she-ra and the princesses of power

Noelle Stevenson on She-Ra, princesses, and the importance of female friendships

Contributed by
Nov 16, 2018

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, which premiered November 13 on Netflix, is a 13-episode series based on the 1980s animated series She-Ra: Princess of Power, a spinoff of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. In the new series, Adora is a teenager who has been raised as a soldier for Hordak. She finds a sword that transforms her into She-Ra and takes up with the Princesses who are rebelling against Hordak’s Horde.

SYFY FANGRRLS had a chance to chat with showrunner Noelle Stevenson about the characters' new designs, the princess genre, female friendships in the show and more. 

Can you tell us a bit about the change in design for the characters?

Yeah, so for a lot of our character design, choices were made not just about updating the show for a modern audience, but also character-based. We made the main characters in the show younger, largely because of Adora’s major choice in the show, where she leaves the side of evil for the side of good, and that happens at this very crucial turning point in her life where she’s sort of on that line between being a teenager and being an adult. It made sense to have her be a little bit younger.

So we sort of approached the character design with a little more of an age-appropriate eye and also tried to infuse more of Adora’s personality into the character because in her normal form she’s very rigid. She’s very practical and very buttoned up. We wanted to find elements of the She-Ra design that she’s be comfortable with, but also uncomfortable. So obviously She-Ra is a lot more glam and fem than she is, but she also gets to have these little flourishes that feel like Adora, like the military top and the shorts and the braid. Even the cape is a little bit more military. That was sort of what we were aiming for. We went through a long process of working on this, and she is such an iconic character that we wanted to make sure we got it right, and that was the result. 

We love the shorts! So perfect for cosplay!

That was a big part of it, too. I admit the idea of kids being able to wear their shorts and sneakers while cosplaying her was also something that was on my mind, because I know what sort of characters I loved to dress up as when I was a kid, and I think that would have meant a lot to me. 

The first thing we see is Adora fighting and training, which is really cool. Can you talk about that choice?

Yeah, I mean I think She-Ra has a little bit of a different entry point into this character. So often we see characters learn to fight as a way to them becoming stronger, but with Adora, she’s been raised as a soldier so she’s very good at fighting. But there are so many other things she has to learn in order to become stronger as a person, as a leader, as a hero. She has to learn how to solve problems, not through punching and fighting. Entering Adora’s life before she’s made that realization was definitely an intentional choice. 

One of the cool things about the first few episodes is that Adora has a friend in the Horde named Catra who literally sleeps curled up at Adora’s feet, which is so charming. She’s not a bad person, which is really cool. What were the ways you dealt with villains?

Well, I think the show overall - I think Masters of the Universe has always been as much about the villains as it has been about the heroes. It’s almost like a lot of times, they’re almost the dual protagonists of the show, which I love because I’m a huge fan of villains. I think because Adora has a complicated past, she goes from being a villain to being a hero; the question is what is different about her and the people she’s raised with, and the answer is not a lot.

Some of it is just — she and Catra are so similar in the beginning, but they make totally different choices. They have totally different paths that lead to the choices that they make. There isn’t that much that seems to make them different at the start, but they end up going very different paths. So I think the whole show is an exploration of redemption and good and evil and how complicated the line between good and evil can be. Even people with good intentions can hurt people. Villains are not just pure evil. They tend to have a reason behind their actions, that, even if it’s flawed reasoning, it makes sense to them. So I think that’s the core philosophy of the show that we explore throughout it in so many different ways. 

When Adora and her friends are doing a military simulation, they’re fighting against Princesses who are very pink, scary things in dresses. What are your thoughts on the princess genre and how you deal with it in the show? 

Yeah, sure! I’ve heard from a lot of people, my friends with kids. A lot of times they don’t want their daughters necessarily growing up with a steady diet of princesses. So they are like, oh, I’d rather my daughter like Star Wars or Ghostbusters, not princesses, which I get, and I think that the genre has been pretty limited overall, but I also don’t think there is anything wrong with liking princesses.

And the things about princesses that girls tend to connect to, those things are still good and fun. We just need to broaden the horizons of what that means. Because there were so many different ways to be a girl, so many different ways to be a princess, so many different ways to be feminine. It isn’t just one size fits all. We haven’t really seen that as much as I would like to in media. So it’s very conscious that we start out by showing the princesses through a flawed lens of, oh, they are monsters. They are evil. But it also sets up princesses in a context in this world that is different than anything that we are used to. We see Adora and the other Horde soldiers refer to them as monsters, or like they are vampires, or that they are these evil creatures that they have to defend everyone else from. So right away, we realize that princesses have a very different connotation in this world from how we might refer to princesses in our world. And then obviously, Adora is proven wrong when the princesses turn out not to be monsters. They are just ordinary people in a lot of ways.

