By Joanna Cosgrove
Steven Universe has only just entered its third season and already has won over the hearts of children and teenagers, from showings on television and the fandom on the Internet. As one of the new Cartoon Network shows which already made history on the channel for being the first female-created cartoon – former Adventure Time staff member Rebecca Sugar – Steven Universe just seems too phenomenal for younger viewers. It crossed the milestones into the teen demographic, and why? Just look at the characters, look at how they interact and their relationships and their actions and so on. Every episode could break stereotypes and traditionalist societal norms, and this is what makes the cartoon more than just a cartoon.
One thing that Steven Universe has received plenty of attention for is characters featured, in the background or in the main cast, that seem to identify in the LGBTQ community.
This is mainly found in the gems themselves, greatly in the relationship between Ruby and Sapphire, the two gems permanently fused to form Garnet. As most of the gems in the show are portrayed as feminine – although stressed by the team behind the show, they have no defined gender (there’s some non-binary/gender-nonconforming representation there!) – people have identified Ruby and Sapphire as lesbian representation. This is first seen in the episode “Jailbreak”, where Ruby and Sapphire first appear separately – and the connect is made straightaway when a panicky Ruby races around the ship to find her partner Sapphire. Once reunited, they embrace, sneak a kiss and dance together, fusing once more into the Garnet we all know and love. Since then, whenever these two have been found, they have shown romance and affection, with cuddles and kisses and even scenes of flirting (shown in season three, and confirmed when fellow gem Lapis Lazuli answers Steven’s question of, “What are they doing?”).
However, within the gems, Ruby and Sapphire and not the only gems which show some romantic link. Similar has been found between Pearl and Rose Quartz.
We have only seen this chemistry in flashback episodes, as Rose Quartz sacrificed her being to bring her son Steven into the world, but compared to Ruby and Sapphire, there is a difference. Pearl developed romantic feelings for Rose, but Rose could never reciprocate.
Pearl was a renegade gem who joined Rose to form the Crystal Gems, and rebel against the other gems on Homeworld for their plans of harvesting gems on other planets, destroying them in the process. They teamed up to fight, and along the way, gained the help of the newly-fused Garnet and Earth-grown gem Amethyst. But during their teamwork together, Pearl grew affectionate of Rose, and this was greatly evident in flashbacks to when Rose first met Steven’s father, Greg Universe (“Story For Stene” and “We Need To Talk”), and Pearl would act jealous and cruel, demeaning Greg and making him feel useless and humiliated as he is a pure human and Peal and Rose are both gems, who are immortal and can only form personal bonds with other gems. Since these days, Pearl has held a grudge against Greg and in a weaker way Steven; she could never get past the unrequited love she held for Rose.
We all know that “usuals” for a television show: white people. White friends, white families; it’s sad and frustrating, but it’s true. However, now we have Steven Universe, which honestly has one of the most diverse character cast I’ve seen onscreen.
Let’s start with one of the most recurring characters: Steven’s best friend Connie Maheswaran. Connie is a young genius, at only 12 years old, but is first introduced as a nervous introvert who is pushed and pressured by her parents to excel in her life, in her school studies and her musical studies, as she is a talented violinist. I am happy to state that Connie, nor her parents Dr. Priyanka and Doug Maheswaran, are not at all white-washed. She is portrayed with beautiful dark skin, and her Hindu surname Maheswaran is openly welcomed; I am proud she has become less of a recurring character and more like one of the main characters, as I can see her inspiring young people of colour to achieve their dreams and goals – and be a little magical.
Another example of great ethnic representation is the Pizza family, who own and work at the Fish Stew Pizza restaurant. The restaurant is owned by Ghana-born Kofi Pizza, with his twin daughters Jenny and Kiki working for him. The elderly mother of Kofi, Nanefua Pizza, is also shown to live with the family (and adds to the comic relief by being a laid-back grandmother). I personally do love this representation, as it especially contradicts the immigration issues in the real world: immigrants who move to different countries are seeking a safe home and steady employment, such as Kofi when he moved from Ghana. It’s also helpful to show the rest of the population in Beach City (wherever Steven Universe is set) act respectfully and friendly to them, like they are one of their own, because they are. They are all residents in the same city, and that is what we need to see in the real world; so thanks to the writers and producers and whoever is working on this cartoon for teaching children that every human is exactly that. Human.
I don’t know, but who knows is the staff behind the cartoon. Rebecca Sugar has commented that where she can, she would want to add more diversity into the cartoon and normalise the diversity we see every day in our lives.
Let’s get ready, people. And if you are not already watching Steven Universe, do not go one more day without giving at least one episode a watch. Find clips online or tune in to Cartoon Network once in a while, you might find it!
Right now, we can relax and listen in to the extended theme with our gem-tastic gems.