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The Queer Legacy Of The Owl House


I want to state one thing very clearly at the outset: Dana Terrace knew what she was doing.

I’m sure of it. Though it is also undoubtable that The Owl House is a series that she has been sincerely passionate about since 2016, this dedication was not distinct from the goal of putting LGBT characters at the forefront of a story made for the next generation. Between the consistently stylish outfits of the characters, hard-hitting themes of isolation and ostracization, and the gender-nonconforming vibes of series protagonist Luz Noceda (Sarah-Nicole Robles), the queer animation junkies of the world immediately had their eyes on this series.

But the queerness of the show goes a lot deeper than surface-level choices like this, and indeed, even beyond its core romantic relationships. The politics, ideas, and plot of The Owl House portray a love for all that is queer. At its core, “queer” refers to the way one’s desires (their loves, identities, expressions, etc.) are marked as indecent and demonized by the power majority. The Owl House has a deep and protective love for those of us who want something different from our lives than what we have been told to want.


Creator Dana Terrace found her way to Disney Channel when Alex Hirsch (creator of Gravity Falls and voice of King on The Owl House) found her art blog online and sought her out to be a storyboarder on his own show. It’s hard not to imagine how Terrace’s influence affected the cultural destiny of Gravity Falls: the show made history with its portrayal of a gay couple, and though the channel forced the creator to make this reveal as subtle as possible, fans noticed.

It seems all-too-natural that history would be made again on her own show, which lays claim to the first gay kiss on any Disney property. It’s also natural that this would signal the very abrupt and outrageous cancellation of the show. Terrace clearly fought hard for the series, eventually gaining a third season of three, one-hour specials. I can’t help but read the explicit pride of this third season, which concluded on April 8th, as a bit of a spiteful jab at the priggish channel that ended her story too soon. But in the end, just the colors of the bisexual and nonbinary flags featuring prominently in the season’s first episode were deeply moving and exciting to me. They weren’t a wink and a nudge to a silent queer audience, but a proud welcome into a world where our existence isn’t invisible.


Knowledge and Solidarity

The plot of The Owl House goes like this (I will, with as much discretion as possible, be spoiling parts of this series: proceed with caution) – Luz is a quirky 14-year-old Dominican American with a love of all things bizarre and nerdy. It’s hard not to fall for a character with this much enthusiasm and curiosity, and Luz’s insatiable desire to learn and explore is infectious. Her unbeatable sincerity and good-natured personality go a long way toward investing the audience in her struggles as an unabashed but sensitive weirdo.

Naturally, she is despised by teachers and students alike: being hated for love and authenticity… What must that be like?


When her clumsy antics lead to her mother sending her to Reality Check Summer Camp (“Think Inside the Box”), she finds herself in a world of magic called the Boiling Isles. She quickly befriends Eda the Owl Lady (Wendie Malick), a renegade “wild witch,” who rejects the enforced limits on magic imposed by the despotic antagonist of the series, Emperor Belos.

But Belos is not just a tyrant: he’s a wolf in lion’s clothing. Luz learns that he is a human witchhunter bent on wiping out witches and demons entirely. Though his human dress is slightly anachronistic for the 1600s (looking more 18th century, in my rather uninformed opinion), his beliefs and tactics are straight out of Salem. His strategy is to divide magical beings among themselves by allowing each to choose just one of nine kinds of magic.

If the prescience of this plot doesn’t strike you yet, this may be a good time to check in on a queer person you care about. Or a person of color you care about. Or, just about any woman.


The wolves masquerading as our paternalistic guardians clutch onto their power by trying to control whether people get to transition, marry the ones they love, or end a pregnancy. This forces those at the bottom to fight each other in an effort to stay safely within the system, rather than be wholly ostracized from it, like Eda. Some gay people and straight women have long vilified bisexual people for their alleged indecencies, and now it seems that hating trans people is a bit more fashionable. But while we argue amongst ourselves at the bottom of the hierarchy, those at the top can continue accumulating real power and wealth.