But I do think that it is something that — I wanted to give a different connotation to princesses and also let people revel in the joy of watching princesses. And wanting to be a princess, because I don’t — as long as we are not trying to force people into there’s a certain idea of what it means to be a woman, what it means to be feminine. There are so many other ways to exist in the world, across the spectrum of gender. I think that that is something that, I think it’s important to show.

It’s funny, but the big scary thing, in the beginning, is that the woods are full of princesses. It implies that there are so many female characters, and what we’ve seen for so many years are many male characters and one female character. Can you talk a little bit about the female friendships in the show and a multitude a female characters?

I think it’s something that’s been held back by the fact that media for girls has been limited in a lot of ways. We just don’t get to see different types of girls at all. Even the ones who are quirky or weird still tend to fall into a kind of limited view of what is acceptable for a girl. And there is a very under-appreciated force in the world, and that is the weird girls. This show is kind of all about being a weird girl. All the girls are weird in their own way.

That is something that you can be limited by when you only have one character and it needs to be everything for everyone. And she can’t really make any big mistakes, she can’t really look stupid, or mess up, or do something unintentionally harmful. So many times their reaction to that will be like, "What are you trying to say about women if the sole female character behaves this way?" But the second that you have a spectrum of characters you stop needing the one character to be everything to everyone. You get to really explore what makes all of these characters individuals. And that is my favorite thing to do. I have been waiting for so long to be able to tell a story like this. I’m really excited that people are finally going to be able to see it.

When Adora discovers the sword, and when we see some of the older things in the series, it has a very technological look. What was the idea behind that?

The original series was so interesting to me, when it began initially, because it almost feels like two shows, at least two shows combined. And half of it is the evil horde, and it has robots, and spaceships and mutants and lasers, and then the other half is princesses, and castles, and flying horses, and magic. These two shows, when they’re combined, make it She-Ra. And so my challenge was trying to figure out how you find the tech in the magic, and how you find the magic in the tech, so they both feel really different from each other, but you also see the uniting elements that make them feel like they’re part of the same world. So, the Horde is mechanical, but it also has a very organic feel at times, almost insectoid or anatomical in the way it’s designed. Then you see almost the same shapes in the woods, so even though it’s mechanical, this industrial regime that is sort of consuming everything, they sort of echo each other in certain ways. Whereas, the magic has this tech element that doesn’t look like anything else in the show, because it is sort of a part of this other world that is very mysterious to our characters. So bringing in that world-building and exploring means. What does magic mean in this world? What does tech mean in this world? I didn’t want this to be all technology is bad and all magic is good. It seemed like there was more nuance there and that how we found the line between magic and tech, and how to make tech feel magical. 

We'd love to hear some of your thoughts on the voice cast.

Yeah, they’re amazing! When casting the characters, we looked for people who would bring something that felt real to the characters. They were the ones who brought something to life about the characters and about their personalities that we might not have originally thought of. I’m so in love with our entire voice cast. I’m so constantly floored by their instincts on what they do with the characters and the depths they find in the characters. I just feel so fortunate to be able to work with them.

You know, Aimee [Carrero] as Adora, the things she finds in Adora, even when she risks being this sort of straight-laced, buttoned-up archetypal hero at times, Aimee finds something in her that is weird and a little dorky. She has this desperation to do the right thing and to be liked. You just see the moments when she isn’t sure what she’s doing or she’s freaking out, and Aimee brings not just a weirdness but a comedy to her — it’s transformative to the character. I think that the voice cast is so hugely inspirational to us when writing these characters when boarding these characters. We basically created the characters around what the voice actors are doing. 

Are there any Easter eggs that you’re excited for fans to see in the series?

Yeah! There are a lot of Easter eggs in there. I don’t even remember all of them. But Loo-Kee is hidden in a few places. There are a few name drops of characters and places that we don’t necessarily see, and my favorite one is one that is a little bit of a deeper cut, but it has to do with the She-Ra that came before Adora’s She-Ra, who is actually a little bit of a cameo appearance of a legacy Masters of the Universe character. So there is a lot in there, and there is a lot for Masters of the Universe fans to look for. 

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is now streaming all 13 episodes on Netflix. Are you watching? Let us know in the comments. You can follow Noelle Stevenson on Twitter @Gingerhazing.

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