The “Steven Universe” universe is reeling, hopeful and excited from the season five story arc, with Ruby proposing to Sapphire on the July 4 episode. The Cartoon Network series has always set out to embrace underrepresented communities, albeit in cartoon form, and issues that children (and adults) find hard to talk about.
Rebecca Sugar, the creator of “Steven Universe,” says, “I trust children very much. I always feel that children will understand, because children are still learning,” adding that “the whole thing [“Steven Universe”] is a catalyst for conversation.”
Animation lover Sugar notes that she had never seen cartoon characters that “looked like me,” a non-binary person.
And with season five’s “The Question,” Ruby and Sapphire not only explore their relationship and who they as individuals but also, Sugar notes, the goal was to go beyond the classic cartoon couples in which one is a male version of, say, a rabbit and the female half of the couple just has eyelashes. “I wanted to really create an image of a queer couple that makes sense together,” Sugar says. “Usually the couple is a man and a woman. But you don’t show that love can exist between two men or two women. I wanted to create equal-opportunity love stories for children,” says Sugar.
“It’s very important to me that all the characters are gender expansive and that ‘Steven Universe’ is a gender-expansive show,” Sugar adds.
Audiences of all ages and the LGBTQ community have embraced the hit show since its debut in 2015.
“Rebecca Sugar and ‘Steven Universe’ have always been on the cutting-edge of teaching young people about the importance of representation. The show has created a safe space in the television landscape for young LGBTQ people who see themselves reflected in these diverse characters whose lives they’ve followed through the show’s five seasons. Love and acceptance is taught at an early age and ‘Steven Universe’ has been at the forefront of teaching everyone — kids and adults alike — that love truly is what makes the universe operate,” says Jeremy Blacklow, GLAAD director of entertainment media.
As for the inclusive “Steven” universe: “The intent from the very beginning was always be very honest.
“[The show’s crew] all wanted to tell stories from our own childhoods that we hadn’t seen reflected onscreen before. And we didn’t want to hold back showing things that were very specific to us. … I’m fascinated by animation as a medium because it give this illusion of simplicity but that gives an illusion of simplicity but it’s very difficult to create. It allows us to create iconography that has an amazing power to normalize things.”
On Aug. 14, fans can buy the “Steven Universe: The Heart of the Crystal Gems” DVD. Two new singles from the arc are also available on iTunes and other streaming platforms.
Indeed, while Sugar aims to spark conversation among families watching “Steven Universe,” the original songs from the show are also integral to the characters’ journeys.
Sugar quotes Bob Fosse: “The time to sing is when your emotional level is just too high to speak anymore, and the time to dance is when your emotions are just too strong to only sing about how you feel.
“I have always been a huge fan of musicals,” Sugar says. “So much of this show is about feeling free to express yourself.”