Name: Noelle Stevenson
Job Title & Description: Executive Producer/Showrunner
College & Major: Maryland Institute College of Art, Illustration
She-Ra has been on our minds since birth, basically. Since the first news that She-Ra and her princess alliance were getting a hyper-empowering reboot on Netflix, we’ve been thinking about She-Ra even more (and we aren’t complaining). Even if you aren’t familiar with the 80’s version of the princess warrior from Etheria, Executive Producer Noelle Stevenson has revitalized She-Ra (Adora, voiced by Aimee Carrero) to create an age-appropriate retelling of our favorite animated characters. Beyond using the classic She-Ra lore to create empowering role models for young people, particularly young women, DreamWorks, Netflix and Noelle have collaborated to create a respectfully diverse and inclusion crew of heroes and antagonists in a way that doesn’t sexualize these teenage characters (praise the rebellion!).
Like the original 1980s cartoon, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power follows Adora’s inspiring coming-of-age story as she transitions from her upbringing in the Evil Horde into the rebellion of warrior princesses. While the series includes important adolescence themes, such as the complexity of good vs evil and friendship, the show also adds necessary representation to often erased LGBTQPIA+ characters. Many shows often whittle LGBTQ+ characters down to comedic side characters or wait until the final episode to openly admit their queer-coded characters are, well, queer. Thankfully, She-Ra doesn’t contribute to the overwhelming theme of queerbaiting in originally scripted shows. In the impending series. Beyond Bow’s dads, two of the princesses seem to be in a relationship, The Mary Sue reports. Outside of LGBTQ+ supporting and main characters, She-Ra mindfully included race and body diversity in its lineup of princesses.
Before Noelle Stevenson and her team of creators reignited everyone’s passion for She-Ra (and the evergreen messages she stands for), Noelle authored Nimona, an award-winning webcomic, and Lumerjanes, a women-only comic book series—both of which are enriched with inspiring characters and messages. Needless to say, Noelle is well-versed are telling uniquely validating stories. Aside from rightfully hyping up her upcoming show, Noelle has a lot of powerful insight for women in college.
So, “for the honor of Grayskull,” read on to get your pre-premiere fix of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, along with a ton of tangible creator-centric career advice.
Her Campus: What first inspired you to reimagine She-Ra and the Princesses of Power?
Noelle Stevenson: I heard that Dreamworks was looking for someone to pitch a She-Ra reboot, and it came at the perfect time – I’d been cultivating an interest for 80s sci-fi and fantasy, especially animated, through my first animation writing jobs. It had a majority female cast but with a lot of lore and mythology and action/adventure tropes, and a main character who was on a redemption arc from villain to hero, and I was in love.
HC: I know that you were inspired by the original animated series that debuted 1985 and you’ve included your own nuance in the She-Ra series, are there any lessons or message you hope viewers gain from the series?
NS: The show’s about redemption and about being brave. Our characters make mistakes, there are times when they feel weak or hopeless or like a screw-up…and there’s always the chance to fix it. Sometimes you have to really rely on your friends to support you or help you or save you – the important thing is to try, and not let failure stop you.
HC: You aren’t a stranger to creating narratives that focus on powerful women characters. Since you earned the New York Times bestselling author accolade for your graphic novel, Nimona, how do you hope She-Ra empowers young people in their own careers?
NS: I was very fortunate to begin my career with a story that was very much my own. I didn’t have to make many compromises, because the comic started out independent and I wrote it, drew it, everything. I got to really explore the things that were specific to me, that I had been wanting to see from a story, and show people what kinds of stories I was passionate about. Since then, it’s been easier to get the jobs that I’m passionate about because my voice is established now. I’d encourage young people starting their own careers to do whatever they can to establish their own voices, to bring their own unique point of view to everything they do. I got some advice early in my career that I still think about a lot, and it’s pretty simple: if someone gives you the chance to be free, you be free.
HC: What does your current job entail? Is there such a thing as a typical day?
NS: My typical day can involve anything from a voice record (recording the actors in a studio) to an animation lock (watching down raw animation to find mistakes and issue retakes) to any number of meetings related to the production, to just locking myself in my office and writing all day. There’s always a lot to do because there are so many moving pieces in a production.
HC: When you’re creating something or working on a project, what are some things you would do to foster an environment that motivates you to work?
NS: You have to find the joy in it. There are so many other factors that come into play when creating something, and they can be really stressful, but you have to find the thing in it that brings you the most joy and hold onto that and cultivate that – not just in yourself, but in everyone that shares your environment. You have to be dedicated to cultivating an environment that lets people feel ownership, and pride, and respect. There will always be stress, but indulging in anger and resentment and fear is the quickest way to kill creativity.
