Creator of 'She-Ra and the Princesses of Power' Noelle Stevenson and actor Jacob Tobia on season four's radical inclusion

Tomorrow, the newest season of Netflix and Dreamworks’ She-Ra and the Princesses of Power will be released on the streaming platform. From out creator Noelle Stevenson, the show has continually been inclusive of LGBTQ characters and stories in its first three seasons and is only becoming more so. Season four sees the introduction of Double Trouble, a shapeshifter and thespian, who is non-binary and uses they/them pronouns, played by non-binary actor and author Jacob Tobia.

GLAAD had the chance to chat with Stevenson and Tobia about the queer history of She-Ra, Double Trouble, and the importance of queer and trans stories in kids’ and family programming.

GLAAD: Thank you both for taking the time! One of the reasons we at GLAAD are excited for people to watch this new season is Double Trouble. How did that character come about, Noelle from the perspective of the writers and animators? And Jacob, once you got into the performance?

Noelle Stevenson: For us, we were just really excited about this character and we were just having fun. In a character like this, it's organic. You almost forget for a second that this isn't something you see every day. It felt like exactly something that would fit in the tone of our world, this whole story. Double Trouble brought out so many incredible different kinds of stories for our other characters as well. And it's so cool to see people respond to this character and be like "this is really important." We've never really seen a character like this before. I'm so glad that people are responding to them already because we love this character so much and it's so exciting to see them make their debut in the world.

Jacob Tobia: And there were moments when we were recording that I would forget that we weren’t just making really cool student film with a bunch of queers that I love, and that we were making something for DreamWorks and Netflix that can have a global reach. My brain couldn't wrap around that because I'm not used to associating that level of queer and trans fun with these giant global enterprises. I didn't emotionally get how this character was going to land for people until the day of New York Comic-Con when Double Trouble had a one-second appearance in the trailer and they were on the key art and everyone on Twitter was like, "who is this goblin lady?" And then She-Ra tweeted, "Oh, that's Double Trouble. You'll get to know more about them soon." Then Twitter exploded with enby fans of the show being like "THEM," in all caps "they, they, they" and "enby character, enby character, enby character," people were just freaking out. Even just that we had used gender neutral pronouns for a character, period. Seeing everyone on Twitter, I had this thought, "oh, whoa. We are doing something cool." I got to discover how cool it was with the She-Ra fandom. I got all emotional and I did not know what to do with myself. It was fabulous.

GLAAD: That's amazing. It was exciting to watch this season and seeing that Double Trouble is in almost every episode. They are integral to the plot. That's huge in representation to have our stories be central and not sidelines. And that's true with other characters in She-Ra as well - they are throughout the show. Was that a conscious decision when building this world to make queer people central?

NS: She-Ra has always been a very queer world and a very queer story. This is a world where almost all of your mains are women. What does that mean for gender? What does that mean for sexuality and this fantasy sci-fi planet? Why would our characters follow the "rules" of our world, the biases that we've built up in our world? What if we just started from the grounds that this is a world with a really rich tapestry of experiences and that includes sexuality, that includes gender. We can create a fantasy, a power fantasy and an escape fantasy, while still telling stories that feel real. That's what we were trying to do with this whole world. And Double Trouble is the favorite character of so many people on this crew - we love this character. We were trying to find more places to put this character because they're so much fun and they just really fit in so well in this world. It makes so much sense.

JT:  On my end, coming into the She-Ra fam in season four as the show's already established, I was blown away by how it felt. Especially, I remember we had a screening of the very first episode when it was ready. When I watched that, as a non-binary character in a fantasy world, I expected it to feel like a rainbow thread in an otherwise pretty bland tapestry. But I found that I was a rainbow thread just in already the most colorful, incredible, queer trans garment I could want. I blended right in, in so many ways and that for me is a pretty unique feeling in this industry. That's such a testament to what you created, Noelle, and what the whole cast and crew have created is a place where I could just show up. [And Double Trouble’s] arrival in the world is like, of course, they're just there. Duh. There's something so profound about that.

GLAAD: It's notable [She-Ra], such a welcoming and inclusive show, is a kids’ and family show. How do both of you feel about this progress that's being made in kids' and family programming? How does She-Ra fit into this, and what do you foresee is the future for the genre?

NS: I think it's a really important conversation to be having because I think that as creators, we're responsible for the worlds that we're creating and we do the best we can. But the conversation is bigger than what each individual show is doing, because every show that manages to make that kind of progress  - that makes it their mission to represent people who haven't traditionally been represented in these areas - they break ground for other shows that follow. The more people push for that representation, the more [there is], because executives and studios, they're scared. So you have to show them that it's worth it. And the best way to do that is to be like, "look, this other show did that and it was okay and the world didn't end, can I please do something similar?" I think overall it's something that creators should be looking to each other and holding each other to that higher standard.

