2017 Television Countdown #4: The Steven Universe Accidental Racism Apology

Posted by December 31, 2017 Comment

This was a curious one. Steven Universe is a hugely popular show with a very dedicated fan base, who are themselves pretty diverse. Much of this comes down to the fact the show focuses much more on emotional growth, mental well-being, diversity, and acceptance in its own themes.

So it was somewhat surprising when the release of an art book for the TV series had a questionable portrayal of a character of colour, with notes that were equally troubling.

I suppose it was inevitable that it would hit big. It left a lot of people shocked, hurt and feeling betrayed. Thankfully, show creator Rebecca Sugar came out with an apology, in fact a damn fine example of what an apology should be in a year of crappy excuses and apologies.

Given that I rarely wrote about TV, I was surprised this one hit so big perhaps, but I can also kinda see why too.

 

Original Headline: Steven Universe racism controversy

Published: July 16, 2017

Rebecca Sugar, the creator of popular cartoon Steven Universe, has issued an apology in light of online controversy sparked by the recently released Steven Universe: Art & Origins artbook.

For those unaware, the controversy sparked off when a character concept sketch for an unused Gem character that didn’t make it into the show was included. The character, named Concrete, was deemed to be racially insensitive for a number reasons.

Many felt that the character looked plainly inspired by minstrel aesthetic, or like the many offensive variations that came from this racist art-style (I live in Wales, UK, and grew up at a time when Robertson’s used to use these characters to advertise jam, so it was everywhere). Others also noted the character description beside the art note, saying that the character ‘Can’t read :(‘.

For those unaware, the controversy sparked off when a character concept sketch for an unused Gem character that didn’t make it into the show was included. The character, named Concrete, was deemed to be racially insensitive for a number reasons.

Many felt that the character looked plainly inspired by minstrel aesthetic, or like the many offensive variations that came from this racist art-style (I live in Wales, UK, and grew up at a time when Robertson’s used to use these characters to advertise jam, so it was everywhere). Others also noted the character description beside the art note, saying that the character ‘Can’t read :(‘.

Steven Universe

As mentioned earlier, Sugar has come back to apologise for the artwork’s inclusion within the artbook.

Many have called out Sugar, and in fact continue to do so, claiming that she is evidently racist.

Now, even the most cursory look at Steven Universe would show that she is not, nor is the show. It should be noted that this character of Concrete was not even designed by Sugar, nor did it make it through to inclusion in the show itself. It merely slipped past into an artbook that collects hundreds or more of minor sketches and notes, and could easily have gotten lost in the mix.

What’s more, Sugar gives is a damn good apology, as well as another apology by Lamar Abrams, who is in fact an African-American storyboard artist on Steven Universe. Whilst she does offer some explanation, it is more an explanation for her failing here, and not trying to explain away the piece of art. As she points out, the artwork was certainly not created with racism in mind, but she openly admits that it does clearly call racist stereotypes to mind. And no matter what, she admits to failure, apologises profusely and promises to correct this oversight in the future.

Whereas other artists recently have not been so magnanimous in their apologies.

This is not to say that any upset caused by Concrete in the book is undue or even overblown. I think it is clear the kind of feelings that this art can ignite, especially given the history and wider context. But to see the creators admit their failure, give context for how it was created and included and emphatically and sympathetically apologise should not be discounted either.

Steven Universe: Art & Origins is on sale now, admittedly controversial sketch included.

(Last Updated December 31, 2017 11:03 am )

About Joe Glass

Joe Glass has been contributing to Bleeding Cool for about four years. He's been a roaming reporter at shows like SDCC and NYCC, and also has a keen LGBTQ focus, with his occasional LGBTQ focus articles, Tales from the Four Color Closet. He is also now Bleeding Cool's Senior Mutant Correspondent thanks to his obsession with Marvel's merry mutants.

Joe is also a comics creator, writer of LGBTQ superhero team series, The Pride, the first issue of which was one of the Top 25 ComiXology Submit Titles of 2014. He is also a co-writer on Stiffs, a horror comedy series set in South Wales about call centre workers who hunt the undead by night. One happens to be a monkey. Just because.

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