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How the End of ‘Voltron Legendary Defender’ Exemplifies the Quarantining of Queerness in Animation

How the End of 'Voltron Legendary Defender' Exemplifies the Quarantining of Queerness in Animation
Studying Time: 9 minutes

A quick historical past of LGBTQ depictions in animation, and the way the ultimate season of Voltron failed queer followers.

By @Sean_Z_Writes and Aria C.

Warning – this text discusses Voltron season eight, and consists of main spoilers.

A month and a half earlier than the final season of DreamWorks Animation’s Voltron Legendary Defender dropped on Netflix, a leaked picture was posted to Tumblr depicting Shiro, one of the lead characters and one of the the solely homosexual male characters in western animation, getting married to an unknown man in the collection epilogue. Chaos ensued. When the mud settled (the fandom additional shaken by three consecutive days of collection finale leaks), discord amongst followers of the ’80s mech reboot was at an all-time excessive. Some have been completely happy that Shiro, a personality confronted with fixed adversity in his story, may get a cheerful ending, however the present’s giant queer viewers tossed round phrases like “betrayal” and “dread.”

As a homosexual Voltron fan, I hoped these leaks have been pretend. However with the launch of the last season, they’ve been confirmed as correct, and Shiro abandons his hard-won title of Defender of the Universe to seek out “happily ever after” in the arms of a barely-named incidental. Although this must be a big milestone for queer depictions in media, the first homosexual wedding ceremony between two males in a western animated present now seems like an ill-placed Band-Help. Voltron was imagined to be totally different. It was breaking down social obstacles and youngsters’s motion present tropes left and proper, and the show-runners have been adamant that any romance in the collection can be given correct improvement, moderately than rapidly shoved into the area between fights like its style’s predecessors. As an alternative, DreamWorks fell again on the previous tactic of relegating homosexual relationships to some seconds in epilogues with none accompanying story improvement, and in doing so, they dealt a devastating blow to queer Voltron followers.

In the final decade, creators have begun utilizing “epilogue representation” as a means of broadcasting their progressive credentials to audiences. The follow, in which queer characters and queer romances are quarantined in brief disconnected aspect tales, epilogues, or feedback from show-runners at conventions, permits creators to declare, “yes, we have gay representation” and take credit score for variety with out having to incorporate queerness or a queer romance in their major story.

This isn’t novel–animation has a posh historical past with regards to queer characters. Till the previous couple of years, constructive depictions of LGBTQ characters in animated media have been successfully nonexistent. Disney villains have been typically “queer-coded,” sometimes to suggest audiences “this character is different” (assume effeminate male villains like Hades and Scar, and corrupting feminine villains like Ursula). These traits have been designed to distinction with these of the heroes, who not often strayed from the societally-imparted imaginative and prescient of heterosexuality.

Close to the flip of the millennium, present creators made efforts to problem viewers assumption of protagonists’ sexualities. Greg Weisman, creator of the ’90s cartoon Gargoyles, confirmed that he and the animation group believed fundamental ensemble character Lexington was homosexual, whereas Static Shock creator Dwayne McDuffie commented about earring-adorned deuteragonist Richie Foley, “It’ll never come up in the show because it’s Y-7 but as far as I’m concerned, Richie is gay…The way I dealt with Richie’s homosexuality was to write him aggressively and unconvincingly announcing his heterosexuality whenever possible (‘Wow! Look at all those girls in swimsuits! I sure like girls!’), while Virgil rolled his eyes at the transparency of it.”

These early strides have been daring in their time, however fell disappointingly flat as animation moved into an period charged by variety, feminism, and LGBTQ rights as mainstream social points. Animated queer rep was caught–both restricted to unnamed background characters or nonetheless counting on posthumous “word of god” confirmations, i.e. feedback from manufacturing employees following the present’s run. In 2014, it took a Tumblr publish from The Legend of Korra‘s Bryan Konietzko and Michael DiMartinez to announce main characters Korra and Asami were in a relationship but only after fans were left hanging with the ambiguity of the series finale’s sudden final shot. Creator Alex Hirsch publicly lamented his failed try to incorporate visibly queer characters in a 2014 Gravity Falls episode, recalling to EW, “we immediately got a note from the network saying two women falling in love is not appropriate for our audience…The truth is they’re scared of getting emails from bigots and they’re cowards.” He finally caved to studio strain. It wasn’t till 2017 that Star vs The Forces of Evil introduced the first homosexual kiss to a Disney present, however in the type of background characters hardly obvious inside the throngs of a big group shot. Even for a medium recognized to err on the aspect of social conservatism, this tempo was agonizingly sluggish.

