The Problem With Princesses

If you’ve read my thoughts on Moana and Frozen, you know that I am done with new Disney Princess movies. I find that Disney is too focused on making their princess features as marketable and politically correct as possible, at the detriment of telling original, interesting stories and complex characters. But lately I realized that my disdain of new Disney Princesses is a symptom of a larger problem I’ve noticed: the overabundance of princess characters in media.

Princess Peach. Princess Zelda. Xena, Warrior Princess. Princess Serenity. Princess Sally Acorn. Princess Allura. Princess Diana of Themyscira. Princess Leia. Princess Bubblegum (and all the countless princesses in the land of Ooo). Even the great Miyazaki has some of his female characters be princesses when they could easily be ordinary girls. This is just a small sampling of the many, many, MANY princess characters in media aimed at kids. You can find a (possibly incomplete) list HERE. After looking at that list, what did you notice they all seem to have in common?

That, if they are in media aimed at boys, the princess is sometimes the ONLY prominent female character, and if they’re in media aimed at girls, it’s the princess who is the most important character out of all the other girls.

This is a problem for a few reasons. The biggest reason to me being the sheer lack of other roles female characters in kids media get. Boys can be soldiers, knights, kings, pilots, scientists, adventurers, speedsters, plumbers, and even complete average joes and still be important and heroes. Girls by and large still tend to only get the role of princesses, especially if they’re the main female character. Obviously, not ALL kid’s media shoehorns their female protagonists into the role of the princess, but it goes to show that, in a lot of instances, the first instinct is to make her a princess and not, well, anything else.

Let’s go back to Disney for a bit. Take a look at all the Disney Animated Canon films that center on human female characters: Snow White, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Pocahontas, Mulan, The Princess and the Frog, Tangled, Frozen and Moana (Aladdin doesn’t count because Jasmine is not the focus on the film, and I hesitate to include Lilo & Stitch because Stitch gets all the marketing focus and he carries the central plot). Out of 56 films released so far, only 12 films have female characters as the central protagonist, and with one exception, they’re all princess films. Meanwhile, Disney male heroes get a much wider range of roles like it’s no big deal. (No surprise: most of my most fave Disney movies are male-led because of this.)

There are two other problems with the princess trope. One of them being the sheer lack of positive QUEEN roles. Queens in media are either nonexistent, villains, or only provide a tiny supportive role. In either case, it’s the princess’s father who is more important. There are also situations where the princess is the only person in charge and her parents are either dead or out of commission, but she still doesn’t go by the title of queen. This is still apparently a problem today; in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, Luna and Celestia were supposed to be queens, but the marketing team intervened to have them be called princesses instead. The princess role isn’t really that empowering the more you think of it (it’s a role you are assigned at since birth and you’re expected to look and act a certain way as you find a husband) but at least as a queen you get some real power. Apparently that’s too much for some people.

And finally, my big problem with the princess trope is that it kind of reinforces that only princesses get to be beautiful and important. In some cases, the princess character can be harder to sympathize with because they come from a place of immense privilege. Why should I care if you want more when you have everything you could possibly want? But more than anything, any other female character in the princess’s respective media gets left out in the cold so the audience and other characters can coo over her.

I feel like now is the time to introduce girls to other types of female characters. Show them that the they can be more than just princesses. Give us female knights, pilots, explorers, scientists and blue collar workers. Give ordinary, everyday girls the fantasy that they can save the world.

And of course, let’s have more female rulers and leaders that aren’t princesses. In a world where women still struggle to be in positions of power, I think it’s about time we show girls that it’s better to be a president than a princess.

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Compare and Contrast: Elsa and Cinderella

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Cinderella gets a really bad rap nowadays. I think a lot of it is due to how she’s marketed, where there’s more of a focus on her being pretty and feminine over any actual personality or talent she has. When people, particularly feminists, bring up everything wrong with Disney, she is usually the character they refer to.

