Based in Los Angeles, California, Ben Juwono, an Indonesian Physicist turned Supervising Director shares some insights on his journey working in Disney TVA. Here, he discusses his favorite parts about working as Supervising Director and Co-producer on Marvel’s new show, Moon Girl & Devil Dinosaur, as well as potential ideas to feature more minority communities in mainstream media.
Within the show, Moon Girl features several notable figures such as Laurence Fishburn, Diamond White, and Sasheer Zamata, voicing characters such as Lunella (AKA Moongirl), “The Beyonder”, and Andria – Lunella’s grandmother. Ben discusses the role of Laurence in the show and his favorite part of working on the project.
“Laurence was actually the one who brought the project to Disney, so he had been there from the very beginning. He was like, this is something that I want to do, I really like this comic, and if it wasn’t for him the show would not have existed.”
Ben goes on to say, “but for me, my favorite part of this show, is, a few things, the first one is I get to make something cool…Steve Loter, our EP (Executive Producer), who had been working with Laurence from Cinema Gypsy, came to me and said I want to make a show that is basically Baby Driver. What blows me away about it is the songs, and the music is not something they just put on top of the visuals, the song and music is crafted into the storytelling…the show is basically one big choreography of music videos…when he said he wanted to make an animated Baby Driver, I was like cool! Something I’ve never done before, we’re gonna do it, it’s gonna be fun, it’s gonna be exciting.”
Ben also discusses the musicality of the show, as it is a core feature of Moongirl’s storytelling. “Our show is very musically driven…we compose the music very early and craft the story around that music, so basically it’s music integrated. So basically, in every episode, there is this sort of music video feel to it. And that’s something I’ve never done before, and something that was very exciting to me. Now I’ve done a lot of it (laughs)”
Ben also shares his gravitation towards projects with “community-centered stories” as his Indonesian background influenced him to care more for these types of narratives.
“I think for me it’s about the community, I gravitate towards shows, and storytelling, and content that have some type of community. On Moongirl, the story is about a 13-year old black girl who is one of the smartest, in the Marvel universe. She’s not the center of it, but a lot of the stories center around her community, her family, she has a big family, she lives with her mom, dad, grandma and grandpa, and they own the last roller rink in New York City. And the roller rink culture is also about community, as the roller rink is a place where a community can come together and celebrate their culture.”
“So I gravitate towards that kind of story telling, since I grew up in Indonesia, every weekend we’d go to my uncle’s house, and my aunts can come, and my extended relatives are there, so it’s always about a big community. It’s never about the individual, so for me, it just gravitates me towards stories about that than the individual.”
Ben also hopes to see more minority communities represented on screen, as the Indonesian community has long been overlooked in mainstream animation, even if the AAPI community has had some representation.
“I do want to create something that is personal, and rooted in Indonesian culture, I just haven’t gotten there yet. To me, when I get into a project, I like to make sure I see it through, I don’t like to jump ship half way through. The same way with Big Hero and Moongirl, it’s a project that I care a lot for, so to me, I finish my way, see it through, make sure it airs, make sure I complete all my obligations here.”
“I think that’s the immigrant mentality here too, let me finish my obligations here, and once I’m finished my obligations here, I will move on to something else. I definitely have ideas of doing something that is specifically my culture, and specifically my experience. More of us represented out there, not just a part of the AAPI community, but something specifically Indonesian. Especially the food!”
Overall, Ben Juwono becomes one more Indonesian figure to break into the animation industry in America, hoping to become a role model to other aspiring animators to break into a similar field. In the next article, he will discuss the role of unofficial mentors in leading him to his current position, as well as his pivot in career from becoming a physicist to an animator at Disney.
– Farah Feddaraini