Last year, I made a post out of anger over the lack of female characters (that weren’t based on stereotypes or had complicated gender politics attached to them) in Voltron. The post is now gone (I wasn’t very proud of it and it was getting waaaaaaaaaaay too much traffic, and I was sure it wasn’t the good kind), but it turns out I may have been vindicated. Because now the fans are starting to turn on the show.
What happened? Allura.
Before the major controversy happened, a lot of people were starting to point out that, for a character who’s coded as black (dark skin and voiced by a black actress), she didn’t really look black.
Picture an African American (or look them up on Google images). What do they typically have in common? Full lips and big, wide noses. You’re hard pressed to find an African American woman with a tiny, upturned nose. And of course they have a wider range of hair styles, too. This is what Allura looks like.
Note how she has none of those features that are common with black women. It just looks boring and generic. A lot of people pointed it out (and made some awesome edits and redesigns), but things just got worse.
If you watch the show, you might be given the impression that Allura is an adult, given how mature she is (by her looks and personality). She’s actually a teenager.
So…you can’t have the black teenager look and act like a black teenager. All the other teenagers look and act their age, but suddenly, the black girl has to look and act like an adult. Given how black children and teens are perceived to be older (and more violent and scary) than they actually are and therefore less innocent, this is…not a good implication.
What’s worse is that now that Allura is a teen, the possibility of an Keith/Allura/Lotor is very high (since it happened in the original show). You know, Keith, the guy with more chemistry with men and absolutely zero with her until the very tail end of season 2. The guy a lot of people have been hoping to be gay (and be in a relationship with Lance). Nope, can’t have any explicit LGBT characters! Can’t let Allura be with a character she actually has chemistry with (Shiro)!
Trust me, I’m not exaggerating or alone in this. A LOT of people are upset by this, especially black fans. That’s not very good.
So wow. That show got spurred very quick! Which reminds me of another show that’s going downhill: Steven Universe. You can find a lot of info on why this show has gotten so hated recently (just check the “su critical” tag on Tumblr), but basically, the show has been nothing but endless filler and cop out, horrible animation (the characters have consistently gone off model and fat characters have been slimmed down), bad characterization, and unfortunate implications (apparently you’re just as bad as your oppressors or abusers if you fight back against them, and the 14 year old is never wrong).
What the fuck happened? How did these two shows that started off with so much promise go downhill so quickly?
Well, for Steven Universe’s case, it was a myriad of reasons. Like, Rebecca Sugar has a lot of cool ideas and an earnest interest in telling a good, diverse story, but she’s hampered by bad writers and storyboard artists that don’t properly communicate (Lauren Zuke tried to force in a Lapis Lazuli and Peridot romance, and the lead writers, Matt Burnett and Ben Levin, don’t exactly have the best resume if you look them up on IMDb), an over-reliance on filler to stall time for her to get the story figured out, and terrible executives at Cartoon Network that will fuck with the show’s airings. And also, I know this is a conspiracy theory, but I feel that once the show got brownie points for being diverse, the crew stopped giving a shit. They figured they could ride the success of the praise to stay relevant, but people have started to point out the flaws (again, check out the su critical tag, but once you make an episode about a fucking human zoo you’re in deep shit). I just hope the show manages to end on a high note because at this rate I don’t think it’s going to last much longer given the ratings.
I think a similar thing happened for Voltron. I mean it did try to be diverse (none of the Paladins are white men) but it kind of failed (Hunk’s character is nothing but food and fat jokes, no one can agree on Pidge’s gender, and we discussed the problems with Allura). And honestly, I don’t think it’s as well-written as the previous shows Joaquim Dos Santos and Lauren Montgomery worked on (Avatar: The Last Airbender and Justice League: Unlimited).
I guess, ultimately, this is cautionary tale of not being fully committed to diversity or consistent quality writing, and how it can turn off fans completely. So, if you’re an aspiring writer and creator, look at the criticisms these shows get so you can avoid them yourself, make sure you get in with a good network, and make sure you have qualified (and diverse!) staff. Then you can create a show that will be loved for a long time.
In the meantime, let’s hope these two shows improve. I would rather they die heroes than live long enough to see themselves become the villain.