could you talk just a little bit about why you chose to include gay characters, and a gay protagonist, in a children’s book?

Daniel
Absolutely. When I started writing for kids, I decided to study fairytales, classics, classic fairytales. I went through the collections by Andrew Lang of the Fairy Books. I think there’s over a dozen of them, hundreds of different fairytales, because I think, in a lot of ways, fairytales and mythology are kind of foundations of modern storytelling.

When I came to a point in my career, as a writer, where I got to … I thought I was in a position to make the stories that I thought mattered more, and would stick with kids in a meaningful way. I wanted to create story that had, not only an openly gay protagonist, but a multidimensional gay hero.

Sean
That’s actually something that really stuck with me, because when I look at media, you have gay characters, or you’re getting more gay characters, but a lot of times, they are “the gay character.” Their defining aspect is their queerness.

Daniel
Right, exactly.

Sean
What I loved about Cedric was that, he is a character who is gay, rather than a gay character.

Daniel
Oh, I’m so glad to hear that. I’m really glad that that was a takeaway for you, watching it.

Sean
Oh, it was very, very well done. I’m very impressed with this.

Daniel
Well, thank you.

Sean
So, Bravest Knight, as I understand, has an interesting history because you got into writing children’s books, as you mentioned, a while ago, and you also started a project to share them freely?

Daniel
Yes. I started writing for kids full-time about 10 years ago. I’ve had to calculate that recently, for interviews such as this. It kind of blows my mind that it was 10 years ago. When I started, I founded the site FreeChildrenStories.com, and it’s kind of become of mission of mine throughout, to try to give away as many of my stories, including the best sellers, away for free online.

At the same time, just like any other industry, a lot of kids media companies worry about their bottom line, they worry about marketing, they worry about the market itself, and what will or won’t sell. I don’t think that kids media should be treated like any other industry. I think the kids’ development is the most important aspect. And so, I wanted to create … be able to write stories free from that kind of restraint.

From there, I was fortunate enough, as I mentioned … As my agent would be upset if I didn’t mention, I have a couple best sellers, and then I started to come to a place where I wanted to make these stories, that had … There were stories, when I grew up, that stuck with me throughout my entire life. When I started writing for kids, I thought of that as the most awesome, profound, and also important responsibility of a writer, that you could write something that will stick with someone.

And so, I wanted to make The Bravest Knight Who Ever Lived, and the path from there, is full of twists and turns, but eventually it led to this moment, where we have a show coming out. There were obstacles in the way, but we got here.

Sean
I want to talk about that journey. As I understand it, you had the book come out in 2014, it became an animated short, and developed. Can you walk us through that?

Daniel
Sure, absolutely. Really, it was just a digital book, originally. And I spoke with some publishers, and I spoke with some people in kids media, and it was almost unanimous, that they would say something along the lines of, “We can privately support it, but we can’t publicly, because we’ll have protests, we’ll lose money, all these other people that will be upset by this.”

Sean
So, did you self-publish the book originally?

Daniel
I didn’t really put it anywhere, other than just online for free. I didn’t really publish it in the traditional sense at all. But then, I went out, and I partnered with an animator in Denmark, this wonderfully talented animator named Ida [M. Schouw Andreasen]. I funded that myself, to make the animated short version of it.

I went through another period of getting a lot of, “We can’t really support that.” I couldn’t even give it away for free, for a time. It’s not something I talk about often, but people were just … They thought it was too toxic, they thought there were too many people that would be angered by it which was frustrating because it was something that I thought that kids should see. Then Hulu came around, and Hulu got it in a way that no one else had. They said that this is something that we need more of. They were willing to support it publicly, and so they licensed the short. My relationship with them started. Then they also picked up a second short of mine about a year later called Rosaline, narrated by Teri Polo.

Sean
What was the response like to that original short? Did they get the pushback that they were fearing? Was it mostly positive?

Daniel
Yeah. No, fair question. Two things. I will only speak to my responses. I actually don’t know what Hulu got other than I did see some articles for people calling for kind of a, “Hey, do you know this is up on Hulu? You should drop Hulu if you have it.”

