Steven Universe creator Rebecca Sugar has revealed that Cartoon Network bosses tried to meddle in the show’s famously-queer dynamic.
Queerness is at the absolute core of the acclaimed cartoon series, which has won fans young and old alike for its pitch-perfect depiction of love between non-binary crystal gems Ruby and Sapphire, who together fuse to form Garnet.
Steven Universe, which ran from 2013 to 2019, has set the standard for LGBT+ representation in kids’ entertainment, with many subsequent shows finding a newfound freedom to depict queer relationships and gender diversity on screen.
But in an interview with Paper Magazine, Sugar revealed that despite the fan love for the series, it was an uphill battle to get Cartoon Network onboard with the show’s vision.
She revealed: “By 2014 when we actually introduced Garnet’s components, the characters of Ruby and Sapphire, the studio started to understand what we were doing.
“They told us point-blank: ‘You can’t have these characters be in a romantic relationship,’ but at that point Garnet was so established that audiences could instantly understand what the relationship was, the song had already been written, the episode had already been boarded so we were already in full production.
“I’m really proud of the patience we had and the time that we took to fully explore these characters at a time when that was not necessarily possible.”
However, Sugar explained: “I was told that I couldn’t discuss it publicly. They basically brought me in and said: ‘We want to support that you’re doing this but you have to understand that internationally if you speak about this publicly, the show will be pulled from a lot of countries and that may mean the end of the show.’
“They actually gave me the choice to speak about it or not, to tell the truth about it or not.”
Sugar continued: “I couldn’t reconcile how simple this felt to me and how impossible it was to do, so I talked about it. The show survived in a large part because of the support from fans. I’m really proud of the choice we made and what we were able to accomplish together.”
She added: “It seems absurd to think that only a few years ago and really now, that a person’s job, their ability to make cartoons, could hinge on their sexual orientation, it’s profoundly unfair and ridiculous but true. That really needs to shift and is still in the process of shifting.”
Steven Universe credited with changing attitudes towards LGBT+ content.
Noelle Stevenson, who created the LGBT-inclusive cartoon series She-Ra, noted how pivotal Steven Universe was in changing attitudes in animation,
In the interview alongside Sugar, she told Paper: “The conversations that we were having at the beginning of our plans for including queer characters and relationships was only possible because Steven Universe had done it first.”
Stevenson revealed that when she tried to introduce a same-sex relationship on her show, “it was immediately, like Rebecca said, the same kind of pushback where we were told point-blank we would not be able to do this”.
“Across the board, no romance. That was how broad it got! Let’s just be extra-safe, no romance whatsoever. ”
The TV creator confessed to “pulling some dirty tricks” to include an LGBT+ undercurrent in the series, adding: “We were banking on that reaction from fans to turn the tide in our favour and be able to make these things canonical.”