Importance of Proper Diversity and the Fall of Steven Universe

Edit 2018/01/04: This used to be a post on how Voltron has fallen out of favour with fans but it looks like it has won them back. So now, let’s focus on Steven Universe.

 

While it still has devoted fans, Steven Universe has become widely hated among an audience that used to hold it so dearly. Due to the never-ending hiatuses a lot of fans became frustrated with 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 (Peridot acting like a gremlin until Lapis left), 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). If you search Steven Universe on my blog you can find more problems with the show, but I speak objectively when I saw a lot of LGBTQIA fans and fans of color are starting to loose interest. Pearl is a lesbian but cannot have a happy and healthy love life (it has to be all about Rose angst), Lapis turned out to be domineering and arguably abusive over Peridot (and this was meant to be a growing queer relationship), and Ruby and Sapphire are seldom seen. Worse, a lot of fans have pointed out that the lighter-skinned/’whiter’ characters (Steven, Pearl) get more development, screentime, and sympathy over characters the darker/ethnic-coded characters (Garnet, Amethyst). And of course people are still bitter at how the white and feminine Rose is still seen as in the right despite doing morally dubious things while the dark and butch Bismuth is immediately demonized.

What happened? Probably 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. It’s also entirely possible 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 (especially when you introduce a human zoo on the first day of Black History Month). 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.

Fans of marginalized groups are quick to notice when something is not quite right. I know the fandom ultimately persevered but there was a time when Voltron got into serious trouble when Allura, who many people read as a black woman, was revealed to be a teenager. To a lot of black fans, that raises a lot of unfortunate implications (a black teen cannot look or act appropriately for her age, which is a serious issue in real life since black children are often perceived as older than they are and prosecuted unfairly; the dubious age of her and the other Paladins should the show pair her up with anybody). While Voltron seems to be getting its appreciation back, Steven Universe has fallen into a hole and will have a hard time crawling out.

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.

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Author: Laura Alexander

My name is Laura, I use they/them pronouns, and I'm a recent graduate of the Social Service Worker Program at Sheridan College. I'm on the autism spectrum (Asperger's) and I have a passion for film and animation, social issues, and helping others, all of which will be featured on The Flying Red Robot blog. Please read the about page before commenting or following. "Big Hero 6" is my favourite movie.

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