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Last weekend at Emerald City Comic Con, I managed to chat briefly with Noelle Stevenson on fandom safety, and diversity in animation. Stevenson has worked on the comics Nimona and Lumberjanes, has won Eisner awards for both, and is the current showrunner for DreamWorks’ She-Ra and the Princesses of Power.
Sean Z (GeekDad):
One thing near and dear to me is fandom health and safety. Last year, I spent several months researching harassment in fan spaces. And, we saw this kind of explosion of fans threatening fans. Largely over fictional pairings in works of media.
The biggest group that I’ve covered were called anti-shippers, that attack fellow fans in ways that can go from basic cyber-bullying to mailing death threats to other fans. So I wanted to ask, based on your time on Tumblr, for starters, and as your time as a showrunner, have you seen kind of this increase in negative fan behavior?
I haven’t been an active member of fandom for a while, as a creator. I have found, when I was a member of fandom, I found a pretty positive culture on Tumblr. I haven’t followed very closely the phenomenon that you’re talking about.
I think that it is the responsibility of fans in communities to make sure that the conversations that they’re having are constructive, in a way that is… it is okay to voice criticism or to even disagree with each other, but to make sure that those conversations are happening in a constructive way.
And to that end, what steps are you and DreamWorks taking to try to make the She-Ra fandom safer and more positive? Is there, for instance, some kind of oversight or management that you guys are doing to kind of monitor harassment in the fandom?
For the most part, I’m trying to just put out positivity on my social media channels, to curate a positive space, and also to make sure that we’re not giving a platform to people whose point of view might be, or whose arguments might be in poor faith.
Seth Fowler (DreamWorks PR):
Beyond monitoring our own social media platforms for safe and respectful speech, we don’t have any overall initiatives to address that.
Thank you. And, since I know we’re pressed for time, I want to switch gears to diversity and representation.
As you mentioned, LGBT rep is intrinsically part of the She-Ra. It’s been heavily featured in the show’s marketing.
One thing I’ve seen from other shows is that a lot of showrunners say, “we thought it would be would be great for queer representation to do this thing.” Or, “it was our vision to help queer people by showing this…” But it’s very rare that you see showrunners actually say, “We spoke to gay fans, we spoke to the gay community, and based on those discussions we decided to do—”
What I would say for us, because so many people creating this show are queer, or are non-binary or trans, it is something that is very close to us because it’s very personal for us. So, it’s not something that is … it’s something that we all believe in very strongly.
And, to that end, are there processes that you believe at DreamWorks that are helping ensure diversity? For example, let’s say you want to depict a person of color, but you don’t have a person of color on your writing staff, is there a sensitivity reader who will be called in? Is there some way to ensure that those depictions that might not be in your writers’ room are positive and respectful?
It’s on us as creators to make sure that we are being as thoughtful and as respectful as we can be. It’s not something that is necessarily mandated by DreamWorks. Each show, each situation within each show, is its own specific thing that needs to be treated individually.
So, it’s something that we have tried to do very carefully and very thoughtfully, to make sure that we are representing the characters. That we are representing them in as thoughtful a way as possible, and making sure that those characters feel like real characters who create positive representation, along with complexity of character and story, and everything else that we try to achieve with this show. It isn’t something necessarily that there’s a mandate for from the company. It is a case-by-case basis.
For your show in particular then, do you actively seek out those additional voices? Or do you believe you already have a lot of diversity, you’ve already mentioned a lot of your writers are queer … that you’re safe enough there?
There’s a diversity consultant that productions work with from time to time if there’s ever an issue that needs to be addressed.
I believe we try to do our best in everything that we do. It’s definitely something that we will make mistakes on. But you know, if we do, we’ll always try and do better the next time. So it’s something that, we can only do the best we can do.
I want to speak to that more at an industry level. As discussed, this is a show that has been marketed as very LGBT friendly. However, you’re working on a licensed property and those have always been a little bit harder to push new content and new boundaries. Do you believe that situation is improving?
I think so, I think every time a show tries something new, creates a new character that isn’t often seen in the media, it makes it a little bit easier for the next show to come along. You know, we can point to other shows and say “you know they managed to do this, lets try and do this”.
It’s something that it’s always going to be something that depends on the situation, depends on who you are talking to. There will be different challenges, there will be different struggles, it’s not something that should be taken lightly. But it’s … I do think that every time a show succeeds in having positive representation, all other media also benefits from that and benefits from an expanded amount of opportunity.
And this is again, more speaking in the general industry. If you wanted to today, if you wanted to depict a same gender relationship with named foreground characters, do you think we’re at that stage yet in children’s animation where you could? Or do you think we still have a ways to go?
I think that remains to be seen, and I think … that’s something that, you should watch the show. You should see the storylines that we pursue in the future.
This is not necessarily for She-Ra, but animation in general.
I think that it’s something that a lot of people are working very hard towards. And I’m very excited to see what steps we make just in the next few years.
As far as She-Ra is concerned we try as hard as we can to further those ends to reflect those sorts of characters as often as we can, and create a world where they are intrinsically central to the storyline. So it’s something, I think that, I’m personally very excited to see going forward. I think that those opportunities, while they might not be necessarily … not necessarily something that just comes totally easily, it’s still a fight worth fighting and it’s still something that a lot of good people really are fighting hard for.
Alright. And as a gay person myself, I really do appreciate that we have showrunners that are fighting for us. That’s the end of my questions, thank you so much for your time.
Awesome, thanks so much.
DreamWorks’ She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is available on Netflix. The second season will be released on April 26th.