Noel Stevenson, Aimee Carrero, Karen Fukuhara, and Marcus Scribner, the She-Ra and the Princesses of Power panelists, entered the Hammerstein Ballroom amidst raucous whoops and cheers. The four panelists spent the next hour hinting at the show, sharing clips, and functioning similarly to the animated “Best Friend Squad.”
Although the original 1980s’ show focused on Princess Adora, the long lost sister of Prince Adam from He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, the modern series focuses solely on the iconic heroine She-Ra. Despite some of the nostalgia critics online being skeptical about the aesthetic changes in the new show, most people left the Hammerstein Ballroom not just comfortable with the new series, but bristling with excitement.
What is She-Ra and the Princesses of Power about?
An orphan raised by the totalitarian villain Hordak, Adora trains as a Horde solider. She-Ra and the Princesses of Power begins with the 1980s’ mythology only to build on it for a modern time. Rather than focusing on her as the “other” powered being in relation to a male, it also brings to life a variety of female representation.
Focusing on the power of change and relationships, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power incorporates several narratives that mirror our every day experience. Adora, learning that her Horde upbringing colored her view of their activities, joins the Rebellion to help stop the totalitarian villains. Meanwhile, her friend Catra remains a member of the Horde army, despite acutely feeling the loss of her friend. Within this narrative, adult viewers see their own experiences of growth while young viewers can learn that relationships are difficult.
What does She-Ra and the Princesses of Power retain from the original?
The new series thematically mirrors the original. Noelle Stevenson noted, “It was about finding a version of [the original] so that kids everywhere can have that experience too. Almost every single character has a basis in an original character. What we can do now on Netflix that you couldn’t do on serialized television is create continuity from episode to episode.” Importantly, the show remains focused on, if not more focused on, the iconic female superheroine.
In the interview session, Stevenson reinforced that conceptually, “it’s a reimagining of the original. There’s a refocus on the processes as a unit, as a team. Although I think there were elements of that in the original show, there’s an intentional bringing of these characters together. There’s so many big personalities in that group that it’s so much fun seeing them bounce off of each other. We’re trying to put a slightly different spin on it and framing it in a slightly different way but using the pieces that were already there.” In fact, the clips presented in the panel reinforced this perspective.
Moreover, when asked about the problematic nature of the original, Stevenson had clearly thought through some of the issues and how to address them. Many nostalgic fans recognize She-Ra’s rallying cry, “For the honor of Greyskull, I am SHE-RA!” This cry stood in direct opposition to He-Man’s of “By the power of Greyskull, I have the POWER!” This put femininity in a direct moral opposition to masculinity’s power. Moreover, the original series focused on She-Ra’s healing powers, focusing less on her as an individual and more on her service role to others.
In a modern reimagining, understanding this problem matters. When questioned, Stevenson explained, “I think it’s interesting because I think there is an important part of She-Ra that comes from her sword being the sword of protection and that her battle cry is for the honor and that she has healing powers. I think that those are just parts of what make her strong in this world.”
Additionally, as we’ve seen in the preview trailers, She-Ra remains the iconic blond, white female. As part of the update, Stevenson explained the decisions made retaining this compared to creating a more inclusive aesthetic, “She-Ra is very iconic character there certain aspects of that I wouldn’t feel comfortable changing. Also, I felt that I was not my right to tell a story that I was not my right to tell. That was something that I have to try and be very sensitive of.” As someone aware of both sides of the decision, she specifically included greater representation throughout the show. Rather than being the only heroine, the redefinition of the show as princesses of power allows a variety of identities to find themselves within the show.
As discussed in the panel, “You have to take the original material and take lessons from it. The creators created it the way they intended it. We have to make something that stands on its own. Some of them might watch the original because of our show. It has to be different because otherwise why would we be doing this?”
What’s different in She-Ra and the Princesses of Power?
The TL;DR version? A lot, but in the best ways possible. Yes, the main characters are younger. Rather than adults in their twenties and thirties, the reimagined characters are teenagers trying to find their identities.
Aimee Carrerro, who voices Adora, summed up the changes beautifully, “I think any kind of art whether visual or whatever it needs to be reflecting on the times that it’s commenting on. Noelle does a beautiful job of playing both psychic and historian while also very much living in the present universe. We can’t help as artists to be influenced by the time we’re living in. So I hope that little girls, little boys, or anyone of any age and identity can watch this and think, ‘I don’t really understand why I connect with it, but I connect with it on the level,’ that hopefully means something and will be helpful.”
Meanwhile, Stevenson’s narrative choices reinforce this. The original show spent nearly eight episodes with He-Man as the primary character, a man explaining to his twin sister the importance of joining the rebellion and refuting Hordak. Stevenson focuses primarily on setting up Adora/She-Ra as a character who makes her own decisions, totally without the “man-splaining” from the original series.
Said Stevenson, “She’s not trying to outshine or live up to the reputation of He-Man. In this version of things, we get to set her up as a hero on her own first before we bring in the larger story and where her family is from. It is about power, but, we’ve been talking about this a lot too, it’s about the responsibility that power brings with it. It’s not just about strength. It’s not just about punching, which Adora loves to do. The hardest thing for her is figuring out, ‘Okay, I have to be more than somebody who is really good at punching. I have to be somebody who protects. I have to be somebody pulls people together. I have to learn how to be a leader. I have to heal a broken land.’ That’s not something that she’s ever been trained to do. She has to figure it out. She has to build up who she is as a hero using these powers to pull together the kingdoms, the people around her, the community to heal the earth and save the day.”