But I got a lot of personal messages. I’m always conflicted when thinking about it because I don’t want people’s takeaway to be that media like this will get them backlash or negativity or terrible messages, but if I’m answering candidly, I got both. I got some incredible messages. Heartwarming messages that just served as the best motivation I could ever have to try to reach more people with this stuff. And I got some very fervent attacks.

Sean
As a person who writes queer criticism, I know that feeling.

Daniel
Just I had someone, I remember, detail in all caps a long diatribe about what was going to happen to me when I went to hell.

I couldn’t imagine someone had shouted that entire thing because it was so long, but it was all caps.

Sean
Oh, those people.

Daniel
Yeah, those people.

Sean
One of the big mistakes I made after I wrote a big piece of queer media analysis was that GeekDad, by default, if you are the writer of a piece, all comments go to your inbox because if something requires moderation, you need to review it. So I had the unmoderated comments on a queer media piece going into my inbox.

Daniel
Oh, gosh, that must have been terrible.

Sean
Yeah, when I mentioned that to my colleagues, I was told, “Oh my god, turn that that off and go away, someone else can take care of it for you.”

Daniel
Good. I’m glad to hear that.

Sean
I have nothing but praise for my site. My editors and colleagues have always been amazing. But I remember that moment of, “Oh, I’m getting comments! Oh… Oh.”

Daniel
Yeah.

Sean
So, after that short, what happened next? Did the short do exceptionally well, and that led to an order for the series?

Daniel
Yeah, Hulu was always … Their attitude toward the shorts was always, “We think there should be more content like this out there.” They were always open to a full series and expanding it, but it was a few years before I approached the studio about it. In between, I had Rosaline, but I also spent some time partnering with the United Nations Human Rights Office Free and Equal Campaign. I made an animated short for them about global LGBTI rights. It’s called The Lesson.

It went to six different language versions, so I didn’t use any dialogue in it to try to keep it more universal.

After that short was made, I went to speak in the studios to see about who could maybe make the earlier short into a show. In my meeting with Big Bad Boo, who is the studio who ended up making the show, I remember I walked in there and about half way through the meeting, Shabnam Rezaei who is one of the co-heads of the studio, one of the co-founders … Her and her husband Aly Jetha run the studio. She just stopped me and she said, “This show has to be made because kids need this. And no matter what we’re going to make sure it’s made.”

I had spoken to other studios who has expressed interest, and especially the idea of Hulu being involved helped. But I never got the sense that, for one, they understood that there might be a lot of difficulty in making this, and that they needed to really back it. Sometimes studios would kind of say, “Sure, if everything works out, we’ll go for it.” The other was that they understood completely how important all these things were going to be about the process. The message, the representation and all those things. And Big Bad Boo got it immediately. So, I partnered with them and things went from there.

Sean
One thing I noticed that the studio did is that a lot of the voice actors are LGBT individuals as well.

Daniel
Yeah, absolutely. It was kind of the unanimous thing from day one which was wonderful.

Sean
One surprise for me was there was an interview with you in The Advocate a while back where they mentioned that you’re straight. How did you do this so well? I mean, it’s a weird question for me because a lot of times straight—

Daniel
It’s a flattering question, so thank you.

Sean
There are lots of times straight creators say, “I want to do well here,” but stumble. I’m really curious what you did to make this as solid as it is? Did you reach out to queer friends? Did you hire a sensitivity reader? What did that process look like?

Daniel
I’ve been fortunate that I think throughout, from the moment that I wrote this story, I’ve had gay people close to me involved in the process in different roles, professionally and personally. But I don’t like to maybe go into who professionally and what position because it’s kind of for them to say.

As far as the content itself, the way I look at it is the story of the bravest knight, the story of Cedric, the story of Prince Andrew at its heart, I mean, it’s a story about family. It’s a story about love which are things that I feel extremely connected to and are part of my own life. I don’t know. I guess all I can say is if people feel that it’s well-represented, I’m grateful to hear that and it’s something that I’ll always strive to do.

