Why Animated Representation Matters

Source: https://henchman4hire.com/2019/01/09/6-thoughts-on-the-first-season-of-she-ra-and-the-princesses-of-power/ (accessed 28 Feb 2021)

With the multitude of live action movies that Hollywood has been giving us as of late, it almost feels refreshing, in a sense, for anyone to just sit down and enjoy the art that lies behind the work of animation. Animation, in itself, is beautiful. Due to the creative freedom that this sort of medium offers, artists can explore its potential to its extremes with the ‘simple’ touch of a pencil. For instance, take a look at Spiderman into the Spiderverse. The colours, the backgrounds, the action scenes and everything that makes up this movie is simply astounding and, most likely, impossible to replicate in a live action movie. And still, while both forms of art deserve their due credit, animation should also be appreciated as its own kind of media. Given the extensive labor that goes into every possible movie or series that we have collectively watched on TV as children, or even as young adults today, animation keeps on engaging people in the way that it narrates stories through its astounding visuals and overall composition. From the script writing to the storyboards, characters and world design, animation has been giving us incredible stories for us to tell today and for years to come, oftentimes creating something so beautiful out of a blank piece of paper. 

Animation, as a form of art, has always been able to give us a story to tell, stories that we keep on narrating to this day. You don’t even need to be an avid animation-watcher to know of the many movies that have shaped us to this day. For instance, if you were to ask of Disney’s remarkable 1994 animated movie The Lion King, almost anyone would be able to talk about the impact it has had on its audiences to this very day. The history and reputation that precedes this form of art is truly remarkable to even look at.

And yet, among all of these romances, adventures and even tragedies that the world of animation has given us, as viewers, there’s also been a recent and sudden spike of representation awareness within its medium. Amid these, LGBTQ+ representation has started to bloom in some of these stories.

LGBTQ+ representation has always been a rather sensitive subject within the entertainment business, for animators and filmmakers alike, to delve themselves into. As a child, I don’t remember seeing any of it on tv, and whichever character I felt could be a member of it sparked out of a personal interpretation rather than being something that was confirmed by the end of the series. In the last decade or so, however, it’s been interesting to witness the slow rise of gay representation within our media, to a point where now it almost feels like a trend to have the ‘gay best friend’ character witness what happens throughout the course of the protagonist’s story. As a matter of fact, while it is rewarding to see LGBTQ+ characters on our screens, it is also important to portray them in a way that feels true to someone who is a member of the community, as to make them a genuine and heartfelt character. Nonetheless, as stated before, it’s also been interesting to see how the rise of gay representation in animation came to be. As a matter of fact, we have had quite a number of shows, particularly during this past decade, that featured a series of gay characters varying from shows like Sailor Moon, Steven Universe and The Legend of Korra, to name a few. Netflix’s Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts made quite the steps for the LGBTQ+ community, as it is the first animated series to have a gay man state his homosexuality on the main screen. And while it may seem odd to mention something that would feel mundane to some, a moment like this really works wonders for a world that still seems to be skeptical for a character to use the word “gay” in a child’s animated TV show. Nonetheless, all of these series have worked, in one way or the other, in the making of space for LGBTQ+ people to find themselves within this form of medium. 

However, while all of these shows made significant steps in promoting LGBTQ+ representation to be more present within the field of animation, there’s been a series, in particular, that recently stood out the most amongst many, when it comes to the representation of gay individuals within an animated show. And that series is Netflix’s 2018 reboot of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. 

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power follows the story of Adora, a young girl who is able to turn into the legendary hero, She-Ra. The story follows her many adventures, alongside her friends, Glimmer and Bow, in the insidious fight against the Horde, led by Hordak, a man who wished to control Adora and her friends’ planet for himself. The series goes through this rebellion, while focusing on the two protagonists that ultimately shape the story and ending of this show. These two characters, being Adora and Catra – Adora’s childhood best friend – now turned into her rival for most of the series. It’s important to emphasize how this show not only includes representation from all points of view, as it features LGBTQ+ people, people of colour, etc, but it is also important to underline how the story is physically shaped around the dynamic between Adora and Catra who, as confirmed by the creator, Noelle Stevenson, are both lesbians. While this may seem like something minor to some, it is remarkable for a series to feature two gay protagonists who, as main characters, are also the catalysts of the show, shaping the story around not only their dynamic, but also their sexualities. This is something that has never been seen on a mainstream platform like Netflix, or within the world of animation itself.

In a way, it is nearly groundbreaking to see two lesbian characters being protagonists of their own animated show, bringing into perspective the way that this kind of representation can be deeply impacting for people across all ages, who may have gotten the chance to watch this show. Whether they’re children, young adults, or even older audiences that did not have the chance to watch something like this as a child, this show delves into topics that can be explored for people of all ages. Seeing a gay couple shaping the progress of a story was something that, personally, felt so unreal that it nearly brought me to tears. Not only are the protagonists and many, if not all, characters in this show members of the LGBTQ+ community, but their stories and portrayals are also done in a way that stays true to whoever is a member to this same community. In a sense, it feels real. It’s not for a comedic purpose, or used as the end of a joke, otherwise, it’s something that grows and shapes them into the characters that they become by the end of the series. Stevenson even commented on this, saying that “the characters all began with a deep personal flaw, and the process of making the show was kind of giving them the room to process those flaws. But we wanted it to feel organic. We wanted the characters to feel like real people that we knew.” To see these characters develop over the course of a whole series, truly felt magical in a way, as if, for once, the spotlight’s been brought on to these LGBT characters that can shape the outcome of the final story. And, to avoid spoilers, I will limit myself in saying that the story was carried out beautifully, making the watch really worthwhile.

Alas, while it is emotional to see these kinds of stories pop up in our everyday media, it is also important to underline how it is still difficult for this type of representation to make it on to the big screen. As stated by Stevenson in an interview with the Rolling Stone, it was quite a challenge for them to get this story done the way they wanted it to be done. “I really wanted it to be so central to the plot that if at any point they were like, ‘Oh, we changed our minds, we want to take it out again,’ they wouldn’t be able to, because it would be so baked in […] The temperature is not always right, and depending on what’s happening in the world, not everyone wants to be the studio that sticks their neck out and makes a statement like this. You will get a flat ‘no’ sometimes. But if you bide your time, or you come at it from another angle, that can change. You just have to keep pushing.”

You have to keep pushing.

She-Ra and The Princesses of Power has pushed boundaries that no other series has ever done before. Not only did it work on plenty of LGBTQ+ characters and storylines, making them feel real and substantial, but it also featured two lesbian protagonists, centering the story around their dynamic and romance, while ultimately leaving us with an ending and a reputation that will be narrated for the years to come. And while the industry still has a long way to go in terms of representing minorities within its media, it truly feels rewarding to see something of this nature on our very own tv screens.

By Francesca Adamo

The Crow’s Nest is a Greenwich Students’ Union Student Media channel. The views expressed in this website do not necessarily reflect those of GSU, its trustees, employees, officers or the University of Greenwich.

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