HC: What used to be one of your weaknesses when you were first taking out in the industry, and how have you grown from that?
NS: When I started this job, I had no experience with being a leader, and not much experience working in an office or in team environments. It was really terrifying to have all eyes on me, to feel that my decisions impacted every member of my crew. Like a lot of creatives, I can be pretty anxious and introverted, but through this job, I’ve really grown in the way I communicate and compromise and mediate. I spend almost all day talking to people in one context or another – if you told that to me from three years ago, I’d faint. But now I love it. I love being part of a team, I love being in a collaborative environment. I love my team so much. It’s been so rewarding.
— She-Ra and the Princesses of Power (@DreamWorksSheRa) November 4, 2018
HC: What is the best part of your job?
NS: My favorite thing has always been sharing a story with other people. When you work on an animation crew, it feels like you’re all living in the same fantasy world – that not only can they see the story that’s in your head, they all hold a piece of it and it only becomes whole when you’re all together. Seeing it come to life through the cast and crew is incredibly fulfilling.
HC: What was it like working with a studio of mostly women, and how did everyone support each other while you were creating the show?
NS: Most of the women on our crew were new to the jobs they’re doing, and most came from crews of mostly men. So we were all used to certain things that feel normal when you’re surrounded by men – you act tougher than you are, you can’t show emotion, you have to fight to have your voice heard because no one else will fight for you. But on our crew, we developed a different way of talking. We were used to being talked over in meetings, so having a room full of women where as soon as two people talk at once they’re like oh my god, no you go first!…that was an amazing feeling. I don’t believe that you have to be the toughest, loudest person in the room to have your ideas heard…you have to prop up the people who might be a little quieter, make sure they get credit for their ideas. And I think everyone on this crew took that really seriously.
HC: You’ve written and illustrated multiple comics from Nimona to Lumberjanes. What was your first entry-level job in your field and how did you get it?
NS: It depends what you mean by entry-level job. I started as a fan artist — that was how I supported myself. Eventually, I started a webcomic, and that was Nimona. Around the same time I did an internship with a comic publisher, so that was my first entry-level ‘job’ job.
HC: What has been the most surreal moment of your career thus far?
NS: Looking up at a nine-foot-tall statue of a character I created at New York Comic Con. Or being in a big screening room at Blue Sky Studios and reviewing giant, beautifully painted concept art of a shark with boobs from Nimona. Or doing a reading of Nimona for the National Book Awards and having to say the word “Goldenloin” out loud.
HC: What advice would you give to a 20-something with similar aspirations?
NS: Surround yourself with good people who you like and respect and who like and respect you. Cultivating and contributing to a positive community will only make you stronger.
— She-Ra and the Princesses of Power (@DreamWorksSheRa) November 2, 2018
HC: Have you learned anything about yourself or your creative process from working on She-Ra?
NS: I’ve learned how to support and fight for my vision while also allowing it to evolve and grow over time.
HC: Were there any unexpected setbacks when creating the She-Ra remake, and how did you work through these setbacks?
NS: There have been disasters big and small — there are on any big production. There were a lot of times where I had to lock myself in a room and argue for hours for something I believed in. There were a lot of times where a small mistake ballooned into something much bigger. Starting out, each one of these feels like the end of the world. But over time, you learn a little bit more when to fight, and when to let go. To not take every big or small failure so personally. Because it never actually is the end of the world.
HC: While representation for onscreen LGBTQIPA+ characters dropped to an all-time low last year, She-Ra will include LGBTQ+ characters. Do you have any advice for creators who want to include more mindful LGBTQ+ representation in their field and/or there work projects but are still being faced with adversaries in their field (regarding inclusion)?
NS: Always, always ask for it. Always put the character in, even if they make you take them out. Not just that, but challenge and push the limits of the basic ideas of gender and attraction that still permeate the core of our media landscape in every way you can. There are a lot of people who are very afraid — don’t add your fear to the pile. You might not get to go as far as you wanted, but every time someone fights for it we all get a little farther.
HC: What advice would you give to college students who are considering a career in writing and/or illustration?
NS: Protect your health and your free time and your non-work relationships as best you can. You might be able to work day and night now with no sleep and crappy food, but it will catch up to you eventually. It’s not something we’re taught in college. It’s okay to not have it all figured out yet, but don’t romanticize running yourself into the ground. Trust me, I learned that one the hard way.
She-Ra and the Princesses of Power premieres on Netflix November 13.