Social commentary in kid’s animation is not new, especially not since Steven Universe steered so directly into the realm of politics with their vision of an authoritarian empire. What is new, at least from my perspective, is the response of the protagonists to the threat. She-Ra and Steven Universe were well-known, and maybe even a little infamous, for reforming their antagonists. The Owl House is exceptional in the way it disposes of its villain: unceremoniously stomping him out. 


To be absolutely clear, I am not advocating for stomping Republicans to death. It’s the “reforming” with which I have become particularly disenchanted. Oppression of marginalized groups is not the product of hurt that needs comforting or trauma that needs healing: it’s the product of being an oppressor. While debate and compassion are worthwhile strategies to bring average bigots to the side of the marginalized, the goal of these actions cannot be the spiritual salvation of the oppressor but the liberation of the oppressed.

Even without the presence of a very well-fleshed-out queer romance in the form of enemies-to-lovers Luz Noceda and Amity Blight, at its core, The Owl House is about protecting the outcast, embracing the strange, and loving proudly.


How Queer

Witches aren’t necessarily gay, but you wouldn’t know that from the way bigots talk about them. As far back as Tituba, the slave woman accused of seducing young white women into Satan-worship and whose death signaled the start of the Salem Witch Trials, queerness and the sexual agency of women are often associated with upset to the natural order: as inexplicable as a spell to confound enemies or a potion that changes the body.

Feminists of the Second and Third Wave have long laid claim to the witch as an archetype of the liberated woman. Those occupations associated with witchcraft, such as midwifery, were demonized by patriarchal hierarchies for the financial and social power they gave women. This knowledge was seen as arcane, and many men were afraid of this force that they couldn’t understand or academize. Despite the alleged feminism of JK Rowling, YouTuber Abigail Thorn actually points to the wizarding world of her creation as antithetical to the egalitarian appeal of magic: an academy where magic can be analyzed and taught (lead by an old, white man, no less) strikes a rather dissonant image from the unexplainable allure of Macbeth’s witches. 


There is no way to untangle Rowling’s influence on the modern cultural conception of the witch, as indeed there is no way to claw her abhorrent ideas about the queer community from discussions of The Owl House. This is for reasons not the least of which being that The Owl House is working its hardest not to let you forget about Rowling or the creator’s feelings about her.

Between the school being called “Hexside School of Magic and Demonics,” the magical-realistic approach to the world-building, and the many, shall we say, pointed allusions to the Harry Potter franchise, the show never hides its awareness of the cultural juggernaut that made magic cool for millennials. These allusions are almost always negative, such as a rather specific rant from Luz about the stupid rules of a game called Grudgby (a goal-based game played on flying staffs), particularly the nonsensical inclusion of a piece called “The Rusty Smidge.” Subtle, Dana.


The Owl House knows full well that it is doing more than telling an entertaining story with beautiful animation and a killer score: it is punching up at an overwhelmingly powerful system that is trying to silence it. Rowling’s worldview has excluded the very backbone of magic from her magical world: the witch doesn’t stand for power and rigid, arbitrary boundaries between people, but for liberation from the restrictive boxes and closets our magic is constrained by.

It’s significant to me that the villain of Terrace’s story attempts to dominate magic by locking witches into just one magical track. It is the multiplicity in variations that make us resilient, appearing in different forms throughout the world and throughout history.

The cancellation of The Owl House may be a victory for the “concerned parents” trying to keep their children in fear and isolation, but it is a Pyrrhic one. Inclusivity and freedom are winning the war over animation.

Shain Slepian is a screenwriter, script consultant, and content creator with a life-long love of animation and media analysis. Their work can be found on MediumLeft Voice, and on their YouTube channel, TimeCapsule. Shain's book, Reframing The Screenwriting Process, is available on Amazon.