Legendarily Defensive: Editing the Gay Away in VLD

Disclaimer: This meta is a collaboration of the entirety of #TeamPurpleLion.  We understand while we do touch on narrative romance, we are intentionally trying to be as ship-neutral as possible, and provide that which we only have evidence for.  We encourage the experts in their respective ship-fandoms to meta as they do best on these topics, and we hope this can be a factual basis to springboard from.

In the most recent AfterBuzz interview March 4, 2019, Executive Producers Lauren Montgomery and Joaquim dos Santos revealed in no uncertain terms who, precisely, is responsible for the editing fiasco that resulted in the version of Season 8 presented to the fandom, including explaining to their viewers when the changes were called for, and a heretofore unknown why: the removal of a mlm relationship between two of the male Paladins.

Let’s break it down.

The interview itself is a little very difficult to stomach, especially the latter half.  But, the first portion is an unusually open and honest discussion of what went down behind the scenes, and what it meant to the producers.  It’s also the place where we’ll be lifting direct quotes from.  The hosts of AfterBuzz allow the Executive Producers to have the floor and speak with quite a bit of leeway, and some very curious facts come to light.  For anyone interested in the source, the interview can be found on Youtube.(3)

Voltron is a unique case.  While much of the fan base may not have been around for prior incarnations of this franchise, it has existed for quite a while.

It originally came from a Japanese show Beast King GoLion.  From this show, the robot we recognize from Voltron: Defender of the Universe, was created in 1984. There exists an interview with the Executive Producer of Defender of the Universe, Peter Keefe, as well as other cast and crew on the production of how BeastKing became Voltron.(4)

After Voltron: Defender of the Universe, several other iterations bloomed forth – some in the form of comics, some as sequels, some as reboots. The first series to follow Defender of the Universe was Voltron: The Third Dimension, a CGI-based sequel released in 1998.

While not nearly was popular as its predecessor, it managed to stir up some legal conflict:

“Worse, the Japanese creators of Beast King GoLion — Toei Animation — began saber-rattling. Toei believed World Events had overstepped the boundaries of their 1984 agreement and made the CGI series without buying those explicit rights.

To quash this dispute once and for all, Koplar and crew purchased GoLion outright in 2000. Now they had the freedom to adapt at will. But nothing was in the works.”(7)

As of 2000, Koplar and World Events Productions (WEP) owned all the rights to Voltron. Talk of a live action movie has been in the works since 2005, but with little traction. In 2010, WEP licensed rights for the Voltron franchise to Classic Media (now DreamWorks Classics) (7).   By 2011, the animated series Voltron Force was released.

In 2014 Lauren Montgomery and Joaquim Dos Santos approached DreamWorks Animation with the idea of producing a new Voltron show, with the license DreamWorks had recently come to own through their acquisition of Classics Media. In 2016, Voltron: Legendary Defender launched.

It’s worth noting World Events Productions licensed rights to produce Voltron content to DreamWorks Studios.  They did not hand over the entire franchise to do with as they saw fit.  DreamWorks only purchased the ability to play with the characters and the story in whatever capacity WEP believed would remain on-brand.

Amidst the protests and visceral reaction to the final season of Legendary Defender, many have felt confusion about where to direct their frustrations.

In another post, @crystal-rebellion theorized the symbolism in Season 7’s Episode 4 ‘The Feud’ was actually a very blatant representation of what was going on behind the scenes, and why. (2)

Since the most recent interview, statements from the Executive Producers as well as the host have confirmed this to be an accurate assessment of the situation.

Joaquim Dos Santos says it himself:

“This is not a vilifying of DreamWorks. Any exec we ever interacted with was like, ‘Hey, we understand why you want to tell the story, we understand where you’re coming from. It’s a little bit bigger than that. There’s other sort of controlling parties with Voltron, which makes it unique.’ It’s not just a DreamWorks owned property, and I think it got logistically really really weird.” (3)

Seven times, he specifically mentions the pushback didn’t come from DreamWorks, but from ‘other controlling parties.’  He alludes to some logistical weirdness, the implication being a difference in creative direction, or some dissension from higher up. In fact, the hosts and EPs discuss a controlling IP owner eight times in the course of one interview.

