It’s spring 2004 and I’m riding the charter bus on the fourth grade field trip. Cushioned headphones snuggle my ears while the CD player they’re connected to rests peacefully on my lap. The Proud Family soundtrack blasts through, without any skips or scratches, and this is bliss.
Luckily for all of us who grew up alongside Penny Proud and the gang, Kyla Pratt, aka the voice of the young shero, is ready to take us back to that moment (or to the ~feelings~ of that moment, at least) with The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder, the 2022 reboot of the early 2000s classic. Where do we send the thank you card again?
“I’m excited for a new generation to be able to love [the show] and explore it, but I’m also excited for the people who already loved it,” Kyla told Cosmopolitan. “They will get that same essence and feeling of love, and be able to go back to where they were at the time when they were first watching it.”
Much like her character Penny, Kyla was growing up with us too. We witnessed it in real time as she starred in everything from Love and Basketball, the Dr. Dolittle trilogy, and Fat Albert, to The CW’s One on One—which found a new home on Netflix in fall 2020—to today’s FOX hit Call Me Kat. Kyla was a cultural pillar in our collective childhood, a cinematic staple that signaled a show or movie you absolutely had to watch, usually with characters who made you feel understood and seen. She made growing up feel less scary, and not much has changed (except maybe now we’ll be watching The Proud Family with wine and takeout instead of juice and cookies).
In honor of The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder‘s February 23 two-episode premiere on Disney Plus, Kyla sat down with Cosmo to talk about doing the show again 20 years later, its impact and representation, and what it was like being a child actress. Read on for the full conversation.
Cosmo: It’s so exciting that The Proud Family reboot is about to be out in the world! How did you react when you got the news they were officially doing it?
Kyla: People have always been talking about it—there’s always been rumors. But [producers] Bruce Smith and Ralph Farquhar called me and they were like, ‘We’re thinking about rebooting [the show]. What do you think, are you interested?’ And I was like, ‘Who else gon’ play Penny? Don’t play with me!’
Literally, I want to say every other day of my life there’s someone either coming up to me or there’s someone online who is like, ‘When are we getting it back? Why did y’all cancel it?’ I know there are so many people who are excited about this, and I’m overly excited. People keep telling me, ‘Your voice hasn’t changed!’
That’s so funny because when you first voiced Penny, you were just 14 years old, right?
Right. It’s crazy because at the time I didn’t realize what the show was. Recording it, I think to me, wasn’t anything amazing happening. Like, ‘Oh, we haven’t seen this on TV,’ because it was so relatable to me, it was just everyday life: trying to balance my parents and being at home with the family, babysitting, wanting to be with my friends, boys—all kinds of stuff. You always have Suga Mama that’s crazy but has your back, and if you don’t have a Suga Mama, you want one; we all have an Uncle Bobby who we want to claim sometimes and sometimes we don’t, ya know? I didn’t realize that it was something that hadn’t been done before.
When did you realize the impact and influence the show had?
I’ll be in a grocery store—and I’m just not a very quiet person; I try, but I’m not one of those people who really knows how to whisper—so I’ll be in the grocery store just talking, and from aisles away, someone will come over and be like, ‘That’s Penny Proud!’ They tell me so many different stories about how the show helped them and what the representation made them feel like. That’s when I slowly started to realize, ‘Wow, this was a big thing.’
What feels different about doing the show now, 20 years later?
What I’ve always loved about The Proud Family is that we talked about things that other people shied away from. We also introduce things to people that other people didn’t know existed. I feel like now we’re doing the same thing, but 2.0. We’re going to have and start conversations, and people who don’t always get to see themselves on TV are going to be able to see themselves. To me, the most important thing is when we’re young and we’re experiencing new things in life, or hard times, or good times—or when we’re adults and we do that—it’s always nice to see yourself reflected in some way on a TV screen; I feel like that helps people feel not alone. We stepped it up.
You worked on One on One and Proud Family at the same time. I feel like Breanna Barnes and Penny, and even Flex and Oscar, all share similar essences. How was it playing parallel characters at once?
There were a lot of things that I related to more with Penny than I did with Breanna. I think sometimes with Breanna I would be like, ‘Wait what? They’re making fun of her because of this? Like who cares?’ And I was like Kyla, not everybody reacts like you to certain things and maybe Breanna is not that person.
What about Penny did you relate to the most?
I think standing up for yourself. I also think being loud. The dynamic of wanting to be with her family and help, but also wanting to be with friends. I’m the type of girl that would be like, ‘Oh I’m gonna play football, I’m gonna play something the boys play.’ It’s like me in Love and Basketball, I was a hooper. I love doing stuff like that. So for Penny to be like, ‘I want to play football, but they won’t let me on the team, OK we ’bout to fight—you not ‘bout to tell me I can’t do something.’ I think that’s another way where we’re similar.
Yeah, Penny definitely gave big early feminist energy.
A lot of your work has been depicting regular Black girls doing everyday things, opposed to narratives around trauma. Was choosing roles like that intentional?
It was not. I was a young woman in the entertainment industry, and I started because I watched my mom do theatre growing up and I wanted to be like my mom. I liked to audition, it just seemed like fun to me. I literally auditioned for Love and Basketball, One on One, and The Proud Family.
That is so wild that you auditioned for Penny, because she feels so much like you at the same time.
I remember seeing the cutout of her drawing and saying, ‘She looks like me. I think this is me.’ So, I mean, it was meant to be!
There are so many great new characters! I loved Shuggie the Panda in episode 1, and Keke Palmer’s recurring role as a new friend in the group.
As we were filming, we didn’t know who they were gonna get. As things started opening up a little bit and we were able to actually go into a studio instead of recording at home, they would give me little tidbits, like, ‘Hey, we got Lizzo [for a guest role]!’ Or, “Ooo, we got Billy Porter!” And I’m like “What?! How?!” We’ve been very fortunate to have people just flock to the project and really want to be a part of it, so you didn’t really have to fight too hard.
You’re a mama now. Have you introduced your babies to The Proud Family? Will you be watching the reboot with them?
Absolutely. Years ago I actually introduced them to The Proud Family Movie because I didn’t have access to the actual episodes—I think I have them on VHS in storage somewhere. But like, who has a VCR? I was very excited when they watched the movie and they were able to recognize my voice because I didn’t tell them at first. And then when Disney Plus put up the episodes, it was exciting for me because they got to see everything; they got to see what I grew up doing. My 8-year-old daughter played the reboot’s first little trailer like 100 times. I was like, ‘Baby, I don’t wanna hear myself no more. Ima need you to chill.’ But they’re super excited and I’m excited that they have something like I had growing up.
What are you looking forward to with the reboot being out?
I’m looking forward to fans finally getting what they’ve been asking me for, and for people to be able to travel back in their childhood by just watching something and feeling cozy and feeling the love and feeling represented. I’m excited for all of it.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity. New episodes of The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder are released every Wednesday on Disney Plus.
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