Some of the changes with the new She-Ra further empower and develop characters
While appearing in the new series, Hordak plays less a role. Mostly a reclusive character creating fear within the totalitarian Horde-ruled land, he primarily stays in his laboratory. As such, he delegates the daily torturous duties to Shadow Weaver who takes on a more powerful role in this series. A character who had previously been Hordak’s minion-sidekick, Shadow Weaver gets to, well, step out of the shadows a bit. In the clips presented, she’s less a mystical force used by Hordak and more a female leader in charge of the Horde’s Force Captains.
Another important change focuses on the relationship between Catra and She-Ra. Rather than being set as simply “two women locked in battle,” She-Ra and the Princesses of Power focuses on the relationship between Adora and Catra. Stevenson explained, “That was one of the first things that I knew about my version of the show. The executive I was developing it with felt Adora and Catra should know each other they would’ve grown up together, why did they never have any connection? It’s also just a relationship that I really gravitated towards. People who are inseparable, who shape each other so much, then suddenly are removed from that or grow past each other and have to figure out who they are without each other. At the beginning of the show they’re so codependent on one another. So Adora’s journey to being a hero and and Catra’s journey is them having to figure out who they are without each other. It’s so fraught and tragic, especially Catra, she takes it really really personally. It’s not personal for Adora; it’s ideological, ‘I need it to do the thing that’s right even if I leave behind this person.’ Catra’s like, ‘How could you do that? What could possibly be so important?'”
By redefining this narrative and adding depth to the relationship, their storyline moves beyond “stereotypical catfight” to something far more flawed and realistic.
How She-Ra focuses on finding power in your flaws
Heroics come from within. As I’ve often said to kiddo, “It’s not whether you make a mistake or not, it’s how you deal with the mistake afterward.” As a mother, Stevenson’s approach to “bravery” perfectly reflects this belief. Stevenson explained, “The rallying cry of the show is ‘Be Brave!’ It doesn’t mean that you have to know what you’re doing every time or get it right every time. If you fall down 100 times, get back up 100 times and try again. That is something that I really want I want people watching the show to see these characters who are very strong but also very flawed. I want people to see them fail often at the at the task they’re trying to complete, and not let that stop them to keep pushing through and that’s bravery. It’s about not letting that fear of failure make you afraid or make you not do the right thing. That’s what’s brave. It’s one of the things I really want viewers to take away.”
The exclusive NYCC clips followed through on this. Adora, raised as part of the totalitarian regime needs to admit that those beliefs lead to pain and immoral actions throughout Etheria. Moreover, the Rebellion needs to learn to accept that a former Horde Force Captain could become an ally. The strength of this metaphor, the ability to learn from failure and admit people change, resonates in a modern world.
In one of the clips, Glimmer brings Adora the Sword of Protection admitting, “I’m stupid and a jerk and I made a mistake.” This interaction defines the focus on admitting mistakes and finding strength in that.
Karen Fukuhara who voices Glimmer, explained, “Much of the show is about watching the characters go through finding their own identity and their friendship group and this world that we create and the characters finding that with the support of all of the princesses.” In addition, she provided insight into Glimmer’s journey: “For Glimmer, she is the daughter of a queen, and she wants to just prove herself to her mother and to everyone else. She’s struggling with what she can do and what she hopes to do. She’s supposed to be this warrior, but her mother is being protective. She just wants to go out there and prove herself. So Glimmer is really growing up from being a daughter to being an actual leader.”
What does empowerment for males in a world of women look like—a rejection of toxic masculinity
One of the first-glimpse clips summed up men in this world when Bow says, “I’m like the only one who’s not a princess.”
And yes, empowering women (and men) in this show is more than just having women the primary focus. It’s about creating a new paradigm for masculinity that furthers an equality based discussion for parents and kids.
When asked about how Bow represents a different type of masculinity, helping to dismantle the toxic masculinity in current popular media, Marcus Scribner, who voices Bow, explained,
You see him as a different type male character for young boys. Girls are going to watch this—a lot of empowerment for girls focuses on seeing yourself in different ways as a whole—but how do you see the characters giving that to boys? It’s showing them to be more comfortable with themselves. I feel like Bow brings a different aspect to masculinity which I feel is the root of a lot of issues. Bow shows a lot of young kids, especially young boys, what it means to be a man to support your friends, your female comrades, your sisters, mothers, girlfriend—whatever it happens to be. I think that Bow brings a different aspect to a male character on a traditional animated show. He’s not there at the forefront like, “Hey guys! I got this/I’m excited!” He’s really there to support She-Ra and the other princesses of power. He’s a great role model. I’m really excited for young people, especially young boys, to realize that this is a way they should definitely be living their lives.
This alone is a reason to watch She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. In a world that needs to recognize power, children need to learn that power comes in a variety of forms. For young boys, this change means giving them popular culture representations showing vulnerability as well as growth.
Scribner went on to explain that Bow’s journey is different from that of other characters. He shared, “With Bow, I feel like he’s a really interesting character because from the jumpstart, he seems to be a super positive and excited, and he is all those things, but he tries really hard. I feel trying to support a group of people and you want to be that positive figure it really starts to take a mental breakdown. He starts to get a little bit of an edge later in the season, and that’s kind of exciting to see different side of it.”
Are you going to want to watch She-Ra and the Princesses of Power?
As someone who went into that panel both excited and dubious, I’m going to say yes. A resounding, even-more excited, yes.