He also says, in regard to the issue of LGBTQ+ representation and Adam specifically:

“Here’s where we arrived on this. And we were pointing to things like Overwatch. We were pointing to Steven Universe. They’re different scenarios, we were in a slightly different position. We didn’t have that position of being the creators of this IP. And we also weren’t a video game that was marketed to teens and above. We for all intents and purposes were started as a show for boys like 6 to 11 to sell as many toys as possible. And that’s just like a fact and that’s business, and it is what it is.” (3)

DreamWorks is not a platform that markets ‘toys for boys’ (a talking point brought up no fewer than five times) – but World Events is. President Robert Koplar himself states his target demographic is boys and their dads in Episode 12 from the Let’s Voltron podcast not once, but twice. (5)

The EPs confirm as much with their recent statement in the March 4th ABTV Voltron interview(3) that the possibility of a male paladin’s replacement was greenlit until the IP holder learned the male paladin was to be replaced with Acxa, a woman. This kind of sexist hypocrisy goes as far back as 1984 with Allura being spanked in front of her own team in one episode(11) and tied to a chair by them to prevent her escape in another(11). The 2003 Devil’s Due comic shows Lotor, who looks to be no more than five, witness his mother’s murder via strangulation by his father (complete with an expression of horror on her dead face)(12). Lotor then suffers the same type of non-lethal strangulation in a scene where his father interrupts what the comic refers to as “recreation” with a scantily clad blonde resembling both Lotor’s mother and Allura in a different series(13). All of this takes place in a franchise whose target demographic has consistently been six to eleven year old boys and their fathers. Koplar’s company has made their hypocritical moral stance abundantly clear in Legendary Defender, even going so far as to order the destruction of the entire final season. According to Dos Santos:

“Specifically with Season 7 and 8 we basically held onto Season 7 so Season 8 was like done by the time S7 was dropping. We had like a month left when reaction for Season 7 started coming in, and that was day of the drop. We were in a weird position. To DreamWorks’s credit, the tide started changing internally. They came back to us and said, okay we’re open to explore this relationship between Adam and Shiro so we were in this weird position where we had all the animation done, we had $0.00 left in the budget in terms of like what we could do and it was like, all right, we know Adam’s fate is what it is, do we do this and sort of like take this step knowing that we’re going to take some flack? And we decided to do it so we revised the dialogue. You can probably see it in the animation. If you really pay attention it’s like, it’s literally our editor cutting out mouths and like puppeting different dialogue. The dialogue is pretty vague, it’s sort of the best we could do, and that was a process of discussing what we could actually have them say.”(3)

Hold the phone. Taken in context, Dos Santos is explaining the process of DreamWorks giving the showrunners the green light to change the epilogue of Season 8 to give Shiro the unambiguously gay orientation they had written out of Season 7. The problem is, there is no dialogue in the epilogue. Even if we consider the epilogue to consist of everything from “one year later” onward, there is no dialogue for Shiro and another male character that would have to be reworked.

Here is what we think happened: Season 8 was finished in June. The IP owner hated it and ordered it changed at the beginning of July. Those changes included cutting a male/male romance. August came and the fandom melted down over Adam dying. Hoping to avoid a repeat of the Adam debacle, in mid-August DreamWorks came around and offered to let the showrunners put something into Season 8 for more gay representation. By this point the edits to Season 8 were almost complete, the budget was gone, and time was short, so they opted to give Shiro a wedding during the ending, in the epilogue. In an effort to brush off the clear edits to Season 8, Dos Santos mentions the lip movements during the interview but is confusing the making of the epilogue with the rest of the edits.

Indeed, it seems those edits resulted not only in the deaths of the series’ heroine and a childhood abuse victim, but also in the demolition of not just one but possibly two completed romantic arcs. When discussing Allura and Lance’s romance, Dos Santos and Emma Fyffe have this to say:

JDS: I could see the argument where it’s like, it’s basic. It’s what we’ve kindof come to expect from okay the guy sort of turned around and– but I think Lance’s arc aside from being with Allura was bigger than the Allura love story.

