Undercooked Brownie Points or Real Representation?

Lately I’ve been obsessed with a cartoon on Netflix, The Dragon Prince. It’s one of those shows that seems to have it all: a cool premise, magic, elves, and dragons! It’s got characters of color, characters with disabilities, queer characters, morally grey characters! There are hard-hitting themes as well as knee-slapping jokes. I’ve watched it a few times now, and I’m genuinely excited to see where the story goes from here. One of the reasons I love the show so much (aside from all the hot elves, of course) is how well-written the women characters are. We’ve got a main character, Rayla, the kindhearted elf assassin; Claudia, the goofy yet spooky dark mage; Amaya, the fierce general with a pure heart; Aanya, the child queen who’s wise beyond her years.

It’s no surprise that these characters, and the show in general, are so well-written. One of the creators of the show is Aaron Ehasz, who was a writer on Avatar: The Last Airbender, another show that has awesome ladies. So it was shocking when some of the women staff of Wonderstorm, Ehasz’s production company behind The Dragon Prince, brought up allegations of sexism and workplace abuse against him. How could someone who’s made a name for himself writing some of the best fleshed-out women characters in animation treat the women on his staff so terribly? To make matters worse, the statement he issued on the matter pretty much boils down to “I’m sorry these women felt that I treated them badly but we’re all moving on.” It also shocked me to see his attitude toward the show’s queer characters. The Dragon Prince is one of the first cartoons I’ve seen where same-sex characters kiss and it’s not treated like a big deal. For once it’s just a normal part of the story’s world. Not to say Ehasz doesn’t genuinely care about them, but it sort of seems like his viewpoint is, “Look, we have gays, give me brownie points for being so progressive.”

It was a whole to-do in the fandom when this situation came to light, but things sadly seem to have blown over. This sucks for a multitude of reasons. I just don’t see the point in writing strong women characters, and then treating the real life women who are working for you like they don’t matter. The Dragon Prince is a great show, and people who have been underrepresented in media for a long time deserve to see characters like them in something popular. Going into 2020, I think it’s clear that if we want to keep seeing well-written women and well-written minorities, we need to support creators who identify as such. Luna Station Quarterly is a great example! Women publishing women writers, no brownie points needed. Some other great examples are “Hair Love,” an animated short about an African American father learning to do his daughter’s hair, created by African Americans, and Pixar’s short film Bao, directed by Domee Shi, a Chinese-Canadian woman. These creators might not be perfect, because no one is, but at least there’s a lower chance that they’re only writing minorities as real people to get pats on the back.