History of LGBTQ characters in animation: 2020s
In the 2020s, representation became more pronounced than before in Western animation. This included shows like Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts, Cleopatra in Space, The Owl House, The Hollow, Harley Quinn, Hoops, and Adventure Time: Distant Lands, with the promise of upcoming seasons of Hazbin Hotel, Helluva Boss, and gen:LOCK, RWBY, along with a variety of soon-to-come shows like Lumberjanes and DeadEndia. At the same time, series like She-Ra and the Princesses of Power and Steven Universe Future, both of which had various LGBTQ characters, came to an end in 2020.
Struggling for increased representation
The influence of Kipo
In June 2020, Bill Wolkoff, co-screenwriter of Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts, said that they were lucky and glad the studio empowered this, wanting to have a "young, 16-ish year old kid" who was gay and was not ashamed of it. He also said he hoped for a season 3, but couldn't confirm it would happen. Adding to this, Shannon Miller wrote a review praising the show, specifically calling Benson the "joyful culmination of a long battle for intentional queer representation in Westernized youth animation," which has made progress from 2010 to 2020, while noting shows like Steven Universe, Adventure Time, and She-Ra and the Princesses of Power paved the way for Kipo. Miller further noted how Noelle Stevenson and Rebecca Sugar "faced immense challenges while dealing with merely the visual component of queerness."
In October 2020, The A.V. Club published an interview with Rad Sechrist and Bill Wolkoff of Kipo. In the interview, Wolkoff said that they did not face roadblacks in presenting Benson and Troy, crediting creators like Noelle Stevenson, Rebecca Sugar, and others for fighting "difficult battles before Kipo came along." He also noted how he fought for gay representation in the show, Once Upon A Time, saying they treated it "like a coming-of-age story," and said he is glad that the Season 1 episode "Ratland" meant a lot to young gay people, especially young Black people. Sechrist added that when they sold the show to DreamWorks, Peter Gal, then the head of development, stated that the character has to say "I'm gay" in an explicit way.
The end of queerbaiting?
In May 2020, a reviewer, Sophie Perry, writing for a lesbian lifestyle magazine, Curve, noted how queerbaiting has long endured in LGBTQ+ representation, noting how She-Ra and Harley Quinn both had same-sex kisses, happening within stories which could have turned out to be "typical queerbaiting" but did not. Perry added that the "queer conclusion" of the show is thanks to Noelle Stevenson, describing it as very different from the conclusion of The Legend of Korra which confirmed Korra and Asami's relationship but left it "purposefully ambiguous" so it could air on a children's network. She concluded by calling She-Ra culturally significant, and added that as more creative queer people come to the fore, inevitably queerbaiting will "become a thing of the past."
Additionally, before the episode "Obsidian" of Adventure Time: Distant Lands aired, a reviewer hoped for on-screen romance, how Marcy and Bonnie broke up, how Bonnie got her shirt, Steven Universe references, and Marcy's mom. At the same time, they hoped there wouldn't be rushed plot development, death, another break up, short songs, an anticlimax.
Fighting for representation
On August 5, 2020, Paper Magazine published an interview with Noelle Stevenson and Rebecca Sugar, to bring them in conversation with each other. Sugar said that Steven Universe survived because of "support from fans," noted how only a few years before, a person's employment and ability to "make cartoons," could hinge on "their sexual orientation," calling this ridiculous and unfair, while stating there needs to be a shift in thinking. She added that due to the lack of queer people are showrunners and content creators, that the studio "couldn't recognize a lot of the queer experience being expressed through the content," which she experienced at Cartoon Network, while noting how people recognize an individual based on their interactions with other people and feelings about themselves, while remaining excited about what is coming in the future. Stevenson noted that she felt that episodes like "Reunited" are important in terms of representation, noting that even subtle representation has value, saying she wants not just "clear straight-forward, incidental representation" but representation which involves "more complex, subtle, nuanced stories that play out over time." In the same interview, Sugar stated that she saw making art "as a conversation" while Stevenson argued that telling a romance between two lesbians is different from "telling a straight romance" because of different dynamics, with some branding such a relationship as two characters who were "sisters," calling it hurtful, and stating that sometimes young LGBT fans think getting representation in animated shows is "easier than it is," with a huge responsibility going forward for creating "stories for young queer kids." Building off that, Sugar argued that these stories are ones they deserve, noted that recent increase of "LGBTQIA content in animated and children's media," with very little LGBTQ+ content over the history of animation, and called those who claim there are enough lesbians in animation to be completely wrong and a form of bisexual erasure. Noelle also acknowledged that there is a "very real, legitimate conversation about the absence of gay male characters in animation," hoping for more "queer female showrunners of color, queer male showrunners of color and uplift those voices." Later in the interview, Stevenson and Sugar agreed that visibility and stories of queer characters should be expanded beyond sci-fi and fantasy genres, while they both talked about non-binary representation in media, with Sugar focusing on the importance of Stevonnie, while Stevenson talked about Double Trouble. Apart from this, Sugar pointed to the bisexual erasure in the Steven Universe fandom around 2015, Stevenson called Sugar an inspiration to her, while Sugar hoped that she would make LGBTQ+ content going forward.
