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Interview: She-Ra’s Noelle Stevenson on Catra’s Journey, LGBT+ Representation, and the Power of Friendship

Interview: She-Ra’s Noelle Stevenson on Catra’s Journey, LGBT+ Representation, and the Power of Friendship

Reading Time: 9 minutes

After five wonderful and magical seasons, She-Ra has reached an epic conclusion. Before watching the final three episodes, we had the opportunity to sit down with showrunner Noelle Stevenson and talk about her perspective on the show’s final season and the various complexities behind it. In this interview, we brush upon various elements of Season 5’s storytelling, Catra’s character arc, and the powerful message behind the power of friendship.

For those who haven’t yet seen Season 5, this interview contains some mild spoilers. 

Ariel: Each season of She-Ra has constantly delivered excellent story structure and meaningful character moments, but it really feels like the team pulled out all the stops for Season 5. Can you tell us a little bit more about the writing process for such a powerful season?

Noelle: I think Season 5 had very interesting challenges which was, like, we have been setting up all these characters, and we have such a huge cast, and we wanted to bring all their character development full circle while still honestly getting back to our core characters and focusing mainly on them, putting them at the center of the story. But making sure every single character had their moment in a way that was satisfying. It was a big undertaking but in a lot of ways it is about making sure every one of these threads come together in a way that is satisfying. So whereas other seasons were more, like, ‘let’s follow this thread and see where it goes’ and [those seasons] might have been a little more freeform. They were more about developing the characters, expanding the world, exploring the themes that are central to the show. [Season 5] is a little more, okay, now it’s time to pull out all the stops, wrap this up, and drive it home. So that has different challenges. A lot is, kind of, a first to the finish, because these are more ambitious episodes in a lot of ways.

I want to give a shoutout to our animation team at NE4U Inc. because the animation in this season is so next level and [we have] stuff that I don’t think we even could have dreamed of pulling off in Season 1. We managed to work with [the animators] and they put so much of themselves into it, so much passion into it, to really execute these stories to the degree that they needed to be executed. And so, it really was just the whole team coming together and putting their passion into giving this show the most satisfying conclusion that we could.

Ariel: You can really tell. I was watching a couple episodes from earlier seasons and the difference, just in animation, is astounding. You don’t even notice at first, but it’s there.

Noelle: It really is! Every time I see clips from the first season, I’m like, ‘oh my god’! It really is a shock. You learn how to make the show you’re making and it’s almost like, by the last episode, you’re like ‘okay, now we really know how to make this. Oh. Now it’s over’. I think that’s just how it works.

Ariel: This season is very heavy and intense because it’s dealing with the war against Horde Prime and that’s a rough situation. But we noticed [this heaviness] is juxtaposed with a lot of soft and introspective moments, like Scorpia’s jazz number right before the chaos in ‘Perils of Peekablue’, as well as the entirety of ‘Shot in the Dark’ where the gang is teasing Catra on Krytis. What inspired this narrative choice of juxtaposing the softer scenes with the heavier ones?

Noelle: I think that, weirdly, even though the stakes are higher than ever in Season 5, and it gets darker and scarier maybe than we’ve gotten in any other seasons, I actually think that this season is not as hard emotionally as Season 4 was. I think that Season 4 is hard in a different way because you’re watching relationships and characters that you care about fall apart. And the stakes are sort of internal. The stakes and the conflict are coming from within. The characters are almost tearing themselves apart. They’re not even really a danger to each other as much as they are to themselves. And that’s really hard. It’s hard to watch characters that you’ve come to love, you know, fall apart this way. 

In Season 5, it feels lighter because [the characters] are finally coming back together. All of these relationships and characters that you’ve been waiting to see reunite finally reunite, and there are moments of rest. Even though Prime is the biggest danger they’ve ever faced and one of the strongest, most terrifying villains by far in the show. We get to see all of the characters that we like, who’ve been at each other’s throats for so long actually come together against Horde Prime. And so, for me, I really wanted to find those soft little moments of just, y’know, they’re just going on a space road trip. What happens in those quiet moments? And make sure we spotlight those as well because you’ve been waiting so long to see these characters back on the same side. Even characters like Glimmer, her falling out with Bow and Adora, you always thought the Best Friend Squad would be okay no matter what. Seeing them torn apart like that is very hard. So seeing them come back together and eat dumplings in space. I wanted to give the show breathing room to have those moments as well.

Ariel: One of the most anticipated arcs this season was Catra’s journey to redemption. For so long, we have watched her struggle with what she truly wanted and the choices she made as a result. What was the catalyst that made her realize power was not what she wanted? How did the team decide to go about her redemption?

Noelle: For Catra, I did not feel she could be fulfilled as a character in a satisfying way until she had reached the highest point that she could possibly reach. And to have gotten everything that she thought she wanted. That’s the reason Catra was never going to join the Rebellion before that. She couldn’t. It wasn’t time yet. She needed to prove to herself and everyone else that she could […] she is going after the wrong things, and she’s not being honest with herself about what she wants. But her drive is pretty admirable when it’s isolated from the fact that what she is trying to do is conquer Etheria. But I don’t think at any point she could have been pulled off that path, except by her own realization that it wasn’t what she wanted. And so at the end of Season 4, she almost gets everything. She just defeated Hordak. She has Etheria in the palm of her hand. Everything is poised for her to get everything she said she wanted–and it doesn’t make her happy. We see her break down on the floor and she’s a mess. She has nothing that she wanted. She’s pushed everyone away. Everyone who cared about her is gone. She has no one to talk to and no one to lean on, and I really don’t think that her arc could have progressed to a more positive place until that had happened. 