EF: And Lance’s overall story arc I really enjoyed. But again, I think it’s this whole idea that we were dealing with this IP that was like “okay, monster of the week, it was like dudes being in love with one hot girl and just macho men with fighting robots and whatever was happening with Pidge”.

JDS: Right, yes, yes. (3)

The showrunner himself not only agrees Lance’s milquetoast romantic arc was due to pushback from the IP holder, in discussing the controversy surrounding the main characters’ sexual orientation, Dos Santos inadvertently reveals a major romance between two male paladins was cut.

EF: …it is important to know that, again, you have this character who is very much your sort of quintessential, like, alpha male.

JDS: That-that was the trope that we were trying to, like, sort of step on was that, you know. I grew up with characters like Duke. To a much lesser degree, he’s a big, giant robot Optimus Prime. The idea of Optimus Prime being with another Optimus Prime was off the table. Like it was a no-go. (3)

If Allura and Lance’s IP-owner-influenced romantic arc is any indication, clearly two main paladins being together was fine. Dos Santos is referring to the inability to pair two male mains.

We don’t know for sure, and won’t until the original S8 is released. But, we have reasonable cause to believe Keith was intended to be gay and part of the romance that got tanked. When speaking about Keith’s sexuality Dos Santos says:

JDS: Because, I think we didn’t, we didn’t pair him with anybody, you know what I mean. I think we didn’t designate sort of where he stood. We don’t know. It’s– It’s–

KC: We don’t know

JDS: Yeah, it– It doesn’t really matter to be honest with you. I mean it would be great to confirm just to make people happy, but, like at the end of the day he is who he is, and leaving it open to interpretation. (3)

Do you hear that? “It would be great to confirm”. Not that it would be great if they could have done it, but if they could have confirmed it. It seems that JDS conceptualizes Keith as having an attraction to men, but he was forbidden from making that fact plain. Again, we have no concrete evidence of who Keith was slated to be with, just that the writers couldn’t have two gay male paladins.

The wording of his statements is just clear enough to avoid dishonesty and just vague enough so as not to break contract. Even beyond NDAs, it’s not as if the Executive Producers can speak more directly to these points. We already have evidence of the IP owner’s character in the form of the Voltron Store’s Twitter presence outright lying about WEP and the store being separate entities:

(8)

When only a few weeks earlier they had liked a tweet explicitly identifying them as one and the same, while confirming they have the final say over what can be done with the characters:

(1)

Before the fandom realized that WEP was behind the edits to S8 of VLD, the information that they owned the license was accepted fact. This excerpt from the Lets Voltron Podcast, Episode 134, is just one example:

(talking about a Voltron reference in Ready Player One)

Host 1: For those of you not in the know, if you think DreamWorks is the all in all for Voltron. Well, World Events Productions is the company that owns –

Host 2: The Voltron intellectual property.

Host 1: Many of you have heard of DreamWorks obviously. They make the show. Well, World Events Productions owns the property and has helped make this new show and all previous shows possible.

LV Podcast EP 134, 5:00-5:30 (6)

Now? Many official avenues are hastily attempting to downplay WEP’s involvement. When reached for comment in February 2019 the LV Podcast claimed that DreamWorks owned the licence.

The official phone number listed on WEP’s website no longer offers an option to connect a person to WEP, instead it offers three options: to directly input an extension, the accounting department, and The Voltron Store. (9)

In an effort to prevent fans from contacting them with complaints, WEP have inadvertently made their association with The Voltron Store explicit. Regardless of what the twitter account may claim, they are one and the same company.

If these incidents weren’t damning enough, the store has further attempted to engage in a subtle smear campaign by liking tweets from users apologizing for harassment and death threats the store had received over Season 8, when all groups bringing the problems with its forced edits to WEP’s attention have specifically advocated for civil and nonviolent communication. (8)

As the story unfolds, one point is clear: Each new interview brings more information forth, repeatedly shining the spotlight on one little office in St. Louis.

