Tennis superstar Serena Williams recently announced that she is releasing a children’s book next year based on the adventures of her daughter Olympia’s doll Qai Qai. Black doll sales have the potential to be positively impacted by this news alone as we approach another pandemic holiday season.
What started as cute photos of Olympia playing with her real-life version of Qai Qai, pronounced kway-kway, has evolved into an empire that digitally animates the milk chocolate-skinned, doe-eyed doll on social media and replicates the doll for buyers online. Now, the moneymaking doll will be featured in The Adventures of Qai Qai written by Serena, illustrated by Yesenia Moises, and co-edited by Foyinsi Adegbonmire at Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group imprint Feiwel and Friends. The book will go on sale in September 2022.
“Since realizing @RealQaiQai’s ability to spread joy to our own family and also millions of others around the world, we’ve wanted to tell her story in every way possible,” Serena posted on Instagram. “We are so proud to announce Qai Qai’s first book, ‘The Adventures of Qai Qai,’ a story about the power of friendship and imagination.” The book is a story about the power of friendship and imagination, she adds in the caption.
Technology brings doll alive
Qai Qai has 3.2 million followers on TikTok, 353,000 followers on Instagram, and 25,500 followers on Twitter. Her interactive website sells merch from mugs to T-shirts and the reproduction of Olympia’s doll retailing for $30 exclusively on Amazon.com. She recreates your favorite memes and TikToks and roots for Serena on the sidelines of tennis matches.
Joining social media in 2018 a year after Olympia’s birth, Qai Qai was your average plastic doll abandoned in such places as on the sidewalk and between couch cushions, even sporting a purple cast for a broken leg. In November 2018, the doll became digitized and started to make more appearances than the real doll.
Alexis Ohanian, Serena’s husband and Olympia’s father, co-founded Reddit. His internet business connections have brought Qai Qai alive in a way we’ve never seen an independent Black doll be portrayed before.
The Black doll evolution
The doll industry in 2020 raked in $3.64 billion in the U.S., according to data from NPD Group, with nearly 11% growth from 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the toy industry overall since more families stayed at home and had to find more ways to entertain the kids.
Though data focused on the sale of Black dolls and other non-White dolls are hard to find, Black dolls have had a long history of being seen in a negative light.
In the 1930s, Black psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark handed Black children four dolls of varying light and dark complexions to choose which one was “nice” and which one was “bad.” Most of the children said the Black dolls were “bad,” and they saw themselves more in the White dolls. The infamous experiment showed that Black children were aware of the segregation and perceived inferiority impacting their communities.
The legacy of the experiment shows how racism in America affects girls who simply want to play with dolls. Today, Black dolls continue to evolve with more realistic Afrocentric features and accessories from Mattel implanting kinky hair into its Black Barbie dolls to the 1990s favorite Kenya doll that’s still available with her Kente outfits and hair lotion.
Serena’s family made the statement to not only have their biracial daughter play with a Black doll and share the fun with millions via social media but to create a character that’s building its own metaverse that now includes literature.