Show: She-Ra and the Princesses of Power (2018) created by Noelle Stevenson for Netflix
I really dig how the She-Ra reboot is all about activist problems—like, how do you actually coalition-build the resistance to a hegemonic empire repressing indigenous people and destroying the environment? She-ra gets at the reality of it, which is: folks get burnt out, flake out, get wrapped up in drama.
It’s the sort of stuff that is sometimes irritating to watch characters go through, but these are the types of things we deal with in activist communities all the time—and it’s these very “flaws” that are at the heart of the types of relationships we want to protect: relationships built not on authoritarianism but on mutual respect.
I appreciate the utterly blatant analogies the show makes between the The Evil Hoard and contemporary capitalist colonialism. The bad guys are made up of real people, and as we start to see their reasons for being in that army, it’s a lot of real world type stuff: we see how each of the villains needs the power structure of The Hoard to understand themselves as a subject, and how they’ve become caught up in the banality of it all. There’s a lot of Judith Butler and Hannah Ardent going on in the early episodes of the show.
I think this is one thing this show does better than even Steven Universe: framing the “bad guys” a lot more like regular people, both in giving them a believable material form, and in show casing their reasoning for remaining within a colonizing, ecocidal organization. Don’t get me wrong! Steven Universe laid the groundwork to allow shows like She-Ra to get produced, and it’s such an incredible show—it really set the bar for post-colonial kids shows! Rather than treating Steven Universe and She-Ra as competing shows, I like to think of them as members of a coalition: they have different strengths and weaknesses, and they are both worth watching.
So yeah, just like the old show, the new She-Ra is all about coalition-building towards decolonization, but it incorporates a lot of what folks have learned about organizing and hegemonic power over the last 25 years. Even if its gloss is superficial, there’s definitely enough material in each episode to use as fodder in a different “talking to your kids about capitalism” conversation.
Also—I just love how the show takes place in a world where the word “princess” is synonymous with “terrorist.” What a wildly queering thing to do with those terms!
Annnnd OMG, I am such an Adora-Catra shipper! That episode where Catra wears a suit! SQUEEEE!
The 1986 Show
If you have time to watch the first few episodes of the original 1986 series, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to see the story of an army commander who becomes radicalized via cop-watching, which is to say: the original show very much centers what we now call social justice.
But still, watching the old show is super cringe-worthy, as it contains a lot of toxic racist and sexist stuff that was pervasive in the 1980s—namely the virtual absence of people of color, and its centering of hetero-cis-male desire. I mean, the original She-Ra was still remarkably queer and anti-authoritarian for its time, and yeah, I’m not going to lie: it was my favorite TV show as a four-year-old back in 1988. I remember fighting bitterly with a neighbor girl who said I couldn’t dress as She-Ra for Halloween cuz I wasn’t blond and white like her, lol. (Get this: the little shit ended up convincing my white mom of this, so instead of getting me the She-Ra costume I’d been asking for, my old lady went and bought me a 1950s style “Injun” costume & I went tricker-treating as She-Ra’s tonto (ugh!)–yeah, we had to borrow from older racist media just to fit me in! Yay…the 80s. –It’s cuz of shit like this, ladies and gentlequeers, that I need serious therapy.) Anyway, the old show, while it was progressive for its time, is now super cringe-worthy (just like the 80s!), so, that’s a sign we’ve made progress, right?
Another thing I love about the new She-Ra is the homages to genre fiction of the past.
The scene when they first meet Seahawk is a loving tribute to the cantina from the original 1977 Star Wars. There’s a hat-tip to old cowboy serial westerns when an episode ends as a literal cliff hanger lol. The hacker princess is undeniably a reincarnation of Washu from Tenshi Muyo! (1992). And also, I love the remodel of the character Bow (a.k.a. the Antithesis to Toxic Masculinity), now voiced by Marcus Scriber from Blackish.
There’s also no ignoring the heavy Sailor Moon (1992) influence. But hey, Sailor Moon was likely to have been influenced by the original She-Ra, so this is probably just the latest iteration in an ongoing love affair between the two shows. (Beyond simply being a pretty girl transformation show, Sailor Moon also does anti-capitalism while also being awesomely gay. Seriously, watch the first couple episodes—the Sailor Scouts literally fight off demon-possessed objects that compel people to be hapless consumers! Plus in the original Japanese version, Sailor Uranus is literally a trans-man.)
The one bummer, though, about the new She-Ra is that even in 2018, the very centered protagonist is still white, blond, and blue-eyed.
But hey, hopefully by now, folks are woke enough to be encouraging to any little kid who wants to dress up as whichever Princess of Power they want to for Halloween or cosplay, no matter what level of melanin they happen to be rocking, or, for that matter, what gender they were assigned at birth.
Another bummer about the show is that after episode 11, the show suddenly turns cartoonishly dissociative, and nothing about the show’s world or the character motivations feel like they are connected to things in the real world anymore. If you have the impulse control, I’d suggest stopping at the end of episode 11. It’s a much better show without episodes 12 and 13.
So, About Organizing this Shitz
In the meantime, we gotta hustle to prevent ecological collapse! And orienting kids (and ourselves!) to the types of post-colonial and post-captialist values, subjectivities, decision-making processes seen in She-Ra is gonna be a huge part of that!
If you’re a parent watching She-Ra alongside your kid, here’s some great reading for you to accompany the show—just so you can sound smart when they ask you about stuff from it:
- This is How They Broke Our Grandmothers by Natasha Chart from Feminist Current.
- Great article exploring European femicide in the 12-14th centuries as the taproot of the capitalism. Summarizes some important ideas in ordinary language. 💯 But seriously, this is why women-centering narratives matter!
- Capitalism vs. Climate, by Naomi Klein from The Nation.
- Great article showing how capitalism is inherently ecocidal—we can’t avert climate change without ending capital’s way of organizing labor and power.
- Migrant Futures: Decolonizing Speculation in Financial Times by Aimee Bahng from Duke University Press.
- Dope book that thinks through how to defeat capitalism with sci-fi and comic books!
- Psychic Life of Power by Judith Butler from Standford University Press.
- If you’re feeling really motivated and want to do some mental weightlifting, this book synthesizes like 400 years of continental philosophy, to show how European philosophers have been freaking out for a while about the hella pervasive codependency everyone around them has with abusive power structures. …too bad those philosophizers used such arcane language no one could figure out what they were saying, lol. Hella outta pocket, but whatever.
Scary Level = Low
While the show has swords and lazer battles, the scary stuff is softened, so small kids and folks with PTSD are going to be less apt to be triggered. Even a scene in which a character appears to be killed off is softened, with the focus more on how everyone feels about it rather than lingering on the event. Heck yeah, feelings. This show centers them, and it also has some really cheesy—yet super validating—messages for survivors of abusive parenting. I found myself weirdly tearing up in some parts. So yeah, watch with tissues. And your cat.
Also, spoiler alert! Check out this adorable photo:
They are totally in love, aren’t they?!! What do you think? Dance it out in the comments thread below!
Also, while microaggressions within the comments will be removed in an effort to hold safer space for everyone, we are …willing to tolerate the ScorpEnCatra shippers …even though you are SUPER WRONG! The the thee of them as a ploy triad? Come on! Team Catadora represent!
Are there other post-capitalist, decolonial kids shows we should be paying attention to? Let us know in the comments!
Teresa Smith has been part of the alter-globalization movement since 1999 and has been around for a number of activist projects since. She has been part of the Slingshot collective since 2012, and punk rocker Robert Eggplant once characterized her as “someone who often wears floral prints.”