The Mind Movers: Raising Dion in Review
[Light spoilers ahead.]
When I was a kid I was a fan of Disney’s Escape to Witch Mountain (1975) and the Witch Mountain TV franchise. The series starred Tony, Tia, and Uncle Bené — humanoid extraterrestrials with special powers including telepathy and telekinesis. The villain was Dr. Victor Gannon (played by Christopher Lee) who kidnaps Tony and tests a new mind control technology on him to achieve recognition and global power.
The production values were low to moderate and I don’t recall there being any kids like me (black or brown) who had prominent roles in the films. Apparently there was one black boy in the second installment who was part of the Earthquake Gang, a group of street kids who help Tia. I was reminded of these films when watching Raising Dion on Netflix. The latter has been called a “a fresh take on superheroes and their families.”
The Netflix series is based on a comic of the same name by Dennis Liu and Jason Piperberg. The comic begins with Dion’s single mother Nicole catching an invisible Dion using telekinesis to levitate cookies towards his mouth as he holds his iPad. We come to know that Dion’s scientist father Mark mysteriously dies during a cosmic event. The web series stays close to the original story, providing Mark (Michael B. Jordan) with a cameo role as the father who is in an alternate reality and trying to protect and save his son.
The web series deals with current issues such people with disabilities, peer pressure, being the new kid, and racism. One of my favorite episodes is the one in which Dion’s mother has to explain to her son that in spite of his superhuman powers and positive qualities he will be treated unfairly by others such as a school principal because of his skin color. Raising Dion is not just centered on Dion and his family. It shows a young black boy who is maturing and learning how to relate to, or deal with the world around him.
The story line that reminded me of the 1970's Witch Mountain movies was the intrusion of BIONA, the company where his scientist and storm chasing father worked (Mark was away for work when he died). However, BIONA turns out not to be the bad guys. There are some adult themes, too, making the Dion franchise different from Witch Mountain. The most important difference is how the new series addresses representation or equity. Regarding shows like Marvel’s Luke Cage (also on Netflix), actor Mahershala Ali said:
When people of colour come in, and say you’re the friend or someone just passing through… you’re not a three-dimensional character. That’s kind of what we’ve grown up seeing.
Now, when you see African-American people, Latino, Asian, if you start to see them more frequently be in a position where they are leading these shows as well as supporting, you begin for the first time seeing them be as human as the other people being portrayed.
Therefore, you become an equal.
The fish-out-of-water, rookie superhero story has been told time and again, as has the kid with superhuman powers (ex. telekinesis) trope. Raising Dion is another ambitious attempt to level the playing field in sci-fi and comics and it has more going for it than previous films/shows. While it isn’t quite up to par with Stranger Things, Dion does a lot to bring more diverse audiences to the world of science fiction.