WEP LLC is a private company. It has no shareholders, investors, or boards to answer to. It is the sole IP holder of the Voltron brand, and its President is the only person in the entire world who has final say over what can and cannot be done with the characters. When someone says “the IP holder” they are really talking about one man: Bob Koplar.


#TeamPurpleLion is a collective of analysts ( @crystal-rebellion, @dragonofyang​, @felixazrael, @leakinghate​, and @voltronisruiningmylife​ ) intent on tracking down the who, what, where, how, and why of the destruction of VLDS8. We present sourced & cited commentary, relying on evidence so the VLD community can see what happened behind the scenes.

Sources!

  1. @Astro_Latte. “WEP. They own the license and run the Voltron store.” 13 Feb 2019, 11:14 A.M. Tweet.
  2. Crystal-Rebellion. “Interdimensional Executive Meddling: Voltron Style”. Written in the Palm of Venus. crystal-rebellion.tumblr.com/post/183131117399/interdimensional-executive-meddling-voltron-style
  3. Dos Santos, Joaquim and Montgomery, Lauren. “Voltron Full Series Review with Showrunners in Studio”. Afterbuzz TV Animation. 4 March 2019 www.youtube.com/watch?v=om_t8A99WJo
  4. Keefe, Peter, et. al. “Voltron: Defender of the Universe Commentary, Part 1”. Anime Works Voltron: Defender of the Universe Lion Collection. Uploaded 16 May 2018. Released Sep. 2006. www.youtube.com/watch?v=AZCI5g_hNJ8
  5. Morell, Marc and Tyler, Greg. “[012]: WEP VP Bob Koplar (Part 1)”. Let’s Voltron. Published 3 Apr 2014. Accessed 12 Mar 2019. http://www.letsvoltron.com/12
  6. Morell, Marc and Tyler, Greg. “‘Blood Duel’ Review”. Let’s Voltron. Published 15 Apr 2018. Accessed 12 Mar 2019. http://www.letsvoltron.com/62b33db
  7. Phillips, Nicholas. “Voltron Prepares to Recapture the Universe from a Small Office in St. Louis”. Riverfront Times. 1 Sep 2011. www.riverfronttimes.com/stlouis/voltron-prepares-to-recapture-the-universe-from-a-small-office-in-st-louis/Content?oid=2495906
  8. @VoltronStore. “We understand some fans are disappointed with the outcome of Season 8, please bear in mind that we do not have any influence over the creative direction of the show. We are eternally grateful for all the support you’ve given us over the years, and look forward to many more.” 1 Mar 2019, 11:39 A.M. Tweet.
  9. World Events Productions. wep.com/contact/
  10. World Events Productions. Wikipedia. Edited 25 Feb 2019. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Events_Productions
  11. “The Lion Has New Claws”. Voltron: Defender of the Universe. Produced by Peter Keefe. Aired 18 Sep 1984.

3 thoughts on “Legendarily Defensive: Editing the Gay Away in VLD

  • Pingback: On Love and Lions Part 1: An Analysis of Love in VLD | Team Purple Lion

  • June 19, 2020 at 5:43 pm
    Permalink

    Hi! I recently stumbled up your website and I think it’s amazing what’ve you guys have put together! I do have some questions though.

    Do you know when the mlm relationship was cut? Was it cut from the beginning of the show or during the editing of season 8?

    Since Keith and Acxa had a semi romantic relationship before the storyline got dropped and if Keith was suppose to be part of the mlm relationship that was cut. Would Keith still be an LGBTQ+ character?

    Reply
    • June 20, 2020 at 1:52 am
      Permalink

      Thank you for the compliment! We’re happy you’ve found our work, and we’re happy to answer any and all questions.

      The MLM relationship would have been cut during the post-production edits ordered in the summer of 2018, as mentioned in this particular piece. The first mention of a romantic relationship between Keith and Acxa actually comes from SAC Anime in January 2019, right after the edited season 8 was released to Netflix. From our research we can find no earlier public comments about the two of them being planned as a pairing. So if there was a plan at all for that, it likely would have been changed very early on to give Keith a queer romance earlier in production, with his resulting MLM relationship being cut during the post-production edits.

      Reply

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