When people bring up a Disney princess who they think is ‘feminist’, for the longest time they turned to Elsa from Frozen (and I’m guessing they still do, since Moana hasn’t nearly gotten the amount of praise Elsa has).

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I think it’s getting to the point where Elsa might be ousting Cinderella’s place as the most iconic Disney Princess. To a lot of people, Elsa is the modern woman, whereas Cinderella is the outdated doormat.

After looking at more analyses of Cinderella’s character, I can’t help but want to compare/contrast the two. In some ways, Elsa feels like a reboot of Cinderella, down to the similar palette and glitter. But, for me at least, it doesn’t work out too well.

So, with all that said, let’s take a look.

THE CHARACTER AND COSTUME DESIGN

Take a closer look at the above designs. You can tell that Cinderella is a young woman, but also physically mature. She has a face and body appropriate for a woman in her late teens or early twenties. She may be skinny, sure, but for the most part she’s realistically proportioned (her eyes don’t take up half of her face).

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And this is Elsa:

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Does this look like someone who’s 21 to you? Let alone a character who’s supposed to have the title of Queen? The body is about right, but the huge eyes and large, rounded face make her look really babyish.

Why does this matter? Well, at each point in their movies, Cinderella and Elsa get to wear their iconic dresses that represent their freedoms.

When Cinderella puts on her dress, she looks well and truly like a princess: stunning, serene, elegant, mature, respectable. Her outfit flatters her shape without being too sexualized, which is appropriate, since Cinderella is not very sexual. When she wears this outfit, it shows that Cinderella now looks and feels beautiful and important. It’s also appropriate for the occasion: she’s going to a royal ball where she’ll meet her true love. She has the appearance of a mature woman who is finally going to have a good time.

Now take a look at Elsa’s ice dress. Does that really look like the dress a youthful looking 21 year old who has been depressed all her life, is not sexual, and never really indicated that she liked the queenly life would wear if she wanted to be totally free and live in the mountains? That outfit looks more like something an older woman would wear at a very formal event, given how narrow and impractical it is. I get you want to show that Elsa is now a Snow Queen instead of an Arendelle Queen, but wouldn’t loose, flowing robes and bare feet make more sense? Show that she’s now comfortable and free? It’s pretty obvious the dress was designed more for audience appeal than to show Elsa’s character development.

HOW THEY BOTH HANDLE ABUSE AND ISOLATION

Both characters suffer from this. Cinderella’s parents died at an early age, and she was forced to live under the control of her Evil Stepmother, and only had animals for help and companionship. Elsa was raised to be scared of her powers (and herself) by her parents. They’re both pretty much cut off from the outside world. This is where most feminists would claim that Elsa is more feminist because while Elsa seeks to change her situation, Cinderella “waits around for a man to save her” (their words, not mine). But…that’s not accurate.

See, Cinderella is cut off because she’s a young, unmarried woman with no real status and no money. If she tried to run away…where do you think she’s going to go? Beg on the streets? Work as a maid somewhere else? Sure, Elsa runs away, but she ends up going all the way to the mountains, with no food or resources (and the movie shows that if someone wants to go after her, they can and will). For all the praise Elsa gets for being Strong and Independent, she spends most of the movie scared and crying. Which…yes, is a valid reaction after being isolated for so long, but the problem is that she really makes no means to save herself or try to be a better person. She freezes her sister’s heart and makes no attempt to help her or ask if she’s okay, doesn’t even try to unfreeze the kingdom, and ends up deferring to her sister (who pushed her to run away in the first place).

Like, I wouldn’t mind if people were saying that Elsa proves it’s okay for people to need help, but people are saying Elsa is oh so badass and powerful and strong but she’s really not.

Oh, but you say, how is Cinderella any better?

Well, the thing about Cinderella is that even though she’s abused and alone, she does her best to not let it get to her. She may be sassy and sarcastic, but she’s never mean and doesn’t hurt people or animals, not even those that may wrong her. She is soft, kind hearted and optimistic, knowing that she will be free from her abusive situation (NOT that a man will come save her) if her patience and goodness pays off. She ultimately gets rewarded this with a trip to the ball. She has her moments of weakness, but at the end, she is able to save herself: she works together with her animal friends to escape the locked room and proves she is the girl the Prince danced with by showing the other glass slipper. She PERSEVERES despite all odds. Whereas Elsa melts down at the slightest form of adversity.

