'Anyone can be a hero': She-Ra creator Noelle Stevenson on LGBT+ representation in animation

  • By ITV News Digital Journalist Jocelyn Evans

Ask LGBT+ people what they watched when they were younger that represented who they were, and the list is limited.

More often than not when television shows hinted at a character being LGBT+, our hopes would be swiftly dashed when that story line failed to materialise, or worse, the character was simply killed off.

In animation and children's television there was even less representation - until now.

Creator Noelle Stevenson's vision for the Dreamworks' reboot of the 1980s cartoon She-Ra was this: "Anyone can be a hero."

Available on Netflix, the animated series follows the journey of Adora - an orphan who discovers a magical sword that transforms her into legendary warrior princess She-Ra.

The heroes of the series are a group of characters rarely seen on our screens - queer people, non-binary people, ethnic minorities, the list goes on.

"She-Ra is a show with such a wide range of characters, and we really just wanted to show - this sounds a little cheesy - but that anyone can be a hero," Stevenson says.

"You hear that a lot but you still tend to see one specific, narrow archetype of character who gets to be the hero."

In She-Ra: Princesses of Power it's the butch characters, the boy who wears hearts and the princess who isn't size eight who get their moment.

"They are heroic - they are the heroes, they are the main characters, the protagonists and there is no holding back on that," Stevenson says.

"That was something that was really important for us to show - 'Hey you, and you, and you, and you, this is your world. These could be your powers. This could be your superhero team.'"

The LGBT+ representation in the series was central to their vision for the reboot, Stevenson says, but it was also not a drastic diversion from the original.

"The original She-Ra was incredibly gay for a show made in 1987."

The series featured suggested same-sex relationships and had out gay creators working on it, Stevenson says.

But more than 30 years on, the industry has caught up enough to allow that implied content to become a reality.

"You are trying to include the storylines, these characters, that are important to you - but also you don't want people to feel cheated.

"You don't want them to feel: 'Oh you implied this character was gay but then never did anything with that, you sort of set us up and let us down' and I didn't want people to feel let down."

The love/hate relationship of Catra and Adora plays out across five seasons of the show. Credit: Dreamworks

Television is often criticised for "queer baiting" - implying a same-sex storyline or character in order to get the attention of fans, but then failing to deliver any LGBT+ representation.

The relationship between Eve and Villanelle in Killing Eve, is one example - or Finn and Poe in Stars Wars: The Rise of Starwalker.

Stevenson says if creators back their own vision for queer representation in television, support from the fanbase will help push studios and production companies to sign it off.

"We got such an outpouring of support for what we were able to include early on, and that paved the way for us to go further with it in the last seasons," they say.

"It was really great to be able to tell these stories that I was so passionate about and have them be not just implied and not just there in the background, but have it be the central arc of the entire show and thematically what this show is all about."

That commitment has been recognised by viewers and critics alike.

She-Ra is up for an NAACP (US civil rights organisation the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) Image Award this year and has a GLAAD (a US media monitoring organisation) nomination for outstanding kids and family programming.

The voice actors working on the show reflect the diversity of the characters on screen too.

The casting process went something like this, Stevenson says: "Here’s what you maybe expect - here’s the person you typecast - what if we maybe, don’t do that?

"What if we go to someone who hasn’t gotten the option to play this character before?"

Double Trouble is a shapeshifter in the series, voiced by non-binary actor Jacob Tobia. Credit: Dreamworks/jacobtobia.com

It is telling, however, that a single show stands out so starkly in the world of animation and children's television.

The breadth and depth of representation on screen for LGBT+ people is so lacking, that we cling to content like She-Ra - where we finally see ourselves reflected on screen.

I asked Stevenson if this was the start of a changing world of animation, where more people can begin to see themselves in stories on television.

"We have seen such leaps and bounds since just the last six or seven years ago and there’s still so much further to go," they say.

"It's still something that we need to be talking about, we need to stay talking about it [...] and continue pushing ourselves because we're never done - it's something that is always going to be evolving and hopefully moving forward."

Indeed Stevenson is part of that evolution - they're currently working on Lumberjanes, an animated series that follows an all-girl scout group on their supernatural adventures.

And for a creator who's already achieved so much, they have an inspiring vision for what's next: "I hope a future where people are just swimming in incredible story lines for queer characters and characters of colour - I hope that's the future that they're looking back on us from."

ITV News is showcasing the lives, legacies and stories of individuals throughout LGBT+ History Month, read more in the series here.

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