The cowardice Hirsch described is pervasive inside the business’s government circles. When a pal requested a consultant from one of the largest international toy and media corporations in the event that they would come with queer characters in their storylines, they responded that they might fortunately be the second model to introduce a queer character right into a youngsters’s property, however they might not be the first. Although it was simply an off-the-cuff comment, it’s sadly emblematic of the management inside animation studios and different media ostensibly for youngsters. Although together with heterosexual romance is regular, networks view merely displaying homosexual individuals present in their tales as a controversial danger.

Lastly, three years after the United States legalized similar intercourse marriage, Steven Universe, helmed by an brazenly queer lady, turned the first main western youngsters’s present to prominently function a similar intercourse wedding ceremony. After points of their relationship had been explored all through the collection, most important ensemble characters Ruby and Sapphire obtained engaged and tied the knot over every week’s value of episodes, and a full-blown lesbian wedding ceremony was (maybe strategically) set in an episode very important to the present’s essential plot.

Solely months later, Journey Time adopted go well with with an on-screen kiss between Princess Bubblegum and Marceline the Vampire Queen–two characters whose historical past and chemistry fueled followers to champion the ship “Bubbline” over the course of the present’s eight yr run. Whereas the kiss was partially obscured and happened in the final episode, followers have been overjoyed, as the two characters’ relationship was arguably the most complicated and deeply explored inside the present.

That, finally, is what made these moments in Steven Universe and Journey Time so significant to queer audiences, and marked a serious turning level in LGBTQ illustration in animated media. After years of well-meaning animators “hiding” homosexual characters in their exhibits to bypass studio censors or rights holder vetoes, “Rupphire” and “Bubbline” have been completely developed, given reasonable and relatable interactions, and have been outstanding in their respective collection. We, as viewers, have been lastly given room to grow to be emotionally invested in queer tales and queer relationships, and in return, queer relationships have been lovingly made half of the exhibits’ tales.

The reveal of foremost ensemble character Shiro as a homosexual man in Voltron’s seventh season this summer time continued the sudden speedy progress of that includes LGBTQ protagonists, somewhat than simply hinting at them. Shiro’s queerness, although understated, is dealt with respectfully in the present. There isn’t a “big reveal;” viewers merely study Shiro had an ex-boyfriend, Adam. It’s delicate, however highly effective; Shiro is a queer character–a hero–who isn’t outlined by his queerness. As an alternative, it’s simply one other attribute of who he’s. The present’s government producers have been clear this was their objective, as they advised EW, “we don’t want to pitch this as a gimmick of representation. It’s an aspect of Shiro but it’s not his defining aspect.”

Actually, Shiro’s defining points are his management, compassion, and devotion to a larger trigger–qualities that result in his breakup in favor of pursuing goals of area exploration. Shiro, above all else, finds which means and achievement in piloting one of the Voltron lions (and in later seasons, the IGF Atlas), so handy over an epilogue the place he’s abruptly completely content material in home, wedded bliss to a Random looks like a disservice to not solely the character, but in addition to queer followers who discovered themselves represented in him. No character, regardless of their sexual orientation, must be in a relationship to be pleased. We’re not in the 1950s anymore. And no queer character must be in an explicitly queer relationship to show their queerness both.

The “hero gets the love interest” ending could be a Hollywood staple, however even straight romances abruptly shoved into epilogues with out correct improvement really feel disingenuous. Government Producer Lauren Montgomery agrees, at one time stating, “We’re not going to try to just put [a relationship] in there for the sake of needing romance in the story,” whereas Joaquim Dos Santos, the present’s different EP, commented in the similar interview, “For us these characters should stand on their own without the romance.” But Shiro’s “endgame” contradicts each statements. Shiro and his new husband get completely no improvement. They by no means share a single dialog earlier than the wedding ceremony, utterly depleting this vital second of the similar satisfaction and engagement that made Steven Universe and Journey Time’s comparable queer scenes so progressive. The truth is, it will be higher queer illustration if Shiro didn’t finish the collection in a homosexual wedding ceremony with a Random. With none straight couples sharing the similar destiny, the transfer exposes DreamWorks as being extra in receiving constructive press surrounding the “first gay male wedding” than truly writing stated wedding ceremony–a sought-after PR victory after the collection’s troubled seventh season.

