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'Steven Universe' changed TV forever. For its creator, its queer themes were personal

Tracy Brown, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

LOS ANGELES -- When "Steven Universe" debuted in 2013, it introduced the world to a charming, cheerful boy who is just learning how to be a hero. It's quickly apparent that the half-human, half-magical teen loves his friends and family, is enthusiastic about food and is eager to prove that he's ready to save the world.

Guiding Steven (voiced by Zach Callison) along his journey are Garnet (Estelle), Amethyst (Michaela Dietz) and Pearl (Deedee Magno Hall) -- a team of extraterrestrial beings known as the Crystal Gems who have sworn to protect Earth.

Over the course of five seasons, Steven and the Crystal Gems face innumerable, increasingly powerful threats and learn uncomfortable truths about the past. But it's the characters and their relationships that are central to the show.

"My goal from the very beginning of 'Steven Universe' was to tell a very personal story," said creator and showrunner Rebecca Sugar on an early March morning at Cartoon Network Studios in Burbank. The long-running show is based on Sugar's relationship with her brother, Steven.

The main series wrapped in 2019 after Steven helped establish peace across the universe, but his story wasn't over; a TV movie picking up two years after the end of the show aired later that year. Steven's story was further extended into a limited epilogue series, "Steven Universe Future," which concludes with a four-part series finale airing Friday.

A whimsical, musical coming-of-age story, the five-time Emmy-nominated series became known for thoughtfully engaging with themes not often addressed in children's television: trauma, grief, toxic relationships, consent, empathy and more.

 

But "Steven Universe's" greatest legacy is repeatedly breaking new ground for LGBTQ representation in kids' cartoons. Not only does the fantasy/sci-fi series include a range of recognizably queer and nonbinary characters, it has also featured a same-sex proposal and wedding.

This inclusive storytelling has resonated with fans and is among the reasons "Steven Universe" has been hailed by critics. The show has earned both a GLAAD Media Award and a Peabody.

As Cartoon Network's chief content officer Rob Sorcher says, "Steven Universe" is the "gold standard" for the studio.

"This is the kind of content that we want to make," Sorcher said. "We want to be working on things every day that's going to actually matter in a young person's life."

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