ENTERTAINMENT

She-Ra is back, and this time she’s cool with gender fluidity

Plenty of adults are watching and talking about this cartoon revival of an 80s classic
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This week, WHO’s Binge List TV podcast debates the Netflix reboot of cartoon classic She-Ra. Here host Matt Denby gives us a preview of the show. 

A long time ago, there was a magical kingdom built on selling millions of grotesquely over-muscled and unfeasibly bosomy plastic action figures to kids.

SEE CLIPS FROM SHE-RA BELOW

Silly haircuts and sillier names were the flavor of the day, as the mystical warriors of the He-Man and She-Ra franchises battled it out, until they ended up in landfills everywhere, cruelly discarded out of a mixture of embarrassment and a desire to replace them with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles merchandise.

Flash forward three decades to 2018, and She-Ra has been resurrected on Netflix by showrunner Noelle Stevenson in She-Ra and The Princesses of Power – and although our heroine is instantly recognisable as the blonde, sword-wielding rebel of old, in many ways she’s now a long, long way from the princess we once knew.

The overtly sexualised bodies, jutting boobs and humourless faux-mystical antics that defined the original show have been replaced with a notably sexless, but identity-enthused feminist landscape that looks a lot more like Tumblr than the planet Etheria of old.

There’s no cleavage in sight any more, but there are a variety of body types – some quite substantial – which much more closely resemble earthly reality. That’s led to a furious backlash from some slightly strange male fans of old who apparently want their cartoon eye-candy back.

Among the overwhelmingly female cast of characters is Bow – a flamboyant arrowsmith who has been interpreted by fans as either gay, or a transboy. One scene showing him wearing what may be chest binding has added fuel to the latter theory.

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Bow, Adora and Glimmer (Credit: Netflix)

An episode featuring a ‘princess prom’ shows plenty of same-sex duos in attendance, and a wide array of gender expression. What would Hordak think?

While there’s a distinct lack of heteronormativity on display, signs of any practical romantic activity are non-existent on Etheria; banished along with many other manifestations of adulthood. Indeed, most of the characters – although apparently of fighting age, with some enlisted in the armed forces – have been strangely de-aged into an ambiguous state between childhood and maturity.

Despite being set on a supposedly war-ravaged planet, the show now more closely resembles an overgrown tween’s anime-influenced fantasy land; a safe space insulated from true menace, and where identities can be played with, without adulthood intruding.

Could this show be any more Millennial?

Such adult musings aside, the gentle positivity on display here will be enjoyed by kids, most of whom will be oblivious to the more sophisticated political messages, hints and winks that have been planted here for the benefit of the large and enthusiastic adult audience.

Who would’ve thought that a show which was originally conceived to sell toys – and for no other reason – could be reshaped all these years later into something deeper and more political? While this reboot definitely isn’t for everyone, it looks set to outrun the original – whether old school fans like it or not. 

To hear our full discussion of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, listen to this week’s Binge List podcast – out now. Details below:

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