Why the animated series She-Ra is a great example of queer romance writing? Let's see how Noelle Stevenson's show overcomes queerbaiting and makes history.
This article contains SPOILERS on the final season of She-Ra and the Warrior Princesses
As I said in a other article, She-Ra is an animated series about which there is a lot to say. Its positive aspects are many and range from the excellent character design to the mature way in which it deals with the difficulties of human relationships, from the well-written plot to the coherent evolution of the characters. I could spend hours talking about how beautiful the physical variety of his characters is, which are not a series of perfectly physically shaped and stencil-made mannequins. Or I could make a very long speech about the importance of this series' approach to the role of the hero and his sacrifice.
However, today I would like to briefly talk about another thing that She-Ra does extremely well: tell a beautiful love story between two non-heterosexual characters. Because on this issue, She-Ra it can really teach almost any other television production.
A brief synopsis of the fifth season of She-Ra
I will not be here to repeat the plot of the first four seasons of She-Ra, but I will briefly resume that of the fifth and final season, which is the focus of this article.
After Etheria is finally re-teleported to the real dimension, the planet is under siege by Horde Prime, the being capable of possessing the bodies of others whose antagonist Hordak from previous seasons is revealed to be a defective clone. Now devoid of the sword that allowed her to transform into She-Ra, Adora must try to thwart the invasion of Horde Prime and recover Glimmer and Catra, prisoners in the latter's space station.
To face a huge scale danger like this, all the inhabitants of Etheria will have to put aside your differences, learning to collaborate and not just rely on She-Ra. In particular, Catra will have to learn to overcome her insecurities and to finally do the right thing, helping Adora to save the world.
The world will obviously be safe in the end, but it is interesting to focus on how it manages to be saved, that is, thanks tolove between Adora and Catra.
The recipe to save the world: to fight for your own future as well as that of others
She-Ra's power comes from Adora's willingness to protect the people she loves. It is evident, episode after episode, when Adora manages to transform herself to protect her friends. And it is also evident that the desire to protect Catra is a very strong stimulus for the evocation of the power of She-Ra, as can be seen from the fifth episode, in which Adora transforms herself for the first time after breaking the sword precisely to protect Catra by Horde Prime.
But this realization will not be immediate for Adora, who for the whole season is oppressed by the enormity of the task of being a point of reference for the Resistance, for which she is convinced that she must put aside her dreams, her desires and the own future. However, the mere belief that one has to sacrifice oneself for the greater good does not trigger She-Ra's powersnor is it a healthy state of mind for Adora.
It will be precisely Catra to remind Adora how important it is to also think about what you want, without completely canceling out for others. And after discovering that Catra reciprocates her feelings, Adora will finally be able to make the necessary qualitative leap in her motivations. So, Adora will not fight only because she has to, or because she is the only person able to do it, but because she also deserves to have a future with the person she loves. And thanks to this awareness, Adora will be able to transform into She-Ra and save her world.
In this sense, I believe that She-Ra do an excellent job of reminding us that sacrifice is a noble act, but it must not be done blindly or because it is believed that putting all the needs of others in front of you is something we must do. She-Ra it reminds us that victory is not obtained only by sacrificing for the good of others, but also by remembering the importance of fighting for one's future, for one's well-being. Quoting Mara's beautiful phrase:
You're worth more than what you can give to other people. You deserve love too.
A well-structured queer love story, consistent with the characters and imperfect
She-Ra it can teach a lot about how queer love stories are written for many reasons, but let's start with the most trivial one: because it presents a well-structured love story, consistent with the characters and their evolution and, above all, not idealized.
Queer love stories at the center of the plot: Catra and Adora as the thematic heart of the series
The message it gives She-Ra it is very powerful, and the relationship between Adora and Catra plays a fundamental role. These two girls have been a constant on the series since the very first episode. Childhood friends raised by a toxic parent figure, Catra and Adora separated not only for ideological reasons, but also and above all because Catra felt abandoned and betrayed when Adora decided to leave the Horde.
Fueled by the traumas of her childhood, the terror of being abandoned and her low self-esteem, Catra's anger led her to have increasingly toxic and self-destructive behaviors over the next four seasons. Little by little, Catra continued to sink into her own unsolved problems, of which Adora was more a symbol than the cause, eventually alienating even the people who were her friends.
