Rebecca Sugar and Noelle Stevenson Would Like to Remind You That They Fought to Make Animation More Queer

Garnet on her wedding day; Adora and Catra finally giving up the whole “I hate you” schtick and admitting they love each another.
Garnet on her wedding day; Adora and Catra finally giving up the whole “I hate you” schtick and admitting they love each another.
Image: Cartoon Network, Netflix

With both Steven Universe and She-Ra and the Princesses of Power having finished their respective stories and becoming shining examples of this current moment in queer representation in animation, it can be exceedingly easy to forget that up until very recently, queer characters more or less didn’t exist in the animation space outside of being the butt of jokes.

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But the creators of both series would like to strongly remind you that animation, a place that’s becoming exceedingly queer and inclusive in terms of its representation, is the way it is in large part thanks to their shared efforts. In a new interview with Paper Magazine, Rebecca Sugar and Noelle Stevenson detailed their respective experiences of being urged to downplay or outright avoid any sort of content featuring non-straight people out of an outdated sense of what was deemed respectable and appropriate.

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“They told us point-blank, ‘you can’t have these characters be in a romantic relationship,’ but at that point, Garnet was so established that audiences could instantly understand what the relationship was, the song had already been written, the episode had already been boarded so we were already in full production,” Sugar said of the Steven Universe episode in which Garnet re-fuses. “I’m really proud of the patience we had and the time that we took to fully explore these characters at a time when that was not necessarily possible.”

Stevenson echoes Sugar’s sentiment as she explained how, oftentimes, she butted up against the way people were inclined to see She-Ra’s Catra and Adora as sisters rather than two women who were clearly in love. But while people were misinterpreting what She-Ra was trying to convey about its hero and her love interest, Stevenson saw an opportunity to use the misunderstanding as time to build out the groundwork that made the eventual reveal about Catra and Adora’s feelings towards one another that much stronger.

“I’m going to translate that through the lens of sisterhood because that’s what I understand,” Stevenson said of how many people initially saw Catra and Adora. “Letting that happen or think that’s how these two characters can have that intense connection, this level of caring about each other, that’s the easiest way to get it to that point where that relationship has the weight it needs to have.”

Common between both Stevenson and Sugar’s experiences was the need to emphatically push against studios’ institutional instincts to shy away from content featuring queer people out of the outdated belief that there’s no audience for stories that don’t center straight people’s relationships. Were it not for shows like Steven Universe, shows like She-Ra and the Princesses of Power couldn’t and wouldn’t exist, which is something that studious should take to heart.

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Not only are there audiences for these kinds of shows, but they’re clamoring for more content that delves deeper and further explores aspects of these kinds of characters’ identities that seldom make it to the screen. The big question going forward is whether the studios will read the room and give people what they want.

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io9 Culture Critic and Staff Writer. Cyclops was right.

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DISCUSSION

The Werewolf

So... let me start by saying that having homosexual characters in cartoons (or anywhere else) isn’t (or shouldn’t) be a problem. It’s the idea that there should be ... hm ... how to put this.

It’s like this. If media (movies, TV, etc), ad copy editors and tech blogs are to be believed, 90% of all computer, cell phone and tablet users are using Apple products when in fact just 9% of computer users, 17% of cell phone users and.. well tablets are tricky as we’re in the middle of trying to decide what a tablet is (kind of like trying to define how gay you have to be to be gay when in fact, tabletness is on a spectrum).

It’s easy to forget not that gays are under-represented but that gender orientation shouldn’t be what defines a person (it’s an element of... not an “I am”) and in the same way, a character should be defined as a person first and then gender orientation when it becomes relevant. The plus is THEN showing that having different gender orientations isn’t bad or scary.

Most of us never bring up gender orientation in day to day conversations or interactions. Not to avoid the subject but because in most cases, it’s just not relevant to the discussion. “Hi, I’m here to fix your dishwasher...” “Hi, good to meet you. I’m gay.” “Err... ooookay...”

Let the flaming begin. (No.. not that kind of flaming.... sheesh...)

PS: Huge fan of Steven Universe (well until SU:Future’s second half)