After nearly a decade, the widely popular My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic animated series is coming to an end. Between Game of Thrones and Avengers: Endgame, the year 2019 seems to be marked by finales. It may seem unusual to place a children’s cartoon on the same level as major film/television franchises, but there’s no denying the cultural phenomenon that is My Little Pony. A reboot of Hasbro’s popular 80’s brand developed by acclaimed animator Lauren Faust, MLP has completely changed the landscape of not only cartoons targeted for girls but children’s entertainment as a whole. What could have been a run-of-the-mill toyetic series has since blossomed into a critical darling praised for its offbeat humor and imagination coupled with complex life lessons. It’s even broken gender barriers garnering adult male viewers affectionately known as “bronies.” With the ninth and final season nearly halfway through, fans can look forward to MLP continuing to foster inclusivity in ways that have been a long time coming.
In the upcoming episode “The Last Crusade” written by Nicole Dubuc, set to debut this Saturday on Discovery Family but has already aired overseas, the long absent parents of the young pegasus Scootaloo (Madeleine Peters) are at last introduced, finally answering a longstanding plot point many have been wondering. But that’s not the only significance of the episode. Early in the story, Scootaloo and her friends Apple Bloom (Michelle Creber) and Sweetie Belle (Claire Corlett), known collectively as the Cutie Mark Crusaders, meet with Scootaloo’s current caretakers Aunt Holiday (Jackie Blackmore) and Auntie Lofty (Saffron Henderson).
At first glance one might be tempted to assume it’s a Sabrina the Teenage Witch situation i.e. two adult siblings as the legal guardians of their niece à la Aunt Hilda and Aunt Zelda. But it soon becomes evident that Holiday and Lofty are not siblings or even in-laws but in fact a romantic lesbian couple. In case there’s any lingering doubt Michael Vogel, a writer/producer for MLP and former vice president of development for Hasbro, confirmed their relationship via Twitter.
Believe it or not, Holiday and Lofty were first introduced in a 2017 media tie-in prose book Ponyville Mysteries: Riddle of the Rusty Horseshoe, so the episode is their first proper appearance in animation, appropriately during Pride Month. The last few years have certainly been a watershed moment for LGBTQ representation in children’s animation. The Peabody Award-winning Steven Universe made history with the first same-sex proposal and subsequent wedding of the characters Ruby and Sapphire, while just last month 3rd grade teacher Mr. Ratburn tied the knot with his partner Patrick over in Arthur on PBS. The latter was particularly gratifying as it somewhat rectified an earlier instance of queer-washing when in 2005 PBS pulled an episode featuring two Lesbian mothers in the Arthur spin-off series Postcards from Buster after Bush administration Education Secretary Margaret Spellings voiced umbrage.
As Chris Nee, the creator of the smash hit Disney preschool show Doc McStuffins and a proud and out lesbian herself, attests in an interview with the QUEERY podcast, the Postcards from Buster incident had a scarring effect in attempts to depict positive queer representation in children’s entertainment, best evident by how long it’s taken between then and now. It took Nee more than 4 seasons before she was able to include an interracial two mom household in her own Doc McStuffins show, which unsurprisingly led to a backlash courtesy of the vocal group infamously known as One Million Moms.
More often than not, queer representation is the “third rail” in mainstream media. When I interviewed former Black Panther comics writer Don McGregor last year, I was shocked to discover that his underappreciated “Panther’s Rage” masterpiece featured two of Marvel’s earliest gay characters, a fact that McGregor has repeatedly mentioned in other interviews but rarely acknowledged. It was a constant uphill struggle just to publish the Black Panther storyline in the Jungle Action comic title in the 70’s, and two openly gay characters would have killed the book right then and there. Many Static Shock fans are fully aware that the titular hero’s best friend Richie Foley is based on comics counterpart Rick Stone who happens to gay. The late/great comics and animation writer and champion of diversity Dwayne McDuffie said he dealt with Richie’s homosexuality by writing him as aggressively and unconvincingly straight whenever possible. I recently uncovered an online post from McDuffie elaborating on network restrictions in response to a complaint over the lack of transparency regarding Richie’s sexual orientation.
I agree completely, but Broadcast Standards and practices beg to differ. That’s the thing, though, Kids WB at the time didn’t even allow us to have “heterosexual” relationships between non-adults. Poor Virgil went four years before we could send him on a date, and he never had a kiss. Contrast that with the comics, where Rick, Ducky’s mom, Tech-9, Fade, and several other characters were gay, and where Virgil had three or four regular romantic relationships, you’ll have a clearer sense of Milestone’s positions on these topics.
While we still have some ways to go, I think the above example in Static Shock compared to LGBTQ representation of the last few years demonstrates the major strides we’ve made and hopefully will continue to as a culture.
Now let’s just see if Alabama tries to the pull the MLP episode.
Saturday, June 15
11:30 a.m. (ET/PT) My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic “The Last Crusade” Unexpected visitors arriving in Ponyville try and break up the Cutie Mark Crusaders forever.