In 2018, Netflix released DreamWorks Animation’s television reboot of the 1985 animated action series She-Ra: Princess of Power. Adapted by Nimona creator ND Stevenson, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power found success among its contemporary audience for its action-packed story, meaningfully diverse cast, and beautiful visuals. One does not need to be familiar with the original She-Ra and He-Man universe to enjoy the show. Stevenson, who was not even born when the original series was on air, developed the project at 26. He modernized the story, which is geared toward a younger audience, but its appeal is certainly not lost on adults.
The main storyline follows Adora (Aimee Carrero), an orphan who defects from the evil Horde after stumbling upon the sword of She-Ra, sealing her fate as the hero of the magical planet Etheria. Determined to lead the rebellion to save Etheria, Adora joins her new pals Bow (Marcus Scribner) and Glimmer (Karen Fukuhara) to reform the Princess Alliance in order to defeat the Horde invasion forces. However, frequent run-ins with the Horde, including Adora’s childhood friend-turned-enemy, Catra (AJ Michalka), hinder their progress.
From the surface, the basic synopsis seems to follow a typical action-adventure plot line characteristic of the fantasy science-fiction genre, but key details missing from the original story add depth and renewed purpose. She-Ra and the Princesses of Power details a touching story of friendship that thoughtfully explores complex concepts such as belonging, courage, and self-worth. Even the villains are sympathetic, multidimensional characters whose misguided efforts are driven by a desperation for approval and recognition.
She-Ra’s intent for and dedication to character development is reminiscent of Avatar: The Last Airbender in that it simply goes beyond what is asked of a children’s show. She-Ra and the Princesses of Power exemplifies the importance of character representation through casual introduction and meaningful interpersonal relationships. The Netflix series features solid LGBTQ+ representation, strong female characters, and a diverse array of people who fill out a beautifully designed world.
Update November 18, 2023: This article has been updated with more reasons why She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is not an average kids show and worth watching.
She-Ra and the Princesses of Power displays an abundance of diversity, appealing to a wide variety of viewers. Unlike the majority of television series, especially many kids’ shows from girls’ perspectives, She-Ra is dedicated to presenting the true norm rather than the cultural ideal. Characters represent varying ethnic backgrounds, body types, and gender expression. Many characters express same-sex attraction and are involved in committed same-sex relationships. Conversely, the villains in Princesses of Power — Hordak and his master, Horde Prime — are committed to universal conformity in their conquest; to them, diversity can only be a weakness.
What furthers the show’s refreshing take on representation is that the plot and subplots do not focus on sexual orientation — they are simply canonical features. Adora does not have an identity crisis over her attraction to Catra; her attraction is a moral dilemma for her only due to Catra’s problematic behavior and opposing perspectives. Glimmer does not fret over being a bit curvier than other female characters. Princess Entrapta is an endearing, brilliant character who is canonically autistic and written as such. Scorpia is a tall, muscular girl with a crop of short hair. Bow is re-imagined as a sensitive, intelligent Black boy, and Princess Frosta is a young yet fierce leader of Asian descent.
None of these characters are ashamed of their identities; instead, their challenges focus on personal growth, interpersonal relationships, and saving the world. She-Ra shows girls (and people in general) that their differences should be celebrated. The show just lets the characters be who they are, focusing on the story and its themes of love, strength, and friendship.
Young girls are accustomed to seeing female characters who are predominantly white with slim, hourglass figures, symmetrical facial features, and minimal muscle definition. These girls are subconsciously internalizing the damaging notion that they must conform to these standards of the feminine ideal, while young boys are taught that these types of bodies are the only ones worthy of love.
Cultural norms place pressure on impressionable young people to meet societal expectations, which She-Ra subverts in its characters and story. Huntara, for instance, is a highly-skilled female warrior who is renowned for her strength and bravery. The character redesign of Huntara in She-Ra (voiced by Geene Davis) bears a side-shave, facial tattoo, large muscles, and a deep voice — quite a departure from the original show’s cookie-cutter character design. Princesses of Power iterates that women are allowed to be (and are encouraged to be) strong in every sense of the word.
