SPOILER WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Netflix’s She-Ra and the Princesses of Power.
Sad short story.
- Step 1: Netflix-Dreamworks create a remake of the old and glorious She-Ra tv show from the ‘80s, changing completely the style and inserting gay themes.
- Step 2: the Internet explodes.
I must confess I wasn’t too happy about this makeover either. I grew up with The Masters of the Universe and I was accustomed to think of it as a certain type of product; these characters are part of my childhood, and to see them reinvented to this extent was something of a shock. The idea of forcing gay or lesbian relationships in a show that wasn’t originally meant for that felt just as disturbing.
But why? After all, we should all be accustomed to such themes by now. Considering it’s hard nowadays to find a single movie or series that doesn’t feature some kind of homosexual character or relationship, this has become a very persistent matter in modern shows. Perhaps we see it as something that belongs into the world of adults, and it bothers us to see it transpire into kids’ shows, which is a cultural change that should rightfully at least be discussed. Or perhaps we’re just a bunch of hypocrites – approving homosexuality in public, yet feeling disturbed by it in our private, or when we see it on television. So that begs the question, are we all biased after all? Are we all cowards?
Personally, I’ve never felt homophobic. My readers and friends can tell you that. While it’s not in my nature, I’ve always thought anyone should be respected for what he or she is, and I treat my gay friends no different than the others. There are gay and lesbian characters in my books, too – not because some network policy forced me to put them in there to grab some market share, just because I’m more interested in talking about love rather than the form it takes – and I’ve even written a gamebook where you can freely play your sexual alignment. I was thrilled by the lesbian twist at the end of Legend of Korra because it felt like a sensed development of the characters of Korra and Asami. I’ve also deeply enjoyed all of Steven Universe, that was the first show to extensively portray female-to-female love in a very romantic kind of manner. And I found it breathtaking. Because love it was.
So, biased as an average heterosexual guy can be, I’m not the kind of person you could consider a hater. Yet, ever since I’ve tried to comment on She-Ra, I have been repeatedly attacked, insulted and unfriended on social networks both by contacts and perfect strangers, just for having an opinion in the matter that doesn’t necessarily align with the mass. People are reacting harshly, blind to any legitimate criticism on what it’s supposed to be a show for kids, because it has adopted some hot topics that are not open for debate. Thus, if you disagree with any of the artistic choices that were made, that automatically makes you a homophobic jerk. Wow. Nice to see how free-thought always has to go the way the wind goes.
Critics said, for example, that this new She-Ra looks like a “boyish lesbian”. I can’t help but agree with that statement. She’s a tank and her anatomy’s that of a two-and-a-half meter tall boy with overly long hair and a semi-feminine voice. Also I honestly despise her ridiculous tennis shorts.
There is just no comparing her to the original She-Ra in terms of aesthetics and proportions. They could have easily found a halfway across that would have been both non-objectifying AND pleasing for all audiences, but it seems the creators of the show pushed the boundaries of making She-Ra as masculine as possible to show that she “is strong”, like she needs to resemble a man to make people understand she’s a female lead and she being feminine is a bad thing.
But let’s skim over the questionable character design choices and have a deep look at the show itself.
When I seated in front of the tv, I really needed to get She-Ra out of my system. This show has been haunting me since I saw the first promos. My perception of it was more of a manifesto making a statement rather than some adventure cartoon I could simply enjoy. Yet I did my best to keep an open mind, and judge it without any biases whatsoever. I just tried to be both a watcher and a critic.
After I let a few episodes play, I don’t know which of the two was more ticked off. The feeling of the show went from cool to disappointing, to moments of actual fun, to meh, to awkward, to boredom, to times when I felt genuinely creeped out. All of this rolled into a dazing trip of rainbow colors and talking alicorns, bathed in a plentiful sauce of feminine teen drama.
I found out that the criticism on the LGBTQ themes was useless, because the show is missing out on some far more important elements that put the rest in the backyard.
Mainly, it’s very thin.
Instead of an epic battle between the evil forces of the Horde and a group of brave rebels led by a strong heroine, what we have here is a bland, harmless comedy where you rarely feel any danger or pressure at all.
