When Tony Weaver was in college, he mentored a fourth-grade student. While tutoring was the goal, talk often shifted to their favorite cartoons and comics. Just before Halloween, Weaver asked his young friend if he was going to dress up as his favorite superhero, and the student’s response changed the course of Weaver’s career. Because the young boy didn’t think he looked like his hero, the child said he was going to dress as a character from Grand Theft Auto instead. “I thought, you’re not seeing people that look like you in these heroic places,” says Weaver, “and therefore you don’t feel like you can be heroic yourself.”
That experience inspired Weaver to combine his commitment to inclusive media representation with his lifelong love of heroes and comics to create Weird Enough Productions. The education technology (edtech) media company focuses on media representation and media literacy for students in grades 6-12. As a finalist in the 2018 AT&T Aspire Accelerator program, Weird Enough will now be able to reach even more students.
“Weird” is a positive label for Weaver: “Being ‘weird enough’ is about embracing yourself and embracing that thing that makes you different, because that’s something only you can bring.”
The company creates original and diverse superhero-based content that’s been well received to date by both students and teachers. At first, though, Weaver encountered resistance from some teachers who doubted the value of comics as a literacy tool. But once they started using the platform and saw how engaged and excited their students were, they were sold. “There are so many things that teachers are struggling to get their kids to understand,” says Weaver. There are skills like evaluating different points of view and analyzing the use of images and imagery in media that this program really helps with. Comics are perfectly positioned to teach those concepts in concrete and visual ways.
Weaver wanted to tap into that teaching power to not just create diverse and inclusive superhero media, but also a media literacy education program called Get Media L.I.T. The three-prong curriculum stands for “Learn, Inquire, and Transform,” first teaching kids about media infrastructure, then how to spot fake news through critical analysis, and, finally to take what they’ve learned about existing media and positively impact their own communities.
“Young people are some of the most powerful people in the world,” says Weaver. Weird Enough Productions teaches students about how influential media is, and then shows them the many ways they can use that power as a force for good. Weaver says that it takes more than lecturing students about the evils of media bias and fake news, however. He’s all about showing students not just their own creative power, but also the power they hold through their attention and their dollars to sway media companies and their advertisers. “Imagine if the people that profit from spreading stereotypes woke up one day and it didn’t sell any more; they’d be forced to do something different,” he says.
The long-term goals for Weird Enough Productions are largely a matter of scale. “I want every young person to understand that they have the capability to be the heroes of their own stories,” says Weaver. He’d also like to broaden the reach of media literacy and inclusion to make sure that more perspectives are seen and heard. “As we’ve seen, singular perspectives can be very dangerous,” he says. “I think it’s really important for all of us to take advantage of the power and the opportunity that we have to create the change that we want to see.”