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Steven Universe has long been known for its positive, uplifting messages about identify, respect, and loving others, and this year Steven Universe’s creator Rebecca Sugar continued that tradition with the newest edition to the franchise, Steven Universe: the Movie.
Compared to the show, the movie is similar in style in presentation but is definitely bigger in feel. In fact, going back to its musical roots, the movie has a soundtrack that nearly rivals the rest of the show in terms of volume, with loads of wonderful individual songs such as “True Kind of Love” and “Happily Ever After.”
The film’s story takes place two years after the season five finale, in which Steven is able to convince White Diamond that the very structure of gem society, along with her view of other gems, is fundamentally wrong, and that other gems should be seen as equals, rather than lesser beings. In those two years since, Steven, along with the other crystals gems, have managed to make earth a safe-haven for gems of all kinds. However, this newfound happiness is short lived, as a blast from Rose’s past soon comes to haunt Steven, and turn his life upside down.
Enter Spinel, the character at the center of struggle in Steven Universe: The Movie. When she arrives on earth and meets the Crystal Gems, she vows her revenge on them by destroying planet earth with a strange looking device. The device actually contains a poison that Spinel injects into the earth, which will destroy all life on the planet in 48 hours. At first, no one is sure who she is or why she has come to earth in the first place. However, after Spinel reminisces over her past with Steven’s mom, Pearl quickly remembers who she is. Before Pearl can give Steven any information, Spinel hits all of them with a weapon that resets the gems and erases their memories. A quick battle between Spinel and Steven leaves Spinel hit with her own scythe-like, memory-erasing weapon.
The rest of the film follows Steven’s struggle to restore the memory of not only her friends, but also Spinel, so that he can try and convince her not to follow through with her plan of destroying the earth. At first, Spinel’s original motivation seemed inexplicable. Why would she want to badly to destroy earth and get some sort of illusory revenge on Rose? By the end of the film’s second half it all becomes clear. In what is arguably the most popular song to come out of the movie, “Drift Away,” Spinel explains to Steven how she used to be Rose’s servant/playmate. However, after finally receiving her own colony on earth from the other diamonds, she tricks Spinel into staying on gem homeworld, never going back to check on her, never considering her feelings in the slightest.
It is at this moment that Spinel’s feelings become much more justified. She spent literal thousands of years of her life standing around, waiting for Rose to return, wondering “am I doing this right?” All of that for someone who never really cared about her in the first place. Probably one of the most telling scenes is the one immediately following “Drift Away,” in which it looks as though Steven wants to defend his mom, but then quickly realizes that there is not excusing what she did.
Despite her character design being more reminiscent of 1930’s, what her story in Steven Universe represents is a problem that is still very much a modern one. Too often the trust that people put into others is betrayed, and it leaves those who have been wronged with feelings of self-doubt and worthlessness. This type of harm can come in many forms, from simple gaslighting on one end, to rape at the other extreme.
Another type of this betrayal of trust can come in the form of revenge porn, where a significant other releases explicit content of a person without their consent, an issue that has only been further highlighted with the recent high profile story of former U.S. Representative Katie Hill.
However, this kind of betrayal of trust does not even have to be of an extreme nature. In-fact, sometimes it can be as simple as finding out that people who seemed to be trustworthy friends turned out to be nothing more than liars.
The reason Spinel’s arc felt so powerful is because at the core of her story is that betrayal of trust. She lost who she thought was her only friend, and because of that felt like there was no way she could trust anyone again. At the end of her climactic battle with Steven, instead of finishing him off, she breaks down into tears, and begins to wonder what the point of it all is.
Well, the point is this: those who are the victims, those who have gone through abusive relationships, and those whose trust has been betrayed should not be the ones feeling bad. Yet, even as I write these words, I am under no illusions about what the reality of the situation is. The Spinels of the world will go on feeling like garbage. The same as always.
Have you guys seen Steven Universe: The Movie? What do you all think? Let me know in the comments.
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