Images from The CW Network media campaign ‘Dare to Love, Defy Hate’

There are lots of things to love about fall; mild weather, holiday accoutrements, and the most pumpkin-full time of the year immediately come to mind.

This year, the CW (TV) Network, in conjunction with Cyber Smile Foundation and legendary recording artist Stevie Wonder, infuses new loveliness into fall with the #daretolove (“Dare to Love, Defy Hate”) content campaign. The overarching intent — which echoes a recent American Surgeon General call to action — appears to be transformation of World Mental Health Day (October 10) and National Bullying Prevention Month (October) into perpetual states of being. Stevie Wonder’s 2020 musical track WHERE IS OUR LOVE SONG is the official anthem of this effort. Through various media activations, the CW, Cybersmile, and Mr. Wonder himself encourage creators to donate their talent to the cause. The CW hints at mass curation of uplifting social posts that are hashtagged with #daretolove. The final product is TBD, but it seems that everyone’s heart(s) is/are in the right place(s).

In addition to standalone CW Network public service announcements, the former Warner Brothers (now NextStar-owned) programming outlet will serve a subtler dose of realism to audiences. Several hit CW series, such as NANCY DREW, SUPERMAN & LOIS, and ALL AMERICAN will weave psychological well-being storylines throughout the 2022–2023 episodic TV season. Think small screen depictions of sports performance anxiety and other forms of adolescent angst. This thematic emphasis is meant to drive home sad-but-true statistics: various peer-reviewed medical studies indicate a sharp increase in chronic teen hopelessness from 2009 through 2019. Then there’s the ongoing COVID factor, which launches high numbers off the charts . . .

On a parallel goodwill mission, children’s book author Linda Malik brought — and continues to bring — tolerance close to home via furry metaphor. Her illustrated kid lit title WILLOW’S TALE: A LITTLE BLACK CAT GOES A LONG WAY took CatCon 2022 by storm . . . and by Brainstorm, specifically her artistic partner Brainstorm Productions! On October 1 and 2, 2022, Malik, with Brainstorm talent by her side, unleashed two original WILLOW animated shorts at her Pasadena Convention Center booth. Final destinations: the global film festival circuit, fame, and fortune!

Children’s book author Linda Malik and The Center for Learning Unlimited’s Brainstorm Productions celebrate inclusivity of all kinds at CatCon 2022

These original ‘toons are the result of Malik’s open-ended collaboration with neurodiverse animators at The Center for Learning Unlimited’s Brainstorm Productions. Brainstorm is the sister studio arm of CLU’s adult animation career training program for adults on the autism spectrum. Malik and Brainstorm are co-conspirators on the WILLOW children’s book sequel and hope to launch it before Christmas 2022.

This Willow/Brainstorm partnership is the epitome of #daretolove. Both black cats and neurodiverse folks — especially autistic individuals in pursuit of meaningful careers — encounter effects of longstanding stigma. Consider Halloween harassment of, and year-round pranks directed toward, black cats. The same fate often befalls people with unpredictable behavior patterns in work, school, or social settings.

Malik elaborates on her own rescue pet (a.k.a. the real life Willow). The common ground of black cats and human bully targets is apparent:

My cat Willow, a stray kitten found stuck in a garage, is the inspiration and the (rock) star of WILLOW’S TALE. Many people believe that a black cat is evil or unlucky due to centuries-old superstition. Willow’s mission is to change the false narrative that is hurting black cats. Willow serves as spokescat for her kind, because black cats are often the last to be adopted from shelters . . .

Children’s book author and black cat/autism advocate Linda Malik at CatCon 2022

Similarly, the adult human neurodiverse population endures a roughly 85% unemployment rate . . . Contemporary advocacy groups (such as Autism Speaks, TACA, and The Savants) and corporate diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs (such as that of the CW Network itself) chip away at the dismal percentage. Yet, more effort is necessary. As a professional, Los Angeles-based animation studio with a slate of commissioned motion graphics and illustration projects, Brainstorm Productions endeavors to lower the eye-poppingly negative statistic, one ‘toon at a time.

In consideration of the above, the author of this article hereby issues a direct #daretolove challenge to the CW Network: Please feature the unstoppable team of a coal-black kitty (namely Willow) and creative cartoon creators (namely Brainstorm Productions) prominently in the ongoing #daretolove campaign! Afterward, please continue the momentum and engage the whole kit-and-caboodle in a for-hire capacity. Your deadline is National Black Cat Day 2023 (October 27). Thank you!

Linda Malik’s Willow, as rendered by Brainstorm Productions, easily could star in the next iteration of CW Network #daretolove messaging!

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Marlene Sharp

Marlene Sharp is a creative and business-savvy entertainment multi-hyphenate who originally hails from New Orleans but is now a (San Fernando) Valley girl.