JT:  As someone who certainly consumed quite a number of [kid’s TV shows] in my childhood and, low-key in my adulthood as well, [I’m] struggling to figure out how to deem the shift. Even in the context of just Double Trouble's character, ‘cause there is a way in which this character is a first and a historic step forward - that naming Double Trouble as explicitly and unabashedly non-binary and using they/them pronouns, is part of the fabric of the world.

There are ways in which queer coding has been in children and family programs for a really long time, and queer and trans kids like myself were able to see it and feel it. But there was this translucent or opaque lens placed in front of any queer or trans scene in kids' shows by the industry, some kind of barrier that obfuscates or codes or puts them in subtext. And the thing that's so cool about what She-Ra's doing and what Steven Universe has done and what a bunch of different programs that done is that we're finally lifting that lens and are actually just able to see queer and trans lives transparently in kids' and family programming.

NS: Looking at the original She-Ra was incredibly inspirational to me. I didn't grow up with it, but when I was first watching it, I was blown away by the queer subtext. One of the most influential voices on the original She-Ra is a lesbian, Erika Scheimer.  She's actually the daughter of Lou Scheimer, so she was involved with He-Man and She-Ra in a producer rol, but she also voiced a lot of the comedy characters. She reached out to me and I was just like, "Oh my God, this is so amazing." I feel like I'm a part of something that's been in the works for so long. I want to pay homage to the people who brought us this far and maybe weren't able to use non-binary pronouns or make these relationships textual. There was so much material in the original She-Ra that inspired me. Netossa and Spinnerella were basically already a couple, in '87. We're sitting on the shoulders of giants.

GLAAD: For Jacob, this is your first big role, much like Double Trouble, as a thespian. What do you want next for roles when it comes to the broader scope of TV and non-binary representation in general?

JT: I had always said, "if I want to play a non-binary character on television, I'm going to have to make it myself.” I cannot tell you what a joy it is to be able to be so much lazier than that with this show. I am so grateful. Noelle did all of the hard work, the entire brilliant, She-Ra team did all the hard work, and had this impeccable character. In some ways I felt guilty. I was like, am I like allowed to feel this easy and fun and good as a non-binary performer in this industry? I'm so fortunate and so blessed and humbled and all that kind of stuff to be able to just step right in.

That being said, this isn't the first thing I've auditioned for since I've been in Los Angeles, and I think there's a reason why, as a non-binary performer, one of the first things I booked was animation. When you present as non-binary on camera, it's a whole other barrier that we have to break through, and I say that specifically as a very clearly not androgynous non-binary person. I have facial hair, I have hair follicles over 75% of my body because I'm Arab-American, I wear lipstick, I look gender non-conforming, but I never look androgynous. So for me, I think there's going to be an uphill battle to actually be able to be on screen in my gender and that's gonna take a lot longer.

But the thing that's so beautiful about She-Ra and about the gifts that I've been given to bring the character to life - it helps make that barrier easier to topple over. I think we need to be willing to show trans bodies across a spectrum of size, across the spectrum of beauty, across the spectrum of gender conforming versus being gender non-conforming, and across the spectrum of androgynous to not androgynous at all, but gender non-conforming. I want to see on TV what the actual like non-binary and queer and trans community looks like.

GLAADJust one quick thing before you go, as spoiler-free as you can, what was both of your favorite parts about working on She-Ra season four?

JT: I'll go first, cause that's probably a more expansive question for you than it was for me. Honestly, my favorite moments were when we were all giggling so much in the booth that we couldn't get the recording done speedily. I feel like that was the peak of the joy of this process. Then also this past week. The non-binary, trans, and queer love that has just blossomed for this character is one of the cooler things I've ever had the opportunity to be a part of. It's been consciousness altering. I'm just electric with it.

NS: Mine is a little less fun than Jacob's, but I do want to talk about it a little bit. This was kind of a hard season to make for me and for the crew and because of that, we put a lot of our own feelings into this season. My favorite thing about this season is all of the characters are incredibly stressed out this season and have different sorts of meltdowns. That was very cathartic to explore as a storyteller, as a writer. I don't think we get to see strong, powerful female characters break in a way that doesn't diminish them as characters. It's a hard industry to be in sometimes, there's a lot of pressure. I think that in a lot of ways the show - this season especially - is a love letter to even when it's hard, being able to express those feelings through the narrative and know that the characters are gonna pull through and be okay. This is a story about how, even when it's hard, it's always worth pushing through and getting back up again. And when you don't feel like you can stand back up again on your own, relying on the strength of the people around you to stand back up again. So that's one of the reasons why this season is really as close to my heart.

GLAAD: Thank you. That's beautiful. Thank you both for taking the time to chat with us. Can't wait for everyone else to experience this wonderful season!

The fourth season of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power will be released on Tuesday, November 5th on Netflix. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.