This May, the fifth and final season of the Netflix reboot of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power aired. Throughout these five seasons, the show has grown in popularity and is now well-loved by people of all ages, retaining the craziness of the 80s version but adding an emotional complexity to the characters and story. The one key difference from the 80s version is the strong LGBTQ+ representation, which is present from the first season.
Show-runner Noelle Stevenson built Etheria as a safe space for everyone (apart from the imminent threat of the Horde), no matter ethnicity, size, or sexual orientation. Stevenson, also a member of the LGBTQ+ community, took a genre that typically avoids any form of LGBTQ+ representation (children’s cartoons), and made a show with some of the most positive representation going.
In season one, Horde soldier Adora is drawn to a sword, that transforms her into She-Ra. Her quest to find the sword leads her to Princess Glimmer and Bow, who reveal the lies that the Horde have been feeding her. Adora joins the Princess Alliance and the audience is introduced to the two remaining members – Spinnerella and Netossa. At first, their relationship is hidden in the background, a subtle indication of what the show is aiming for in terms of LGBTQ+ representation, but as the show develops, we get to see more and more of this couple. From them fighting the Horde together, celebrating anniversaries, and helping the other princesses, Spinnerella and Netosssa are a great example of a supportive, loving, and healthy relationship, something which is often missing from other portrayals of same-sex relationships.
“She-Ra gives under-represented voices a platform to be seen for more than just their sexual orientation.”
The prominence of LGBTQ+ characters increases in season two of the show when we meet Bow’s dads (George and Lance) in the episode titled “Reunion”. In a similar vein to Spinnerella and Netossa, George and Lance are accepted for who they are and are not victims of homophobia. Bow is the youngest of twelve siblings, and it’s refreshing to see a same-sex couple also be parents (and very good parents) without it being an issue; Bow’s dads are not defined by their relationship and neither is the family. In “Reunion”, a heartwarming mirror of ‘coming out’ is portrayed when Bow confesses to his family that he is a soldier, not a historian. This tender scene is a great example of how all parents should accept their children, with Bow gaining the approval of his family and not losing their love. Stevenson cleverly included a coming-out scene that does not relate to sexuality but does educate everyone on how to be more accepting and understanding.
Season four introduced Double Trouble, a non-binary character voiced by non-binary actor Jacob Tobia. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, they spoke about the importance of Double Trouble’s they/them pronouns; “If Hordak, the most evil character in all of Etheria — a true scoundrel — can effortlessly use gender-neutral pronouns, then I think that you can do it too. Do you really want to be worse than Hordak?”. The introduction of Double Trouble in She-Ra sets an example to all other TV shows, both cartoon and live-action, on how to effortlessly introduce and respect a non-binary character.
(Spoilers for season five of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power)
The key relationship in the series is between Adora and Catra. From the moment the season one trailer was released, fans have loved these two together, shipping them as “Catradora”. It is so easy to fall in love with the two of them as a couple – their chemistry is palpable in every scene they have together. As the show developed, their relationship turned from best friends, to enemies, and then to lovers. A trajectory like this for a relationship between two women is traditionally either avoided, or unable to come to fruition. It is easy, therefore, to understand that many fans of the show were sceptical as to whether their relationship would be confirmed.
Then season five of the show was released and they were reunited as friends. This time however, their relationship was different, with Catra’s feelings for Adora becoming more and more obvious to the audience (though not to the Adora); the only obstacle to them coming together was Adora’s need to be the hero and her destiny – not the threat of disapproval from their friends. It is refreshing to see their friends actively root for them to acknowledge their feelings for one another. The growing threat of the Horde falls into the background as we watch the characters we’ve imagined together from the beginning of the series finally converge.
“It is a relief that [show-runner] Stevenson was able to execute her vision; without it, the climax would have fallen flat.”
The series finale features a ground-breaking moment in children’s TV – Catra and Adora kiss. If this was a heterosexual couple, it would almost be expected for the climax of the show – the hero sacrifices themselves for the women they love. The love interest then confesses their love for the hero which magically revives them, and they kiss. But what happens in She-Ra is so much more than this – Catra’s confession of her love comes from her desperation to not lose Adora again and Adora’s reciprocation of those feelings allows her to let go of her guilt and fear. Together they show that women can be vulnerable, be the hero, and fall in love with each other.
When speaking to I09 about their relationship, creator Noelle Stevenson said “My big fear was that I would show my hand too early and get told very definitively that I was not allowed to do this. I sort of had a plan and it was like: If I can get them to this place where their relationship and that romance is central to the plot, and it can’t be removed, can’t be noted-out or it can’t be something that’s cut later, then they’ll have let me do it.” It is a relief that Stevenson was able to execute her vision; without it, the climax would have fallen flat.
She-Ra and the Princesses of Power was the first cartoon I’ve watched since childhood. Whilst watching, there were so many moments that I felt the show represented me, but I’m not the only one: She-Ra gives under-represented voices a platform to be seen for more than just their sexual orientation. No character is defined by the person they love – LGBTQ+ relationships are rightfully portrayed as normal and loving. More shows need to follow She-Ra’s lead and give LGBTQ+ relationships a chance not just to survive, but to thrive.
Words by Orla McAndrew