Voltron: Legendary Defender’s creative team shook the fandom to its core at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con when it announced the show’s seventh season would address Shiro being a gay man and introduce his same-sex partner, but the show’s depiction of a queer relationship understandably left many fans cold.
There are a plethora of reasons why Voltron’s fandom baulked at its queer representation when the seventh season dropped last week, and (also understandably) many of the people involved in the show’s creation took a break from social media, seemingly in anticipation of the backlash.
This week, Joaquim Dos Santos, one of the show’s executive producers, took to his Twitter account to talk about this season’s plot and address the fandom’s accusations of queerbaiting in a lengthy open letter posted to Twitter.
The long and short of the fandom’s rage is that, despite leading with the idea that Voltron’s seventh season would explore Shiro’s queer identity through his relationship with Adam, Adam doesn’t actually appear in the series all that much before he’s suddenly killed off.
There are logical narrative reasons why Adam dies, but the suddenness of his introduction and death prompted accusations from the fandom that the show’s creators had simply used the idea of one of its characters being queer to lure the fandom back in and boost the show’s ratings.
In his letter, co-executive producer Joaquim Dos Santos acknowledges and apologises to the vocal contingent of the fandom that was hurt and disappointed by the way the show handled its queer subplot. The goal, Dos Santos said in a series of tweets, was never to hurt the fandom, but rather to tell a story about war and grief:
I’d like to say that we created this version of Voltron with the intention being as inclusive as possible within the boundaries given. Are the still boundaries? Well, for this type of “action adventure/product driven/traditionally boys toys” show the answer is unfortunately yes… Have those boundaries widened since we first started the show? Yes. Is there still a TON of room to grow? 100% Yes.
We were incredibly excited and proud when news broke (post SDCC) of Shiro being revealed as a gay man. The story of how we eventually arrived at getting the green light to confirm Shiro and Adam is unfortunately a tale that we’ll have to tell another day. At any rate, the flashback story of Shiro being in a long-term, committed relationship with Adam that ultimately came to a conclusion when Shiro decided to go on the Kerberos Mission was the device we settled on to deliver that info to the audience.
Dos Santos goes on to explain that in addition to revealing Shiro’s queerness, the seventh season was meant to illustrate the fact that Voltron’s former lead pilot was familiar with deep loss long before he became a paladin. Adam’s death, Dos Santos said, is meant to be a reminder of just what all is at stake in the show:
From a purely story perspective, having Adam be part of the Garrison and take part in Earth’s initial (ultimately futile) wave against the Galra allowed us to set up the stakes in as simple a way as possible from our POV, despite having Shiro and Adam split we knew seeing a familiar face bravely make the sacrifice along with the squadron he led (and countless others) would help get across the gravity of this invasion.
We were aware of the “Bury Your Gays” trope but hoped against hope that our struggle to confirm Shiro’s orientation would take center stage here. We had not intended for Adam to be interpreted as a recurring character or someone that would come back into Shiro’s life. That is not me attempting to turn this around and place the burden of expectation on anyone. This is not an excuse. We crafted the entire series around the themes of sacrifice and loss and at the end of the day has to take responsibility for our creative decisions. We knew people would be affected by the loss of Adam. We just could not have predicted how profound the loss would be.
Dos Santos continued by explaining that while he’d made a point of logging off social media before the season aired, his curiosity got the better of him and he liked a number of posts on Twitter defending the show’s queer representation. While he understands why people are understandably upset, Dos Santos emphasised that the fandom’s backlash against the show’s actors is misplaced:
It goes without saying that aggressive behaviour (verbal or otherwise) is just not doing anyone any good. Taking our frustration (verbal or otherwise) on staff and/or the performers on the show is not the answer. Do they work on the show? Yes. Are they integral to the show’s high level of fidelity? Absolutely. Are they involved in the story decision making process? No…
…There is no way for me to take away the hurt some of you have felt the loss of Adam and from potentially larger, positive social message. What I can say is that we’re riding an ever moving, fine line and trying to navigate as best as we can while still moving the conversation forward. We are incredibly proud of the strides we were able to make thus far. The fact that there is a vocal audience demanding for the conversation to be pushed farther and faster is ultimately an incredibly positive thing and a lesson we’ll take moving forward.
Dos Santos is right to acknowledge that there are still a fair number of complications when it comes to tackling plots involving queer characters, especially when said plots feature grief, loss and death.
Those are important stories worth telling, yes, but the overall pop cultural landscape is so bereft of LGBTQ+ representation that plots such as Volton’s can feel lazy and misguided, especially when they’re framed (as Voltron’s was) as acknowledgement of the fandom’s desire for queer stories.
There’s no way of knowing whether Voltron will address Shiro’s queerness in the show’s eighth and final season or what that might even look like, but Dos Santos’ words are more than most fandoms advocating for queer representation are accustomed to hearing. The question now is whether those words will translate into plots that make fans happy.