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.
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experiences of being urged to downplay or outright avoid any sort of content featuring non-straight people out of an outdated sense of what was deemed respectable and appropriate.
“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 centre 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.
Not only are there audiences for these kinds of shows, but they’re clamouring 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.