At the 30th annual GLAAD Media Awards, Steven Universe received a groundbreaking recognition as the first animated series to receive an award in the Outstanding Kids & Family Programming category. Celebrating its sixth anniversary this may, the show has been acknowledged not only for its LGBTQIA+ themes but also its depiction of healthy interpersonal relationships. We spoke with Rebecca Sugar to learn more about their reaction to the honor and what inspires them.
Steven Universe was just recognized with a GLAAD award. Did you hope to become a pioneer, or was the show mostly driven by the creative process?
My main goal with Steven Universe was to create an honest work of art. My creative process is all about digging deep, staying honest, and writing from a place of love. I wanted to tell stories that had never been told before, with a conscience and a point.
Throughout the series, the show has presented LGBTQIA+ themes, how did it feel to be acknowledged with this award?
It’s astounding. I’m so grateful, and honored. As someone who is in love with animation history, I am completely overwhelmed, and as happy as I am that Steven Universe is the first animated show to be recognized, I’m mainly so excited for the shows that will come after us now that this barrier is broken. I’m so grateful to my crew.
It takes a lot of different artists and writers to make a show successful. How did you celebrate with your team?
I brought in the statue, which now lives in our pitch room! The studio held a toast for the entire crew. I managed to say a bit while fighting back tears. We have worked so hard for this, for so long. This is so personal to so many of us, and to our families and loved ones.
What has been the biggest learning lesson for you over the last six years as the show evolved?
I was struck by the staggering amount of material given to cis and heteronormative kids to help them forge their identities. In the world of animation, those kids could not only be people, they could be princes and princesses, knights, fairies, toys, and talking cars, and they could live in a world of cars, or on other planet, or under the sea, or in the sci-fi future, or the magical past. Meanwhile LGBTQIA+ youth are left to wonder if they’re a person at all, and if there will ever be a world where they belong.
Now this crucial support is being beamed into the homes of kids as well, letting them know they deserve to be included and protected. There’s so much good that can be done, and so many untold stories about LGBTQIA+ characters and experiences that could exist in animation, and be so fun and beautiful and fascinating. Now that Steven Universe has won a GLAAD award, I am even happier to have this chance to reach out to the animation community and say please—for the sake of children and families—please let LGBTQIA+ children get to be children, get to have fun and love cartoons and love themselves and their own feelings and dreams.
Where do you get your inspiration from? What have been your artistic influences?
Lotte Reiniger, Winsor McCay, Nell Brinkley, Rod Scribner, Bill Littlejohn, John & Faith Hubley, Hayao Miyazaki, Satoshi Kon… I grew up watching Looney Tunes, NFB shorts, and Fleischer cartoons. As a teen I fell in love with Invader Zim, FLCL, Cowboy Bebop, and One Piece. I got really into comics, especially Tank Girl, Hellboy & BPRD, and the Goon. My favorite show is Future Boy Conan. My favorite movie is Whisper of the Heart. I really believe in studying everything and pulling from everywhere. There are so, so many beautiful decisions that artists and animators have made.
My inspiration comes from my friends and family, my true love, and from my team. So much of Steven Universe is inspired by the experience of working with an incredible crew, and fighting together for what we believe in. Though we all love different things when it comes to animation, I feel that we’re united by the love itself. We believe in the power of animation and the depth of meaning it can have in someone’s life. It’s magic. I’m so inspired by that magic.