On December 15, 2020, Petrana Radulovic of Polygon argued that 2020, when it came to all-ages animation, was a "glorious gay celebration that was unheard of just five years ago," including the love confession of Adora and Catra in the last episode of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, Amity's romantic crush on Luz in The Owl House, the ending of Steven Universe, and the gay love story between Troy and Benson in Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts, and the development of Marceline and Bubblegum's relationship in the "Obsidian" episode of Adventure Time: Distant Lands. She specifically said that Obsidian was a "perfect end to this big gay year in animation," while noting that there is still work to do going forward. Similarly, David Opie, Deputy TV Editor of Digital Spy said that he saw himself reflected in the final episode of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, saying it was the first time he had "seen two lead characters enjoy queer domestic bliss so openly and without fear of reprisal," and said that he had long "settled for stories with ambiguous queer undertones" but this show went beyond that, part of an effort to create a better world. On December 30, 2020, Donnie Lopez published an article on Black Girl Nerds, lamenting the lack of an "animated gay Latino male superhero being the lead of his own show," saying that while there has been an increase in the number of "LGBT+ folks being presented on family animated superhero shows," this has mainly focused on lesbian and bisexual characters, without "gay male Latino/Hispanic superhero animated leads." Lopez added that maintaining, popularizing, and creating gay characters can start to assuage harmful attitudes, noting that shows seldomly "give gay male POC characters the title roles" in children's animation, leading them to perpetrate the idea that "gay male characters cannot be standalone titular characters." Even so, he gives the example of Aqualad in Season Three of Young Justice who is a bisexual Black man, while qualifying this by saying that Aqualad is "not the principal character of the show" and noting that while Super Drags did make gay men the protagonists, it "reinforced negative stereotypes" and hoped that the "lack of gay representation" in these animations could be remedies in the future.
On December 18, when asked if the colors of the librarian named Kaisa in Hilda were made to intentionally match the asexual flag, series creator Luke Pearson said that while he did not purposely make her colors match those of the aromantic flag in his rough design for the character, it was "not impossible" that her design, her hair and colors, matched the colors of the asexual flag because he did not draw the final design of the character in the show. The character has purple hair, a black cape, a gray shirt with white sleeves, all of which are colors on the asexual flag.
On December 30, 2020, Donnie Lopez published an article on Black Girl Nerds, lamenting the lack of an "animated gay Latino male superhero being the lead of his own show," saying that while there has been an increase in the number of "LGBT+ folks being presented on family animated superhero shows," this has mainly focused on lesbian and bisexual characters, without "gay male Latino/Hispanic superhero animated leads." Lopez added that maintaining, popularizing, and creating gay characters can start to assuage harmful attitudes, noting that shows seldomly "give gay male POC characters the title roles" in children's animation, leading them to perpetrate the idea that "gay male characters cannot be standalone titular characters." Even so, he gives the example of Aqualad in Season Three of Young Justice who is a bisexual Black man, while qualifying this by saying that Aqualad is "not the principal character of the show" and noting that while Super Drags did make gay men the protagonists, it "reinforced negative stereotypes" and hoped that the "lack of gay representation" in these animations could be remedies in the future. Five episodes were released on November 9, 2018. The following month, Netflix cancelled the series after one season.