[In Season 4] [Catra] shut down, got very cold, got very bitter. Now it’s like, ‘alright, here you are. You don’t have anybody. What was it that you felt you lost in Season 1? What would really make you happy?’ And I think the conclusion that she comes to is like, ‘well, you want more people in your life. You want to be a part of something and have friends.’ It’s subtle, but a detail that I’ve always really liked about Catra’s arc. You can see moments of the fact that she never really cultivated other relationships. There’s this moment in “Remember” in Season 3, which is, like, her perfect universe – it’s really short – but there’s a moment you see her just talking to two other cadets, just hanging out. And it’s weird, because like, does Catra ever do that? Does she have other friends besides Adora? I don’t think that she let herself have that at first, but I think that is secretly what she wanted. And so I think that that’s her arc in this season – her really acknowledging that and I think it’s important that it happens with Glimmer… They hated each other, they were always at each other’s throats, they had nothing in common. But, it turns out that they have a lot in common. Glimmer being kind of the catalyst toward Catra finally being honest with herself and finally making those first steps towards redemption. I think that’s really important because… she wants friends. She wants to be equals with people in her life who are, like, important to her and she’s important to them and they make space for her. That’s one of the things I find really satisfying about this season.

Ariel: One of the best parts of She-Ra for us is that the show never strays far from providing organic LGBT+ representation. While there has been a lot of it in previous seasons, Season 5 really drives the message home and shows characters in explicit relationships. We see Spinerella and Netossa kiss for the first time and acknowledge each other as wives. And it pays off. We love to see it and we know that the rest of the fandom will love to see it. Do you think that She-Ra will open doors for more representation in children’s animation?

Noelle: I really hope so, because I know how much the road has been paved for us by other cartoons that put themselves out there and [have] taken those steps and every time someone does that it achieves something that has been difficult to include in children’s media, that tends to get shot down, that can even be risky to your job to try and include it. But every time somebody succeeds at that, they pave a little bit more of that road. It gets a little bit easier. So I think that we are sort of riding on the shoulders of giants already, but what I was really passionate about was like, ‘what if these LGBT characters are really central in these stories that we love? Not just incidental, although incidental representation is also important, like what happens when they really are at the heart of it. And, that’s something that I want to see more of. I think that this story is only one version of that and I’m looking forward to the conversation after the season wraps up and we can really discuss everything as a community because it is something that we have to constantly be discussing. We have to talk about what the next step is, what we want to see, how we can achieve that. I really hope that She-Ra can be another tile in that road towards really getting those equitable, satisfying stories that we really see ourselves in and really feel represented by.

Ariel: [Is there anything] that you regret not being able to include? Or do you feel that you’ve told every piece of the story?

Noelle: I think that it’s interesting because there’s this odd feeling that I’ve come to terms with now that this show is out in the world. We did so much of this show before the first season ever even aired. I think we were writing Season 5 when the first season came out. It’s been such a long journey and there was so much of that time that we had no feedback from anyone outside of the show. What’s interesting is, like, as soon as we wrapped production, as soon as all the stories were sort of finalized and we had really committed to the plot lines and there was really no changing them at that point, that was the point that I would see fan theories that are like, ‘oh maybe this could happen!’ and I’m like, ‘dammit, that’s really cool! I would have loved to do that!’ But at a certain point, the story is what it is. It includes everything it needs to include because this is where we need to end up and these are the steps to get there. It’s like when you’re writing something and you’re like, ‘ooh I could think of something cooler, I just don’t know what.’ 

At a certain point, whatever ends up on the page, that’s what the story is. I think that there are lots of things. That’s what is so great about the fan community around it. They are creating their own works that are going off in their own direction and I think that’s amazing. While maybe there are moments that are like, ‘oh it would be cool to see this or that’ or get a little bit more for this more minor character. The story is what you see. It’s what’s on the page, it’s what’s on the screen. I think that the mark of a good story is how much you can imagine. What comes next or what other things might have happened between the scenes. The way that that sparks your inspiration and imagination. I really hope that this season does and that people fill in those blanks themselves and expand it and take it in new directions and gets people inspired to make their own stories. That’s what I really hope for it. This story has finally found its conclusion and it’s really good to know that this is, like, you can watch that story beginning to end and see every part of it.

Ariel: If you could pick one message that you would want the fans to take away from She-Ra as an entirety, what would it be?

Noelle: In simplest terms, friendship saves the day. Friendship is magic, you know? And that was always part of the concept. It is about this coalition of powerful princesses and characters. As we made the show, I think that we found so many more layers to that than we expected to. We had just started production – I think we were a few months in – and this was 2016. November of 2016 came around and it felt like the world changed and shifted and I think the story that we were telling started to change too. The show, at times, it was this labor of love that took a huge toll on each and every member of the crew and the only way we got through it was by relying on each other and by just, really, coming together and lifting each other up and leaning on each other. I think that that message of friendship and unity and community, that got a lot deeper than we ever expected it to. And I think that this last season ends up being about love and about connection and how that kind of is the most important thing in the world and where all strength comes from. No one is just strong on their own. That’s the message that I hope people take from this. Relationships and community and leadership – all of these things are really, really difficult, and sometimes they can be devastating and they can tear you apart but it is worth it. You have to try. Even when you fail, you have to try again. That’s what I hope people take away from this show and from the last season.

Season 5 of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is now streaming on Netflix

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