Representation in Modern Animation

Cartoons have been and will always continue to be for kids, speaking in terms of the majority. They were made for everyone in the beginning, with a Bugs Bunny cartoon meant to entertain children and their families when they brought them to the only places that would show cartoons at the time – movie theaters. Now everyone enjoys a great classic, while also enjoying the evolution of cartoons over the last few decades. In more recent years, kids and young adults are able to see more representation in certain shows where most would have the simple white family and school with the occasional black friend, though those were rather rare.

However, with these new representations and many of the children of the 90’s and 00’s not willing to let go of their childhoods just yet, the audience has expanded from young children to adults as old as 25. Many audiences are thrilled to see a new generation of cartoons taking shape and showing more representation in their characters, as well as giving a darker side to the cartoons and giving deeper meanings to the people that watch it.


One of the more famous cartoons of recent years is The Legend of Korra cartoon made by Brian Konietzko and Michael DiMartino is the sequel series to their famous work in Avatar: The Last Airbender. The cartoons take you to a mystical land heavily-inspired and created through Asian culture where there are people capable of manipulating the elements at will and using them to their advantage, no matter whether it’s good or bad and the show makes a point of showing you both and keeping many characters in the “grey” area between good and evil. The Avatar being the most powerful of them all, able to bend all four elements. Avatar: The Last Airbender has often been praised for its unique storytelling as well as representation among their main cast, with all of them arguably being people of color, and one of them being handicapped with blindness. The Legend of Korra was quick to make waves after, showing a young woman as the new avatar with incredible skill, while also being one of the first bisexual characters to appear on a cartoon show and having it be recognized by audience and crew.


Though it was not completely explicit in this as some might have liked, it was still incredible and greatly supported by the audience. Korra was also rather famous for showing the darker side of mental illness, putting Korra through rather traumatic events that caused her to have intense PTSD for a majority of the final season. It is praised for it’s forward-thinking as well as its unique animation style which has often been compared to the intricate animation of Japan.


Another, and one of the more recent cartoons, and likely the most famous for their wide variety of racial and gender representation is the Steven Universe cartoon made by Rebecca Sugar. The cartoon is a science fiction tale of a young boy named Steven, who lives with three alien beings that are known as the Crystal Gems. There is Pearl, the tall, motherly, undoubtedly elegant and organized Gem that once was in love with Steven’s late mother Rose Quartz. There is Amethyst, the scrappy little purple Gem that has a rather messy fighting style as well as eating habits, and is recognized by both the audience and the crew members as genderfluid, even though the preferred pronouns used for Amethyst are She/Her, though there are episodes where Amethyst can be seen looking like a rather masculine man known as the wrestler Purple Puma. While she is technically an alien, Amethyst is also considered a person of color. The third Gem that steven lives with is Garnet, the leader of the three. She stands tall and proud with a cool attitude and serenity, with immense power and an ability to read into the future, while also being undeniably another person of color.

Steven Universe has been argued to be one of the more forward-thinking cartoon shows of the current cartoon era as it not only has the main cast being people of color, but also many of the supporting cast, including Steven’s love interest Connie Maheswaran. There are multiple characters shown throughout the show with their own small story arcs as they interact with Steven and the Gems, with only a few of the typical white American families showing their faces among the crowd, though they aren’t always considered typical. There is also, and more notably, the character Garnet. Garnet was revealed to actually be something called a fusion Gem, meaning that she is a being created from two Gems known as Ruby and Sapphire. She is a living representation of a lesbian relationship. Many of the actual voice cast are also people of color, with the well-known singer Estelle playing as Garnet, Deedee Magno-hall playing as Pearl, Erika Shukrani Luttrell playing as Sapphire, Michaela Dietz playing as Amethyst, and even a celebrity appearance by Nicki Minaj as the voice of Sugilite – the fusion of Garnet and Amethyst.  

Steven Universe shows a wide appeal to many audiences with deep and intricate story lines surrounding the lore of the Gems and their society, as well as how the Crystal Gems came to protect earth after a long and arduous war for it over 5,000 years ago. It also appeals to many people of color and those of the LGBT+ spectrum by showing support for them with their own character cast. There is also the main character himself, Steven Universe, who has been seen breaking a few of the usual boundaries made for main characters by being a young, chubby boy that has a kind heart and is rather quick to emotion. This is not something seen in most of the main characters involving young boys, as they’re often shown as rough-and-tumble types that will never shed a tear. Steven Universe is a boy that will cry over the fact that snakes don’t have arms, loves the color pink, and isn’t afraid to wear a dress and work it like no one else.

With these new forward-thinking shows, it looks like there will be promising representation in the future for all people of color, as well as those outside of the heterosexual orientation, and the gender binary norm. Steven Universe has already garnered quite the large and well-known fan base online for its representation along with its rather intricate story line. Many people of the millennial generation, or those within the 12-25 age range are hoping to see a great deal more of the show and will continue to support it as long as it’s airing.

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