Rebecca Sugar, the creator of popular cartoon Steven Universe, has issued an apology in light of online controversy sparked by the recently released Steven Universe: Art & Origins artbook.
For those unaware, the controversy sparked off when a character concept sketch for an unused Gem character that didn't make it into the show was included. The character, named Concrete, was deemed to be racially insensitive for a number reasons.
Many felt that the character looked plainly inspired by minstrel aesthetic, or like the many offensive variations that came from this racist art-style (I live in Wales, UK, and grew up at a time when Robertson's used to use these characters to advertise jam, so it was everywhere). Others also noted the character description beside the art note, saying that the character 'Can't read :('.
As mentioned earlier, Sugar has come back to apologise for the artwork's inclusion within the artbook.
Many have called out Sugar, and in fact continue to do so, claiming that she is evidently racist.
Now, even the most cursory look at Steven Universe would show that she is not, nor is the show. It should be noted that this character of Concrete was not even designed by Sugar, nor did it make it through to inclusion in the show itself. It merely slipped past into an artbook that collects hundreds or more of minor sketches and notes, and could easily have gotten lost in the mix.
What's more, Sugar gives is a damn good apology, as well as another apology by Lamar Abrams, who is in fact an African-American storyboard artist on Steven Universe. Whilst she does offer some explanation, it is more an explanation for her failing here, and not trying to explain away the piece of art. As she points out, the artwork was certainly not created with racism in mind, but she openly admits that it does clearly call racist stereotypes to mind. And no matter what, she admits to failure, apologises profusely and promises to correct this oversight in the future.
This is not to say that any upset caused by Concrete in the book is undue or even overblown. I think it is clear the kind of feelings that this art can ignite, especially given the history and wider context. But to see the creators admit their failure, give context for how it was created and included and emphatically and sympathetically apologise should not be discounted either.
Steven Universe: Art & Origins is on sale now, admittedly controversial sketch included.