The problems began at this summer time’s San Diego Comedian Con, the place the forged and crew screened the first episode of season 7–the episode revealing Shiro’s sexuality–a number of weeks forward of the Netflix drop. “Outing” Shiro earlier than the season aired for basic audiences was a poor determination. Followers got here away from the panel anticipating a transparent declaration inside the present’s textual content that Shiro was homosexual, as an alternative of the quiet, delicate break-up scene we acquired between him and Adam. Add that to a poorly worded tweet claiming followers would “meet” Shiro’s ex (his solely scenes have been the aforementioned breakup and his on-screen dying a number of episodes later), and other people each inside and out of doors of the Voltron fandom have been fast to accuse the present of queerbaiting, or falsely promoting queer content material. Although Adam’s demise made sense inside the plot and he was handled the similar as equal straight characters (like many different former love pursuits of heroes in media, he’s launched and fridged), individuals additionally accused the present of utilizing the “bury your gays” trope.

For these unfamiliar with the time period, this unfavorable trope originated from the 1950s and ’60s, as Tricia Ennis wrote for SyFy, “while depictions of LGBTQ characters were frowned upon, depictions of them in [a] specifically negative light were not. You were not endorsing an “alternative lifestyle” in case your homosexual characters all the time met an premature demise. As an alternative, they have been merely paying for his or her poor decisions.”

Although I don’t assume the present buried its gays, there’s lots of official criticism about how Netflix marketed the property, resembling putting it in their LGBT part, utilizing rainbow-colored title playing cards, and internet hosting thumbnails that includes Adam on the web site’s touchdown web page. Whereas the present’s manufacturing employees didn’t seem to deliberately misrepresent what would happen in the season, they did an exceptionally poor job of managing expectations after the reveal. Followers have been loud on social media, rocketing “Shadam” and “Adashi” (Shiro and Adam’s couple names) to some of the prime spots on Tumblr Fandometrics’ most-blogged-about ship listing. But the crew, certainly conscious of the disparity between followers’ assumptions and the soon-to-be-released content material, remained silent, and season 7 was extensively met with anguish. The reality is, when you might have so few queer characters, killing any of them, even for reliable plot causes, locations you in danger for tripping over unfavorable tropes.

There’s an unlucky dichotomy in animation. Because of networks’ worry of poor reception, studio executives are afraid to incorporate homosexual content material, however are properly conscious that including queer characters might be an extremely priceless advertising device. As a result of the medium has virtually no homosexual characters, when an animated LGBTQ protagonist does emerge, teen and grownup followers are likely to flock to them. When Voltron revealed Shiro was homosexual, #Shiro turned the primary trending matter on Twitter.

The very fact is: the wedding ceremony is a PR stunt–one which reduces queer individuals to advertising collateral and makes an attempt to promote a last-ditch effort as “groundbreaking.” That’s the reason the scene is so reprehensible: the studio expects to be rewarded for it.

Shiro issues–to me, and to each queer one that has by no means seen themselves in media. Homosexual male characters are uncommon, particularly in animated collection. That’s why Shiro’s story is so necessary–he’s the character that survives. The character that, regardless of being kidnapped, dropping a limb, affected by PTSD, and coming house to find his ex had died in a warfare, finds the power to provide a speech on overcoming adversity. That’s such a strong message to queer individuals, who face adversity in their actual lives. Voltron gave us this superb illustration. And it’s so saddening that, in the final season, they tarnished it as a result of of company posturing.

Dozens of individuals have a hand in making a cartoon. A collection’ writing staff, administrators, and government producers can’t all the time embrace what they need, and may’t all the time problem a observe from the community to exclude what they don’t need. Studios need to navigate each home and worldwide requirements and practices, the veto energy of manufacturing amenities, toy manufacturers, and different shopper merchandise producers who personal rights to the property, and the final say of its dad or mum firms and distribution channels. Putting a singular blame on this concern shouldn’t be solely incorrect, but in addition demonstrates a misunderstanding of the animation business as an entire. Moreover, the undeniable fact that we got specific illustration in a non-original property continues to be a small step ahead. Nevertheless, I nonetheless can’t categorical how disenchanted I’m in DreamWorks for the thoughtlessness with which it was executed. Shiro was already homosexual–the present didn’t have to do something extra to win my help. However, by shoving a fan favourite homosexual character into an undeveloped epilogue wedding ceremony to attain PR factors, it definitely misplaced it.

One ultimate observe for my fellow queer followers–I do know so many of you’re harm, dissatisfied, and annoyed. It looks like this actually constructive factor, a uncommon well-written homosexual character, has been snatched from us. Nevertheless, as a reminder, we don’t know who made what name, so please don’t harass anybody, particularly the show-runners. Speak about this as an alternative: get on social media, and clarify why this was painful. This drawback gained’t go away till we tackle it–that’s why I’m scripting this.

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