Meet Melody Ellison, the new American Girl Doll

To celebrate its 30th anniversary, American Girl has debuted a new addition to its BeForever line: Melody Ellison, a nine-year-old African-American girl living in Detroit during the 1960s. 

On Feb. 22, the doll and a brief history were revealed by the Vice President of Marketing at American Girl, Julia Prohaska, during a CBS interview. However, this is not the first we’ve heard of Ellison. “No Ordinary Sound,” Ellison’s first book, was released in January and acted as the official announcement of her creation. 

She is the first doll to have her book released before any of her other collection items. 

American Girl has created a wealth of original character dolls over their 30 years of operation and have inspired millions of girls. 

Its Historical Girls line had 13 original girls, not including companion dolls, until 2014 when it was re-marketed as BeForever. Five dolls were archived, leaving only eight dolls remaining. However, over 30 years and 13 dolls, only two have been African-American, one Native American and one Hispanic. 

One of these African-American dolls, Cecile Rey, was discontinued along with companion doll Ivy Ling, the first and only Asian-American doll to date, during rebranding, with the company receiving a lot of heat over their departure. 

Although these numbers are a bit disheartening, the few dolls of color produced have held a rich history and unique character, such as Addy, an escaped slave in the 1860s and the first African-American doll to be introduced to the American Girl line.

One of the things that sets American Girl Dolls apart from the rest is the colorful and intriguing back stories the company creates for its characters. Each doll has a series of books that share their story and teach the history about the time period in which they exist. 

For Ellison, that time is the Civil Rights era, during which Black Americans were fighting for their rights and opposing segregation and discrimination. Many historical Black leaders rose up during this time, such as Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Malcolm X.

“She (Ellison) is a singer and loves to perform in church, with her family, and in her community. Her stories are set against the backdrop of the civil rights movement, which was gathering momentum, and the music scene, including the success and popularity of Motown Records and its artists,” the American Girl site states. 

“As Melody gains more awareness of racial inequality and her sense of community grows from her extended family to include her neighborhood and, ultimately, all African Americans, she is inspired by Dr. King to have a dream of her own: to lift her voice for fairness and equality.”

In order to make sure Ellison’s story was accurate to the time, an advisory panel was established that was comprised of six people, including former Detroit City Councilwoman JoAnn Watson, whose own past served as inspiration for Ellison’s.

“I felt very connected to the story line of Melody Ellison, and how she was impacted by the ’60s because I was 9 years old in 1960, was active in the black church (like Ellison), and experienced early involvement in the civil rights movement by marching with my grandparents as a 12-year-old in Detroit’s ’63 march to freedom,” Watson said during an interview with the Detroit Free Press.

And although this is another big step toward more African-American representation, some people are still dissatisfied with Ellison.

In an article in TIME Ideas, Sevonna M. Brown, a human rights project manager at Black Women’s Blueprint in Brooklyn and a Ms. Foundation Public Voices Fellow, spoke out in frustration over the doll’s appearance.

“Melody’s skin color is on the brighter side,” she wrote. “Her long, straight hair and fair skin adhere to European beauty standards that continue to infiltrate the toy aisle, and fail to reflect all the little girls who might take her home and love her.

“Hopefully the two-dimensional storyboard that lays out Melody’s path will become more three-dimensional when her story is fully told.”

To buy the doll and all of her accessories, as well as her recording studio that plays Motown music, the cost could reach up to $900.

American Girl spokeswoman Julie Parks said many parents consider the purchase of an American Girl Doll an investment, and choose to purchase a doll and pass it through the generations.

Ellison is set to go on sale later this summer starting at $115.