Atlanta's Movers and Shakers: Animator, Joshua Leonard
Updated: Oct 27, 2020
This past week, Atlanta Film and TV chatted with Animator, Character Designer and Creator of Team Supreme Joshua Leonard. Team Supreme is about a group of pint sized kids who all have disabilities but also have superpowers!
Joshua is currently developing Team Supreme with Jason Weaver and Lena Waithe and her production company, Hillman Grad.
Atlanta Film and TV: I was reading an article on the Because of Them We Can website, about how you developed your passion for drawing in the Kindergarten and would draw one of my favorite cartoon characters, Garfield. Could you elaborate for our readers on how your passion evolved?
Joshua Leonard: I’m the youngest of three brothers, and my older brother taught me how to draw Garfield. And, once I learned how to draw Garfield, I never stopped drawing. Even as an athlete, I took art classes - I was always practicing. I started to evolve, even now! Most people who don’t know me, such as my new followers think I only draw cartoons. I’m an illustrator first. I love drawing real stuff like facial features. I wanted to be the most well-rounded artist. It’s just practice, persistence, tenacity - I just never stopped drawing!
Atlanta Film and TV: What was the inspiration behind Team Supreme?
Joshua Leonard: The inspiration behind Team Supreme came from life in general and the fact that I knew people with disabilities. As a matter-of-fact, everyone at least knows someone with a disability or at least has encountered someone with one. And, if you think about it, we all have some sort of disability. Some are just more visible than others.
It was a slap in the face when I noticed that African-American’s hold less than 3% of the industry. That’s when I thought that not only aren’t animators who are African-American not being hired BUT those with special needs aren’t either. That’s when I decided that I was going to create an animation with African-American characters as the main characters, who happen to also have disabilities. I desired to bring inclusion as well as diversity into Team Supreme one-hundred percent.
After I decided to create Team Supreme, I began studying specific disabilities. And as I researched, I realized that people with disabilities have some sort of superpower. For instance, there’s a nine-year-old kid named Benjamin Russo, who is dyslexic and can take a Rubik’s Cube and create huge portraits of people and it looks exactly like the person! There is also a great kid named Jaiden Farrell who has Autism, and who loves art and cosplaying different super characters, with one being “Zeek” from Team Supreme! His mother Shekira does an amazing job with him by empowering his passion. That’s what Team Supreme's about!
Atlanta Film and TV: Could you expand on what differentiates Team Supreme from other animations?
Joshua Leonard: Team Supreme is different from any other animation based on inclusion and diversity alone. I wanted to include characters who are amputees and also characters who are deaf, and blind. This will be an animation that not only shows the disability but one that also teaches. For instance, I included a deaf character so that we can animate actual sign language where kids who are watching will be able to catch on and actually learn different signs. Needless to say, we don’t want an empathy cartoon - we don’t want you to feel sorry for the characters. At the beginning of the show, we’ll show how the characters struggle with their disability and the other half of the show, we’ll show the characters fighting crimes. There will always be a character with a different disability plugged into each episode.
Atlanta Film and TV: What is your desire for Team Supreme?
Joshua Leonard: My desire for Team Supreme is that it will change lives. To be honest, it’s already happening without the show airing yet. For instance, I’ve received emails from parents thanking me for being brave enough to create it. I feel like it will not only inspire people with disabilities, but it will also help parent’s out because it’s going to show that having a disability is still cool. I want to show how dope people with disabilities are. For instance, I’ve seen a guy who’s in a wheelchair confidently, climb up a rock wall mountain, with no safety. My writer, Giselle Legere who is hearing impaired, an epidemiologist, has studied Judo, Aikido, and Krav Maga, and didn’t allow the fact that she’s deaf, stop her. She’s written for Disney-ABC’s Quantico, Ep.310 “No Place Is Home,”where she was nominated for a “Woman’s Image Award.” My goal was to show how dope people with disabilities really are and include them in the animation.
Atlanta Film and TV: Do you foresee this animation emboldening those with special needs? If so, how?