In February 2020 it was reported that Michael Vogel, a gay development executive who worked on shows like Transformers Prime and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, was working on a new 2D animated show for WildBrain titled Princess Alexander. The series would focus on themes of sexuality and gender while revolving around a young prince who finds out he has magical powers which "have traditionally been exclusive to princesses," even though he has "none of the natural skills that princes are supposed to have," leading to the entire kingdom and his family panicking at this discovery. Vogel said that this series targets those ages 6-9, serving as an allegory for acceptance of LGBTQ people, and that he is writing the "22-minute origin story pilot" while production was said to begin in summer 2020. WildBrain’s EVP of content and current series Stephanie Betts was quoted as saying they want to "tell stories that appeal to everyone in the audience" while Vogel said that while many shows are doing a lot for diversity and inclusivity, to have a character "dealing with these issues front and center" is something he hasn't seen before.
August 2020 brought a number of developments when it came to inclusive storylines. On August 17, a queer writer, Taneka Scotts, who wrote 12 episodes of Steven Universe Future, along with episodes for My Little Pony: Pony Life, Craig of the Creek, and other shows, announced her role in an unannounced show on Twitter. She noted that she had become a story editor on a show with "great characters, upfront queerness, and big heart" which would premiere in 2022. In a later back-and-forth with Molly Ostertag, she clarified that it would be an animated show, and said that she wanted to be a showrunner on a future show down the road. Then there was the news from creator Sara Eissa about the pitch for her show, Astur's Rebellion, an action-adventure which "follows the protagonist in her journey of rebellion and redemption," was rejected "due to bias against elements of diversity such as POC and LGBTQ+ main characters," implying that she was talking about Crunchyroll. In her Eissa's Twitter thread on the subject, she talked about discourse around "diverse" in the animation industry, especially those pitching "future shows," referred to High Guardian Spice, [a] stating that the company (presumably Crunchyroll) would look at a show with "diversity" like people of color, female cast, brighter tones, and "not give it a chance" because it won't be profitable. She further criticized "progressive looking white women" for ruining the chances of people of color to pitch shows and argued that they only hire other White people,[b] saying they are advertising diversity, not normalizing it, and stated that she will continue to work on Astur's Rebellion going forward. This series will feature Eissa as a writer, Anh (Ducanhart) doing greyscale environmental art, Christopher Mansing drawing logo art, and Collateral Damage Studios putting together concept art and illustrations.
The comic series, Lumberjanes would premiere as an animated series on HBO Max sometime in the future, having Shannon Watters, Grace Ellis, Brooklyn A. Allen and Noelle Stevenson as showrunners. The original comic series is filled with LGBTQ characters, such as Jo, a trans female main character, and two other female main characters who identify as either bisexual or lesbian, Molly and Mal (both of whom have requited crushes on each other). After the announcement of the series, fellow animators, like Matt Braly of Amphibia, Rad Sechrist of Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts, and Shadi Petosky of Twelve Forever and Danger & Eggs praised the development. There were similar sentiments from voice actors Liam O'Brien, Sam Riegel, Aimee Carrero, Felicia Day, and Cissy Jones, comic artists Alex Z. Zhang and Victoria Ying, TV writers Shane Lynch and Benjamin Siemon, and comic writers Jackson Lanzing and Dan Slott, among others. Then, on October 7, Stevenson told EW about the series, saying that her "interest in lifting up and exploring queer stories" is not going anywhere. She added that she is interested in "telling central queer stories," having stories that are "built around" queer characters. The same EW story said that the series is in the "early development" stage with HBO Max.
In early December, more LGBTQ series were noted. This included a 2D-animated series titled "Highlands Shadow," directed by Paula Boffo and produced by Ojo Raro, which will be eight episodes long, at Ventana Sur’s Animation! This series aims at a young adult audience, addresses "gender and LGBTIQ+ issues," by focusing on Juana, "a girl from Humahuaca whose sister Marisol has been captured by a human trafficking cartel," who allies with "two haunted machetes" and becomes a superheroine.
- List of animated series with LGBTQ characters
- History of homosexuality in American film
- History of anime
- Media portrayals of bisexuality
- Media portrayal of lesbianism
- History of LGBTQ characters in animation: 2010s
- History of LGBTQ characters in animation: 2000s
- List of LGBT-related films by year
- Cross-dressing in film and television
- List of animated series with crossdressing characters
- List of anime by release date (1946–1959)
- One of her tweets stated that the company she pitched to spilt tea "on how they produced a show that was "diverse" (body types, lgbt+, all girls) and instead of releasing a trailer for the show the creators talked about how "diverse" the show was and used it as a selling point," with this getting "immense backlash," which refers to the backlash over this show.
- This may be a reference to the livestream controversy around She-Ra
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