For those who still need convincing, please watch this excellent and informative video by ScreenPrism below:

CONCLUSION

At the risk of gaining the ire at other feminists, I would much rather have little girls look up to Cinderella than to Elsa. Cinderella is better designed, is a kinder person, and shows girls that they can make it through even the worst situations and that they’re not totally helpless. While Elsa, on the surface, looks like she’s meant to correct Cinderella’s supposed wrongs by being more active, she ends up being less strong because she gives up easily, ends up putting all her support on her sister, and ends up (intentionally or not) hurting others without properly making up for it.

While I admit that I’m not a HUGE fan of Cinderella, she really is so much better than people give her credit for. She’s not perfect, of course, but for people to dismiss her as a weak doormat while turning around to praise Elsa even though she can also be weak is unfair.

Is there a Disney Princess that is perfectly feminist? No, of course not. But just because Cinderella has a Prince Charming and no fighting skills doesn’t make her any lesser than someone who gets a lot of hype mostly for being single.

Popularity Does Not Mean Progress

For the longest time, Steven Universe and Frozen were on top of the world.  One of the main reasons being that, allegedly, they were very ‘progressive’. Frozen got praised for being about two sisters, for showing that girls don’t need men to save them, that romance wasn’t the center of the plot, etc. Steven Universe got praised for showing LGBT couples, having lots of women with diverse body shapes and kicking ass, for having an unconventional lead, etc. Recently, Zootopia has gotten a lot of praise for delivering a ‘timely’ and ‘important’ message on prejudice. Yes, it seemed that media for children and families had finally grown up.

But let’s take a closer look at each of these pieces of media, shall we?

For a movie who gets lots of praise for not being about romance and being about two sisters, Anna and Elsa sure don’t spend a lot of time together in Frozen, let alone together being sisterly to each other. Anna spends more time with Kristoff, who condescends to her repeatedly but she still ends up together with him. Elsa barely gets any screen time and doesn’t get a chance to really grow and develop. She gets one moment to be confident with her powers (the “Let It Go” sequence), but the rest of the movie she’s constantly scared and unable (or unwilling) to fix her mistakes and is awkwardly put into a sexualized outfit even though she’s not sexual whatsoever. You can actually read a breakdown of Frozen‘s problems HERE, with this being my fave part:

What else does Anna have going for her? She isn’t intelligent, no matter how many words she can spit out per minute. If she were, she wouldn’t rush into an engagement with Hans, nor — for that matter — leave a man she barely knows in charge of her kingdom while she rides out in the snow without a coat. She’s certainly self-absorbed, using the first opportunity to make Elsa’s coronation all about her; and she’s vain, believing absolutely in her ability to talk some sense into Elsa despite having had no relationship with her sister for what looks like roughly ten years. She has no awareness of her surroundings (riding out in the snow without a coat), no awareness of her own limitations (the cringe-inducing mountain climbing episode), and no awareness of the consequences of her actions (provoking Elsa not once, but twice). She’s outspoken, yes, but she’s also rude; she’s condescending towards Kristoff and belligerent towards her sister; and she has no ambition beyond finding her one true love.

(As you can imagine, this is EXACTLY why Anna is one of my least fave characters of all time).