Adora and Catra’s relationship represents a shared experience among many members of the LGBTQ+ community. As children, the two of them share a very close emotional and romantically suggestive bond. Many LGBTQ+ people do not get to experience closure with their first loves, or even recognize it as love until they have entered adulthood. After Adora discovers the Horde’s past atrocities and current plot against Etheria, she deserts her post as Force Captain. Although she was invited along, Catra cannot help but feel abandoned, which causes a rift in their relationship. Their rekindling is a slow burn, as Catra takes five seasons of sabotaging Adora, and experiencing internal turmoil as a result, to heal the damage caused by her lack of self-worth and desperation for recognition.
In season five, however, they experience emotional closure on behalf of those who still yearn for it. Catra does some self-reflection and accepts accountability, and she and Adora communicate their mutual feelings. They even share a rare on-screen kiss. Shows such as Avatar: The Legend of Korra and Adventure Time, which were accused of queerbaiting by LGBTQ+ viewers, had fans on the edges of their seats awaiting this kind of closure.
Avatar fans experienced only a vague suggestion of romance between Korra and Asami, dubbed “Korrasami.” Adventure Time fans had to wait for on-screen confirmation of the relationship between Princess Bubblegum and Marceline until the revival, Distant Lands, which was not released until after Adora and Catra’s kiss. For many LGBTQ+ individuals, including women, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is the show of self-discovery and self-love that they wish they had as children.
He-Man and the Masters of the Universe was once one of the biggest toy properties in the world during the 1980s. It led to the creation of the original She-Ra cartoon. Yet the brand struggled after the 1980s. While other franchises like Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and G.I. Joe would eventually find their way to the big screen, and even My Little Pony got a new fanbase in the modern era, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe struggled. There have been attempts to make a new live-action He-Man movie since the mid-2000s that are still working to this day.
When She-Ra and the Princesses of Power hit Netflix in 2018, it was a breath of fresh air that the franchise needed. It introduced the franchise to an entirely new audience, one of young girls who were born long after the original series and likely never heard of it. The combined reach of Netflix and DreamWorks Animation made it an in-demand show, and it quickly found an audience. It quickly became the most successful Masters of the Universe property and made She-Ra more popular than she had ever been before and even eclipsed He-Man. It is a rare show where the reboot is better than the original source material.
Since then, Netflix has invested heavily in the Masters of the Universe brand. First, with an adult-oriented He-Man series titled Masters of the Universe: Revelations, which aired in 2021, and a sequel series, Masters of the Universe: Revolutions, which will air in 2024. Meanwhile a kid oriented series, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, aired on Netflix. Even talks of a new movie are in the works, thanks to She-Ra and the Princesses of Power reintroducing and popularizing the material for a new age.
She-Ra and the Princesses of Power has received fitting accolades for its achievement in exceptional representation and storytelling. ND Stevenson and crew beautifully capture the friends-to-enemies-to-lovers trope and see it through to an end where love is the answer. After building tension for many seasons, Catra and Adora have more than earned their happiness together. In the finale of its fifth and final season, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power finally gives Catra and Adora the happy ending they deserve.
Although fans had to wait five seasons for the kiss between Adora and Catra, She-Ra delivers plenty of canonical queer representation in the meantime. She-Ra does not waste any time with subtext or queerbaiting. The show features a female married couple, Netossa and Spinnerella, who are often depicted fighting Horde soldiers side-by-side, utilizing their magical powers in harmonious cooperation. Huntara openly flirts with female characters. Bow has two supportive fathers who co-own a museum and live together.
There is even a canonically non-binary character, Double Trouble. They are a shape-shifter (a clever sci-fi metaphor The Matrix has also used for gender fluidity) and are addressed only with neutral personal pronouns. In their natural form, they present androgynously. It is both refreshing and validating to see such natural, seamless queer integration in an all-ages animated show.
The series wrap goes above and beyond by also providing long-awaited (and well-deserved) closure for LGBTQ+ fans and their inner children by proving that embracing our differences makes us stronger.
Stream She-Ra and the Princesses of Power on Netflix.