Everyone knows the drill when it comes to Scooby Doo mysteries: there’s an unnerving presence haunting a spooky house – maybe it’s taken the form of a sludge monster, or a deep sea diver, or a gh-gh-gh-GHOST. Either way, the eventual conclusion is usually the same, the Mystery Inc. gang catches the creature in an elaborate trap and pulls off their mask to discover the big bad monster was actually just some regular guy all along. Scooby Doo raised a generation that understands the real bad guy is simply an adult hiding behind a flimsy facade, often or not selfishly protecting their business. It’s a trope that becomes rather ironic when we consider the children’s entertainment industry as a whole, especially in regards to the inclusion of queer content.
Last week, James Gunn dropped the bombshell that in Scooby Doo (2002), Velma originally had a whole gay subplot that got cut from the film. Gunn shared via Twitter that in an original draft of his script, Velma was written to be “explicitly gay” but the subplot was eventually scraped as the Warner Bros studio kept “watering it down”.
The concept of Velma being a lesbian came as no great shock for many LGBTQ+ fans of Scooby Doo, who had always assumed (and joked) about Velma and Daphne’s relationship. Internet memes have solidly established Velma as a lesbian but even before the likes of viral tweets, gay women had always related to Velma the most out of the gang. She fit into the (outdated) stereotype for us. Velma is awkward, she’s nerdy, and she’s more interested in finding clues than she is in finding a boyfriend. Velma’s general lack of relationship in the show gave her character the freedom to have any narrative imprinted on her by viewers.
In the early 2000’s Scooby Doo films, Linda Cardellini’s portrayal of Velma in particular became a lesbian icon and was the sexual awakening for many young gay women. In particular, Velma’s make-over in the sequel Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed was a cultural reset (as the kids on the internet say). There’s even a deleted clip showing Velma singing Can’t Take My Eyes Off You and although she sings in the direction of both Daphne and Fred, she only first gapes and starts to sing upon Daphne’s entrance. Knowing that this portrayal of Velma could have been canonically queer is disappointing and only highlights an issue in the entertainment industry, especially in regard to content for young people.
The usual argument against including LGBTQ+ content in kids entertainment is that children shouldn’t be exposed to that sort of thing. Apparently LGBTQ+ relationships are too grown up for innocent children to witness, which is of course to say that LGBTQ+ is explicit or sinful. The issue is that LGBTQ+ relationships are either demonised or fetishised by the media – for gay men, they are sinful; for gay women we are a sub-section of porn for straight men. When our relationships are viewed through this lens, we become too explicit for children, too X-rated. Of course, heterosexual relationships are not scrutinised to this degree, meaning straight love stories are perfectly accepted in entertainment for all ages. If a twelve year old boy has a crush on a female classmate – that’s acceptable; if that twelve year old boy had a crush on a male classmate – that’s inappropriate and will surely be too confusing for kids to understand.
Studio execs and producers have been controlling the narrative of storytellers for decades; they hold the power, they decide what can and cannot be included. The tale of saving our children’s souls from the evilness of queer love is a narrative that’s impacted other shows for young viewers too. A similar play occurred behind-camera on the Nickelodeon show, The Legend of Korra .
The show Legend of Korra – the sequel to the hugely successful Avatar: The Last Airbender – is a slightly grittier and more grown up version of it’s predecessor, however it is still resolutely a show for kids. In this show, there are two characters – Korra (Janet Varney) and Asami (Seychelle Gabriel) – who start of as romantic rivals, both pursuing a male character, however they end up close friends and in the last shot of the series, they are seen holding hands and gazing into each other’s eyes as they are transported to the spirit world together. This scene got fans speculating as they noticed that building up to this episode, there were some romantic subtext between the two characters. It was later revealed by the show creators that Korra and Asami were both bisexual and were infact in a relationship with one another. However, they were unable to explore this in the show. When discussing this hidden relationship, the show’s co-creator Bryan Konietzko said, “we never assumed it was something we would ever get away with depicting on an animated show for a kids network in this day and age, at least in 2010. How do I know we can’t openly depict that? No one explicitly said so. It was just another assumption based on a paradigm that marginalises non-heterosexual people.”
Fans were not left completely disappointed, as the series was able to continue their story in comics, which explicitly depicted the two in their relationship, while also exploring the sexuality of other characters, notably Kya (Lisa Edelstein) – the daughter of Aang, the main character from Avatar: The Last Airbender – who reveals they are a lesbian and who discusses queer history within the kingdom and different tribes. Perhaps this inclusive part of the show was only edged out because of other tensions between the show and the studio – mainly the debacle of having their story plan continuingly shaken up by the studio constantly changing the amount of seasons they were allocated – however, considering the sudden burst of queer freedom that occured in the comics, it can be assumed the show writers weren’t “allowed” to include such content in the show.
Having producers of kids entertainment too afraid to explore queer themes will only ever encourage an ignorant generation and continue a flawed industry that allows groups of children to not be represented in their own media. The times they are a-changin’, however. Some modern day kids shows are slowly letting previously unspoken LGBTQ+ topics slip through the cracks, whereas other shows like Steven Universe and She-Ra have come bursting through the barricades, ready to prove that inclusivity can indeed be profitable. As much as I do love queer subtext (obviously given the topic of this column), it’s important that queer stories are given the freedom to enter the limelight in children’s entertainment. Queer kids growing up need to see themselves on screen, they need to know they can be accepted and a subtle subtext that may go over their heads is not enough anymore. If show execs and producers want to keep up, they need to leave the watering down of queer stories fully in the past. They would have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for these queer kids but now that the censorship mask has been fully lifted, it’s time to let the kids celebrate a more inclusive entertainment industry.