For Steven Universe, while I will admit it started off pretty strong, it began to unravel after awhile. Ruby and Sapphire are a positive queer couple, but they’re barely onscreen. Garnet (who is queer and black-coded) used to be a strong, caring, and supportive character, but now has almost no character of her own (just there to talk about fusion and give pithy wisdom to Steven at convenient moments). Pearl, who is supposed to be a mentally ill lesbian, is a HORRIBLE character, constantly endangering Steven and Connie without apologizing for it, acting territorial of Rose, actively resents Greg (to the point  where he’s not allowed to live with his own son), and manipulated Garnet into fusing with her, violating Garnet’s boundaries. Every butch character (Jasper, Bismuth, Eyeball Ruby) get demonized and put on the shelf while the more feminine characters (Lapis and the Diamonds) get sympathized with and even redeemed despite also doing bad things. All the women of the show (the Gems and Connie) revolve entirely around Steven, who has pretty much taken up the leader position of the Crystal Gems (yes, go to Homeworld and expect to be executed without consulting the Gems first) despite being so much younger.

Zootopia, to its credit, isn’t really that harmful (to an extent). But there’s nothing in it about it’s message about prejudice (which is pretty much meant to be a metaphor on racial issues) that hadn’t been done before, and done BETTER, by The Hunchback of Notre Dame. That movie candidly and uncompromisingly takes a look at genocide, ableism, misogyny/rape culture and religious hypocrisy and makes a very clear statement: don’t just TRY to make a world a better place, DO IT, or these things will happen. But what happened?

The Hunchback of Notre Dame still tends to get shunned for being too dark, while Zootopia is constantly adored and is much more successful.

This brings me to my main point.

If something is popular (like VERY popular, not just well received), it can never be truly progressive. Why? Because, by and large, society will accept liberal messages up to a point. Then it starts to make us uncomfortable, and we’ll dismiss it as being “too PC” or “too heavy handed”.

Keep in mind, we still live in a world where inserting women and non-white people in any major role still causes controversy. My favorite example is the 2016 version of Ghostbusters. It’s a movie that features not one, but FOUR older women as main characters, are not sexualized whatsoever, are allowed to be unconventionally attractive, do not depend on men at ANY POINT, support each other, and are shown to be confident and skilled in science and history. And of course it bombed and is scorned by audiences. While I will admit it’s not necessarily a masterpiece, the amount of bile it gets is really unwarranted (it’s not like the original movie is going away forever), but it doesn’t surprise me that it got the reaction it did.

I’m not saying that everything that is a huge hit is regressive, or that you can’t find any empowerment from the above media. I’m saying that, in order for something to really be revolutionary in terms of how different groups are represented and how important messages are conveyed, it needs to CHALLENGE the audiences. Make them think. Not just pat themselves on the back and feel better because what they watched wasn’t just another show or man revolving around a white straight man. (And just because something features a white man doesn’t necessarily mean it can’t be progressive, just read my posts on Wreck-It Ralph.)

Will such media reach great success? Probably not. But maybe they’ll inspire enough conversations to get an individual to start looking at things from a different perspective and make positive changes in their life and community.

Tropes Vs. Disabled People: Evil is Half-Blind

Warning: Spoilers

Steven Universe‘s upcoming game Save the Light (a sequel to their mobile game Attack the Light) will not only feature new gameplay, but also new characters. So far, we have two new characters: Squaridot and Hessonite.

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Right away, they reminded me of two other characters: Eyeball Ruby and the upcoming Emerald.

Now, what did you notice right away about all four of these characters?

They all only have one eye, and they’re all antagonists.

If you recall my post on Kubo and Casual Ableism you’ll remember I hated it for using blindness as a metaphor for evil and emptiness (I might not have minded except Kubo LITERALLY is at risk of going blind). I mentioned a little bit on how it’s not uncommon for a lot of villains to be disabled (and beaten by the able-bodied hero), but here I want to go into more detail.

It’s very common in media to give a villain a physical disability. In both Kingsman movies, the main villains’ henchmen sport missing limbs (Gazelle’s famous bladed prosthetic legs, and the new henchman has a robotic prosthetic that becomes a plot device). Hellboy, one of my favourite movies of all time, has a villain who doesn’t speak and suffered from surgical addiction, leading him to be extremely deformed (and of course he has a prosthetic hand). Lots of Bond villains sport disabilities. And of course, the famous Darth Vader is characterized as being “more machine now than man” until the very end of Return of the Jedi.

