We are officially at the beginning of a new decade, leaving behind the “Golden Age of Television” and stepping into the “Diamond Age.” Deemed by no one but myself. Why the “Diamond Age?” Innovators like writer and creator Rebecca Sugar, who created Steven Universe, have ushered in a new wave of revolutionary programming. Their creations are generating a larger dialogue around inclusion, representation, and love, and that’s exactly what we need stepping into 2020!

Rebecca Sugar's self portrait - showcasing her art style.

Rebecca Sugar is a non-binary animator, screenwriter, producer, and singer/songwriter. They’re known for lending their talents as a storyboard artist and writer to the Cartoon Network giant Adventure Time until it’s the fifth season. After leaving the show, they focused on their own project Steven Universe. The show is about a young boy who is raised by three non-binary women known as the Crystal Gems. Sugar clarified in Pride that the Crystal Gems were written as non-binary because it was something they felt they had never seen before on TV. The “gems” use she/her pronouns. Together, they are responsible for protecting the universe and changing the minds of their foes in pursuit of a better world. Not just for themselves, but for everyone.

Rebecca Sugar Is A Powerhouse

The larger themes within Sugar’s work is what sets them apart from many show-runners today. They are eager to deconstruct hegemonic beliefs about marginalized communities. Their work defies the norms of mainstream networks with groundbreaking ideas and storytelling.

This is evident through the shows’ ability to introduce “taboo” themes to children in a non-judgmental and optimistic way. Rebecca Sugar is the innovator television needs right now. Because of them, we are seeing a wide range of representation and listening to vibrant music. Seriously, if you haven’t already, check out any of the Steven Universe soundtrack albums. If it wasn’t clear by now, this is a full Rebecca Sugar appreciation piece that we didn’t know we needed until now.

Queerness Takes The Front Seat

In 2015, Steven Universe introduced us to “Stevonnie” an intersex character who uses the pronouns they/them. A fusion made up of Steven and his close friend Connie. Fusion is the combination of two or more gems (or in this case, a gem and a human) and can only happen when there is a shared bond, love, or mutual respect for one another. In 2018 the show made history as the first mainstream cartoon to feature a lesbian, same-sex proposal and marriage.

The first same-sex marriage between Ruby and Sapphire to premiere on a mainstream network.
Cartoon Network

In 2020 they introduced Sadie’s partner Shep, a non-binary character who uses “they/them” pronouns and played by Indya Moore. Indya Moore is a trans actress best known for playing Angel on FX’s Pose and Goddess in the 2019 Blockbuster hit Queen & Slim. They’re also an advocate for the transgender and gender non-conforming communities. Those who watch Steven Universe know just how hard Rebecca Sugar works to incorporate characters that reflect the real world. Even themself! In 2016 Rebecca Sugar came out as bisexual, only to come out again in 2018 as non-binary. Sugar takes their experiences as a queer person and reinvents them in their show.

Paying homage to queer folks who may not have received their recognition or respect in the past. From fusions like Garnet, who represents the love two gems have for each other (Ruby and Sapphire), to the relationship between Pearl and Pink Diamond, Rebecca Sugar is relentless about putting queerness into the spotlight.

Rebecca Sugar’s Style Of Music Is Amazing For Steven Universe

Rebecca Sugar’s ability to feature original music in each show they work on that both captivate and move audiences is, in my opinion, unmatched. Musicals aren’t for everyone, but Steven Universe and Adventure Time are brilliant at incorporating short tunes that aren’t only catchy but help drive the story forward. The songs aim to give viewers an insight into how the character feels or perceives the situation they’re in. Performed by Estelle, “Stronger Than You” is an anthem for self-love. It also acts as a personification of what it’s like to be in a same-gender-loving relationship.

Rebecca Sugar is looking wonderful as per usual.
Roundtable YouTube Channel // Credit (2018)

Songs like “Everything Stays” and “Time Adventure” seem to reflect how we look at the passing of time. And how this may affect our relationships. If that wasn’t enough to send you searching on Spotify, do consider that both songs were written and crooned by Sugar. Their music is about more than just being good for consumption. They’re looking to encapsulate a specific feeling or emotion and express that to the fullest. These songs look to tackle serious topics about love, friendship, anxieties, and fear in a way that will have you belting ‘here we are in the future’ for days.

Rebecca Sugar’s Outlook On Mental Health In Steven Universe

Some might be reluctant when it comes to addressing mental health in a kids’ TV show. But this is a task Rebecca Sugar does not shy away from. In younger generations, there are higher rates of kids and teens developing mental health disorders. Anxiety and depression are starting to affect people as young as 11 today, and for good reason. The conversations surrounding mental health, though more frequently, are still stigmatized.

This stigma makes it harder for individuals to come forward when seeking help. Rebecca Sugar not only takes on the topic of mental health through songs but through story arcs and characters. In Steven Universe, Steven deals with his own mental health problems as he copes with loss, lies, secrets, and family. This provides an example of how to address mental health, especially for younger generations who are learning that having mental health issues is okay.

It Is A Family Journey

One of the main reasons Rebecca Sugar deserves our full appreciation is because they’ve done something many shows can only dream of doing: making a kid’s show for the entire family. Yes, there is a definite childlike quality to the show, with its quirky characters and writing. But the themes of the show aren’t only for the kids, they’re for the parents too.

Marceline & her mother from Adventure Time

Sugar works to make a show that will start a dialogue in every household. Discussing topics like acceptance, inclusion, love, identity, friendship, and more. Rebecca Sugar has proven themselves deserving of our attention because of their ability to craft such exquisite work. And for this reason, kids, their parents, teenagers, and 21-year-old cartoon nerds, STAN.