Sean
Yeah. And on that same vein, do you have any advice for other straight creators who want to create this content but are worried about backlash or worried about getting it right? How would you advise them approach it?

Daniel
For starters, I think worrying about getting it right is a healthy thing, and they should be. It should be something that they take very seriously. I think that the vast majority of that involves asking, listening, and understanding that, at least for a project this big, a lot of your job is to amplify the voices of other people.

As far as the backlash … I think that, as I said, a lot of it involves listening, but there’s a point where you have to make your own voice heard. A silent majority helps no one. Backlash or not, this is something that the kids’ media industry needs to do better. It’s our job to do it.

Sean
As a forward-looking statement, you mentioned that when you first pitched the short in 2015, you couldn’t even give it away. Now we have a show coming out. Now we’ve seen more animated properties that have LGBT characters. Do you think the landscape is getting significantly better, or even toward the end of your production on this, were you still seeing pushback?

Daniel
I absolutely see it getting better. I definitely think it’s progressing in the right direction. I think it’s come at an interesting time in this country specifically where there’s been a regression in a lot of areas. Personally, I see a silver lining in people that are engaged and energized in a way that I’ve never seen before on the side of LGBTQ rights and many other things. So, I feel that there is going to be a palpable swing forward, hopefully, like we’ve never seen before. I see us at the crux of more good change.

Sean
Which is definitely good. And there’s definitely demand – one question I did have which is more about distribution is Hulu is your partner in the U.S. Will this be available to people outside the U.S.? I know one of my co-workers for GeekDad is in Canada, and I write about diversity with a friend of mine in the UK, and both were interested.

Daniel
Oh, that’s great. That’s definitely a goal of ours. We don’t have any partners right now. I’m in a position I’m not used to being in where the studio has the rights to it now. I know that they’re shopping around. They have a lot of connections in other countries. One of the reasons why I loved Big Bad Boo is because they have a strong international presence and international development wing of their company, so they are in Syrian refugee camps in multiple countries. They do empathy studies for their content. They partner with UNICEF. They care about international more than any domestic studio I met with. So, I’m hoping that they have an eye to that, and I believe they do. I think soon we might be able to announce a country in the Middle East picking it up, but I can’t say right now on the record who it is.

But that would be great. And Canada and the UK, absolutely. I think those are number one on their radar.

Sean
Great. I’ve mostly exhausted my questions. Do you have anything you want to add?

Daniel
Just a really small thing that I want people to be aware of if possible, obviously, completely up to you, would be that in the back of the book, The Bravest Knight Who Ever Lived, the one that just came out, there is a message from the UN Free and Equal Campaign. It’s something that I’m just super proud to have in there, and it’s about human rights, introducing the concept of human rights to kids. It’s something that I’m just really hoping that people flip to the next page and read it because I think it could be a great starting point for that conversation. As always with kids, you give them a chance to understand and accept, and they can.

Sean
Yeah. I did really love … Though I loved the series, the eight minute short was … I watched it, and I said to my boyfriend, “Oh, my god. Someone actually got it.”

Daniel
Oh, geez. You just gave me goosebumps. Thank you for saying that.

Sean
Yeah. It’s rare to see this done this well, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen it done this well in children’s media. So thank you for that.

Daniel
Wow, I don’t know what to say. Thank you for saying that. Wow, I’m a little blown away right now. Thank you.

Sean
Thank you, sir.

The Bravest Knight will begin streaming on Hulu on June 21st. The original eight-minute short is also available on Hulu. Additionally, we received word after this interview that, in line with Hulu’s corporate social responsibility focus on children and youth, for every stream of The Bravest Knight between June 21 and July 20, Hulu will donate $1 (up to $50,000) to The Trevor Project. The new series can be found within Hulu’s LGBTQ+ hub, which will remain permanently on Hulu following Pride Month.

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This post was last modified on June 24, 2019 1:40 pm

Sean Z: @https://twitter.com/Sean_Z_Writes Sean Z stumbled upon internet fandom in the early 2000s, and has been reading fanfic and liking fanart ever since. When he’s not researching fandom, he enjoys listening to video game music, playing boardgames, and writing code.