This is all a small sampling of a pervasive and dangerous trope: The Evil Cripple. A contrast to cases where a character’s disability is meant to elicit sympathy (or pity) or teach a lesson, this character is meant to be shown as dangerous and less than human. While we seem to be moving on from making villains queer-coded, it’s still very common for villains to have disabilities: the main villain in Logan has a robotic arm, and Dr. Poison in Wonder Woman wears a facial prosthetic.

I want to emphasize the one-eyed antagonist (from the embittered grump to the full on villain) because it his two targets: people who cannot see fully and people who don’t “look right”. It makes it clear if you have only one eye, you’re not “complete”. And it’s very easy to slip under the radar.

This is a trope that is very outdated and needs to stop. Instead of routinely making villains look “wrong” and “monstrous” and “robotic”, we need to make more positive characters with disabilities, like Toph from Avatar: The Last Airbender or Furiosa from Mad Max: Fury Road. In our current political climate where people with disabilities are either overlooked or outright ignored by advocates, we need to make sure we get more nuanced, accurate, and positive representation for all people, not just able-bodied members of marginalized groups.

The Symmetra Test

In a 1985 comic strip for Dykes to Watch Out For, Alison Bechdel inadvertently created the Bechdel Test, a tool used by feminists to critique media narratives. The rules are:

  1. The movie has at least two (named) women in it…
  2. …who talk to each other…
  3. ….about something other than men.

The test is NOT an indicator of a film’s overall quality (it is possible for a movie to past the test but still be sexist, or for a film to have empowering female characters who don’t talk to each other), and it was originally meant to highlight a lack of lesbian representation, but it does do a good job of highlighting a troubling trend in media.

Since then, there have been other tests. They include:

  • The Mako Mori test: a) at least one female character b) who gets her own narrative arc c) that is not about supporting a man’s story (this is mostly used for women of color)
  • The Furiosa test: the film makes the Internet angry for being ‘feminist’
  • The Babs and Kara test: the female characters are distinguishable and recognizable even if they were wearing identical bathrobes and their hair was covered (a critique of ‘same face syndrome’)
  • The Sexy Lamp test: if the woman can be replaced by a literal sex object, would the plot change at all
  • Ellen Willis test: would the character’s role in the story be the same if their gender was reversed
  • The Aila Test: a) is the character an Indigenous or Aboriginal main female character b) who does NOT fall in love with a white man c) who does NOT end up raped or murdered at any point in the story

You can read more about media tests HERE.

As an autistic person, I feel like there should be a similar test for autistic people. Representation for autistic people tends to be few and far between, and the most prominent examples tend to be stereotypical. So, I decided to create my own test: The Symmetra Test.

Here are my rules:

  1. Is there an autistic or autistic-coded main character
  2. Who ISN’T a white man
  3. Who ISN’T infantilized by the narrative or other characters

The test is named for the character of Symmetra of the game Overwatch, who is an autistic woman of color who is definitely seen, depicted, and treated as an adult.

If the autistic character in question is a child, they can behave like children, but it has to be appropriate for their age. So characters like Vanellope (who’s 9) from Wreck-It Ralph and Laura (who’s 11) from Logan, two characters I see as autistic-coded, would pass because they’re children but they’re not treated like literal infants or toddlers. Characters like Peridot would not pass because she’s at least a few hundred years old but is treated by both the crewniverse and the fandom as a baby.

The test is not a be-all, end-all indicator of quality autism representation and is not meant to discount white male autistic characters (as long as they’re not infantilized or rely heavily on stereotypes). This test is to bring attention to the fact that so few autistic or autistic coded characters are non male or non white, and fewer still are treated age appropriately.

If you’re autistic, let me know if you think there should be any amendments to this test, or if you can name any characters who would pass! I’d love to hear some feedback.

