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'PBS NewsHour' Interview with SVA Alumnus Rebecca Sugar

From PBS NewsHour: "There’s never been anything on television quite like Steven Universe.

The show, which made its debut in 2013, comes from Rebecca Sugar, a veteran of Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time and the first woman to create a show for the channel. It follows the story of the Crystal Gems, the alien heroes who have remained on Earth to guard it after an attempted takeover by other members of their species. They take care of Steven, a half-Gem, half-human young boy who alone bridges the gap between the two species. The show brings as many absurdly fun adventures as genuine lessons about healthy relationships—and now, one of its episodes has taken form as a children’s book in “The Answer,” which comes out Tuesday.

Steven Universe has drawn a devoted fan base for its portrayal of unconventional family life along with a treatment of gender that has earned it such designations as “one of the most unabashedly queer shows on TV,” as Eric Thurm wrote for The Guardian.

The relationships between the Gems, who are coded as female, mark some of the most mainstream same-sex couplings in children’s media. Steven Universe shows those bonds through 'fusion,' which in the show means the merging of two characters into another Gem entirely.

“The Answer,” written by Sugar with illustrators Tiffany Ford and Elle Michalka, traces the story of how Ruby and Sapphire, two Gems from different backgrounds, fell in love and came to fuse. But the book is also part of a larger, changing story about how cartoons portray LGBTQ characters for kids. Sugar spoke with us about the book, attitudes toward LGBTQ themes in children’s media and her personal history with fairy tales.

What has it been like to create one of the only mainstream shows for children with LGBTQ themes?

It’s really opened my eyes to the fact that these stories are not considered appropriate, are not considered G-rated content, and because they’re not, they’re kept out of media for kids. And I think that that is profoundly sad and awful. It’s something that I want to change so much, and I’m glad that we’ve found a new way to talk about relationships that’s letting us talk about those relationships.

I think the part of it that is very invisible is how much we talk about love with kids. Everyone knows that love stories are appropriate for kids. Everyone tells stories of attraction to kids, everyone tells these fairy tales to kids. And it’s just like, the air you breathe, it’s so normal that it’s completely invisible. We are constantly reinforcing the idea that there’s a certain kind of love that’s innocent and a kind of love that’s simple and makes sense. And we are not discussing other kinds of love that are just as simple and just as incredible and make just as much sense..." (For the full interview and more images, click here)

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