Only by being placed in an extreme situation and having dealt with the consequences of her actions, Catra decides to put her anger aside to help Adora and her new friends, Glimmer and Bow. Only after seeing this gesture of goodwill on the part of Catra, Adora, who in the meantime has learned not to feel responsible for all the harm done by her friend, will decide to give her another chance, running to save her.
Queer love stories consistent with the characters: the evolution of the relationship between Catra and Adora
By rediscovering the bond that united them for so long, coming to terms with their own insecurities and finally learning to communicate with an open heart, Catra and Adora will be able to reconnect, gradually discovering that they have always felt something more than friendship. one for the other. At the end of the fifth season, it will be the realization of their respective feelings that will give Adora the motivation to transform into She-Ra and save the world, as already mentioned.
But the relationship between Catra and Adora has always been very close, and has always clearly implied that the feelings of the two girls could be deeper than friendship. Indeed, She-Ra he takes the time to often emphasize how deeply Catra and Adora still care deeply for each other on the two opposite sides of the war. Even the self-destructive spiral that Catra ends up in is due to her attachment to Adora and her pain of being left behind by her. An obvious example of Catra and Adora feeling something more than friendship for each other dates back to the first season, namely the episode The Dance of the Princesses.
Deprived of their initial antagonistic context and strong of a better understanding of themselves and their fears, Catra and Adora have finally been able to blossom as a romantic couple. This evolution presents itself not only as consistent with their previous relationship, but also evidently necessary at the end of the fifth season, as it releases the romantic tension that has accumulated for all the previous episodes.
Realistic and Unidealized Queer Love Stories: Catra is not healed by love
The love story between Catra and Adora was the culmination of a troubled relationship, made difficult by the war and their respective traumas, which are dealt with in depth and consistently.
E it is not love that solves their problems, but their personal growth. Love, in She-Ra, it is not presented as the cure for all ills or as the spell that begs for a toxic relationship. Love is something that can only be achieved once you have solved your personal problems and after you stop being a toxic person. something that is earned after becoming better people, without expecting our partner to put us in order.
I find this to be an extremely profound message, which makes the relationship between Catra and Adora important not only because it is the first lesbian love story between the two protagonists of an animated series for boys, but also because it gives a further life teaching.
How to write queer love stories: the teachings of She-Ra
In short, She-Ra teaches us that a queer love story, to be well done, must first of all be well written, which is true of any love story. However, many straight love stories tend to require even very superficial interactions to be believable, and generally it is enough for a man and a woman to be in the same room for a while for the audience to start seeing a romantic subtext. The same kind of development, for a queer love story, is often not enough, because the public is much more prone to define this genre of romance as free, if not, in the case of the more nasty comments, as "made only for the politically correct ". The love story between Catra and Adora, however, avoids this problem because it takes its time and spreads the romantic subtext throughout the five seasons.
In this way, moreover, their feelings add to many other factors that influence their relationship, so that theretheir love story is not just characterized by being queer. The one between Adora and Catra, therefore, is not a love story written only to have the "gay share", but it is a queer love story that comes as the culmination of a very long and difficult friendship relationship. This relationship is one of the factors that give the two protagonists a deep and complex characterization, to which the fact of being not straight is added.
Thirdly, the love story between Catra and Adora is treated in a mature way, underlining the importance of love for personal happiness, but without idealizing this feeling as a solver of all evils, nor giving the love interest the task of "healing" or "making better" one's partner.
In short, She-Ra teaches us that a good queer love story is a good love story, written with respect for the characters, the plot and the setting. This report is made not so much to earn "representation points", as is often done by inserting contour characters engaged in queer relationships that have little effect on the plot, but rather to tell a good story. In this sense, the love story between Catra and Adora is central to the plot and for the salvation of Etheria, and it is such that it cannot be removed from the plot without profoundly changing it, acquiring a central role, unlike what happens with queer love stories inserted only to have "representation points". And yet, this love story isn't the only element that pushes the plot forward or influences the characters, thus fitting into a more complex picture.
For all these reasons, I believe anyone who writes queer or non-queer love stories should take an example from She-Ra.