The conflict with the Horde is pretty much an excuse for putting on stage a persistent teen drama between Adora and Catra, who form the only relationship that has some punch to it in the whole show. Fights between hordes and rebels feel more like roleplay than actual conflict. The bad guys are sketchy at best (when not plain silly), they don’t make you afraid by any chance, this so-called war has barely any drama to it whatsoever, Hordak himself rarely appears throughout the whole series and doesn’t do anything except approve Catra making weapons of mass destruction behind his back. The Shadow Weaver is a total waste of a good character because she barks but does not really bite. Catra’s the only villain who’s actually trying, but in the end everyone seems more worried about who’s friends with who rather than the (un)impending fate of Etheria. The princesses’ kingdoms are a joke; they’re supposed to be at war with Hordak, but everything on the land seems totally cool – no poverty, no oppression, no strong menace except for the occasional skirmish with a bunch of cadets. Alliances between kingdoms are not about breaking sieges or shifts of power but personal friendships – nothing taken seriously there, too. And where is everyone anyway? Every place they visit seems terribly empty, there are just a few princesses here and there, the only mass scenes are on the first episode and during the party in ice land. Even in the final battle between Brightmoon and the Horde, aside from a few tanks, there is NO ONE to fight except the main characters, not even Angella’s guards! Etheria is unpopulated. Like, totally.
If She-Ra’s quest against Hordak is generally relaxed, some other things are just plain irritating. And here we return to the LG themes and how they were handled.
Every single relationship in this show is kind of messed up. We have two princesses that clearly are in love with each other, who seem to form the only happy and stable couple in the whole story, but their relationship is barely scratched. Adora and Catra are friend-enemies. Mothers (Angella, Shadow Weaver) are natural enemies of their daughters. Glimmer is always in conflict with her mother Angella, who acts like a bitch for the sake of it, like putting her teen daughter in charge, then scolding her in the council for actually trying to achieve any goal. Glimmer on her side doesn’t trust her own mother to tell her that she’s sick after she’s been abducted and tortured by the Shadow Weaver, which means even positive adult figures here are perceived as antagonists and have no authority or credibility. And Bow is constantly acting like everyone’s loving friend, going into the rooms of Glimmer and Adora to chit-chat and have slumber parties. Or bromancing the Sea Falcon. Which kinda would have made sense. Yeeesh.
Yes, because did I mention that every male character in this show (there are only three if we exclude Hordak and the lizard guy) is either portrayed as comic relief, a complete moron or exhibiting ambiguous behavior. Bow doesn’t do anything of his own except be supportive of the lead female characters. Talk about female characters confined to a support role with no development of their own.
The part that freaked me out most was when Bow asked the plant princess to the ice dance. Aside from these two characters having no chemistry or backstory between them, I felt pretty shocked that Glimmer finds them being together unacceptable, not because she’s jealous of Bow as a boy she likes (which would have felt like a sensible reason), but because she’s being possessive of him as a friend and she doesn’t want him to go out with a girl. That is so messed up, guys! And that argument goes on for several episodes. Also, there is a lot of teasing involved in having Catra and Scorpia go together to the dance as a couple, with Catra being “the man”. Everything is just so allusive but not in a way that feels really right or fun or pleasing, more like an embarrassing fan fiction.
At this point I realized that what bothers me about this show is not at all the presence of gay relationships but the absence of any kind of actual romance underneath all the teasing. In fact, aside from the rivalry between Adora and Catra, every other relationship is very superficial. While the portraying of relationships is intoxicating in the show, we never feel the sentiment of love or attraction forming between any of the characters – either straight or else. Romantic tension doesn’t exist. If something, there is this eerie feeling of futile teen obsessions for friends, unhealthy jealousy and an all-around gender teasing that managed to make me feel unnerved and unsatisfied.
The creators of She-Ra could have easily made a more balanced product, but instead they made a point of pushing boundaries and sexually teasing the audience with something that only looks revolutionary, but it’s actually a huge step backwards in portraying a truly sane and open-minded world of relationships between characters of any sexual orientation. Change is necessary in a society, most of us agree on that. But when you force it, you will only get resistance from the general public. Especially when you hit on a traditional and beloved icon that gets twisted in the process.
You might think at this point that She-Ra is just a cartoon and I’m taking my argument too far, but I’m not so sure about that. Cartoons are important because they form the mass culture of younger generations. Kids watch this stuff and learn, absorb, imitate. They need role models to help them find their own role in real life. This is why we need cartoons to positively show things such as romancing in any form. Instead, many shows today are made to be as harmless as possible, removing all plausible sensuality, tragedy or actual danger from the equation. When you take away from the kids the right to make an effort to understand things that are difficult or challenging, you’re not giving them the tools to handle those situations when they involve them. As a result, young people can’t handle love turn downs, or scares, or failures. They come out of their childhood loaded with power fantasies, unprepared for the harshness of the real world, and the moment they hit a wall they naturally react with rage and disconcert, because they were promised they weren’t gonna have to face real problems and they have to.
So it’s not the missing boobs I’m complaining about, or the gay stuff, or the graphic style of the series, which I actually found nice and enjoyable with a few downs. It’s the missed opportunity for making a really powerful show instead of a shallow one. Steven Universe nailed it; She-Ra didn’t. Sorry guys, that’s just what I think.