I hope this test can help bring attention to more autistic or autistic-coded characters of different genders and races, as well as help people when making any autistic characters of their own.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Writing an Autistic Character

In a world where autism is often portrayed in a negative light in media, a lot of people (myself included) create autistic headcanons to give to popular, positive characters who exhibit some characteristics of autism without being overly stereotypical. Yet canonically confirmed autistic characters do exist.

Here’s a (possibly incomplete) list. What really sticks out to me right away is that almost all of them are white men.  One of the biggest problems of autism in the media is that it’s portrayed almost exclusively as a white male thing. This results in autistic girls and boys of colour getting misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all, and raises stereotypes.

Some of the portrayals vary widely. Sheldon Cooper is a stereotype and his autism is often treated as a joke, so that’s not good (and his show is extremely unpopular, so that doesn’t help). Gil Grissom (from CSI: Crime Scene Investigation) is brilliant. He’s smart, a competent leader, is able to look at things from a unique point of view, is shown to be capable of loving others, is a hero, and is a multifaceted, layer character. When I read that he was on the list I was so happy.

When I saw Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic) on the list, I was surprised, but then I realized it did make sense. That said, his character can be a huge asshole (there have been a lot of instances of him being a shitty husband to Sue), so, not the best representation.

Two literary characters that are autistic include Christopher Boone (from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, a book I read for school), and Jacob Hunt (from House Rules). Christopher Boone is very stereotypical (if you find a find a checklist of autistic characteristics he fits every box), and his parents treat him like shit (they lie to him and tell them to his face that he’s driving them to an early grave), BUT I ultimately did feel for him, and I liked how the story was told exclusively from his point of view. I consider it a mixed bag. On the other hand, I could not get past the first chapter of House Rules because Jacob is 18 but treated like a child. No thank you.

But two characters that I want to bring to attention are Symmetra (from Overwatch) and Peridot (from Steven Universe). These characters matter to me because they’re both women/female-aligned (like me) and from series that are the most popular at the moment.

Symmetra is canonically autistic, and Peridot is very strongly implied to be so. There is an entire tag dedicated to Peridot being autistic. Some of the evidence of Peridot being autistic is her lack of social skills/inability to understand social cues, hyper focus, is easily frustrated, uses comfort objects, can be abrasive, needs a routine, etc. At first, she was a likable character! She was funny, she was unique, and a great foil to the crystal gems. What happened?

The show infantalized her.

Ever since season 3, she’s been described as a ‘gremlin’. She has been behaving more and more childlike, always shouting, always running around doing weird shit, not being allowed to show her technical skills. What’s worse, she’s had her comfort items broken (her recorder) or threatened to be broken (her tablet), there was one point where she was put on a leash, and in a deleted scene Amethyst tried to show her how to eat by putting her in a fucking high chair. Ultimately everything that made Peridot interesting is gone.

By contrast, we have Symmetra, a canonically autistic character who is not infantalized or treated like shit at all. She’s beautiful, talented, and capable. She’s allowed to be a hero. She has a desire to do the right thing, even if she’s doing it the wrong way (but is starting to realize something’s up). We can tell she’s autistic (the need for order and routine, black and white morality, special interest, smart but not very social) without relying too much on stereotypes. She’s a breath of fresh air.

Basically, if you’re going to create an autistic character, 1) don’t base them off stereotypes, 2) don’t overly infantalize them (having some childlike quirks and interests is okay, but constantly behaving like a toddler is not), 3) don’t have them seen as a joke or constantly treated like shit by the narrative or other characters, 4) let them be heroes and have them save the day, portraying their unique ability and worldview in a good light, and 5) try to make them something other than a white man.

Basically, WRITE US AS PEOPLE! And if you’re still having difficulty, research and ask people on the autism spectrum for help. I’d be more than happy to help. (You can look up some traits of autistic people HERE.)

Also, if you’ve seen, read, or played any of the media featuring canonically autistic characters, let me know of how you think they’re portrayed, and if it’s positive, I’ll be sure to check it out! In the meantime, I’ll make more posts on autistic headcanons to give visibility to characters who have characteristics of autism that are ultimately positive potential portrayals.

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.