Erika Scheimer and the Legacy of She-Ra
If you grew up during the 1970s and ‘80s, you're part of the Filmation generation. The animation studio brought American viewers some of the most popular TV shows— like Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, and She-Ra: Princess of Power. It not only left a lasting impression on the kids who watched these programs, but also secured for itself a place in pop culture history.
Erika Scheimer, however, had a unique connection to this generation. Daughter of Filmation founder Lou Scheimer, she experienced the Filmation phenomenon from the inside, and eventually provided voices for a variety of characters in many of the studio’s cartoons. It was while working on She-Ra—both as the Assistant Recording Director for the show as well as voicing Frosta, Queen Angela, Imp, and Loo-Kee the colorful elf who delivered a moral message at the end of each episode— that Erika helped shape one of the biggest animated gay icons of all time. Then in 2007 Erika surprised fans when she revealed she was a lesbian and had been living happily with her partner, Amy, for many years in southern California.
Gay.net recently spoke with Erika about her role in shaping the Princess of Power, being a part of the Filmation legacy, and why she’s not surprised to hear drag queens are dressing up as She-Ra.
Gay.net: A lot of people think that the idea for She-Ra came from Mattel, but the show was actually conceived at Filmation, wasn’t it?
Erika Scheimer: Yes, the original idea came from my dad. He felt that He-Man needed a sister because it was important for young girls—and gay boys—to have someone to look up to. However, Mattel was not as gung-ho about it because they were focused on the toy line. But my dad really felt strongly about creating a show for girls that was still fun for guys, and when He-Man was a success he said, “We’ve got to bring in the sister.”
You voiced many of the characters in She-Ra. How did that come about?
I was the voiceover director and I cast the show as well, but because of our budget we had a limited number of actors we could use. So any time there were more characters than actors it was up to my dad or I to fill in.
Of course, that also meant that when the writers wanted to give us a hard time they’d just bump up those characters because they knew one of us would be doing it, but it was all in good fun and in the end it helped flesh out the show.
Did you have a favorite?
I will say I loved Imp. When I saw that little character I knew I could really get in there with that voice and have a lot of fun.
What has the fan reaction been like since you came out in a 2007?
I had been out to my friends and family for years before that, but I haven’t had much of a reaction from the fans. Everyone I meet is so warm and friendly. I certainly haven’t experienced anything negative, that’s for sure.
Did your association with Filmation’s legacy make it difficult to come out publicly?
Growing up my dad always taught me honesty was the best policy. So when it came up, I just thought, “Why not? I’m not ashamed of it and neither are my parents."
Plus, there were a lot of talented gay people working at Filmation. Even my dad would probably say he was gay in another life. He loves everybody and he’s always kissing on girls and boys alike. So it wasn’t difficult and I was happy to do it.
She-Ra has become a huge gay icon since she debuted in 1985. What do you think it is about her that speaks to a queer audience?
I think she’s a great feminist, frankly, and she carries on in the tradition of Gloria Steinem. I think that’s appealing to all of us minorities out there. It’s also the humanity of She-Ra. She’s a real three-dimensional character with flaws. She’s a superhero, but she’s accessible and I think it’s because of that, her humanity, that she’s stolen everybody’s heart.
In the past few years I’ve seen a number of drag queens dress up as She-Ra.
I remember a few years ago when we were at Comic-Con promoting the release of She-Ra on DVD, one gay fan I spoke with told me that She-Ra changed his life. He felt that because of her, he finally found a role model that spoke to him and gave him a sense of freedom. So, I’m not surprised.
Women and gay people have to go through a lot and we know what it's like to be labeled and told you can’t be one thing or another. I think She-Ra breaks that mold and she speaks to boys every bit as much as she does girls.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the show was a bit campy. Names like Castaspella, Mermista, Madam Razz, and Shadow Weaver were tailor-made for drag queens.
Yes! It’s camp and it’s fun. Let’s not forget about Bow in his little tights. Was he in the closet? [Laughs.] I can see how people watch it now and pick up on things like that. I think it’s a wonderful tradition that continues. I say, “Go for it, boys! Use it all!”
Do you think there’s room in She-Ra’s world for a gay character?
I absolutely do and there’s room in He-Man’s world too. If we were doing it today and if I had any say in it, we absolutely would introduce a gay character.
It’s wonderful to hear you say that because many people argue that “family friendly” shows can’t include gay characters.
Gays are part of families, too. So what’s the big deal? People need to get over it because it’s time for us to get on with it.
Knowing what you know now, would you have done anything differently on She-Ra?
There isn’t anything I would have done differently; I just wish we could’ve done more episodes. I’m so proud of everything we did with both He-Man and She-Ra. It really all came from the heart and wanting to do the best job we could with the limited resources we had. Of course it would’ve been great to fill out the animation a little more, but because of the stock system we devised we were able to keep all the work here in America and train new artists. So there isn’t a single thing I would change.
Is there a memory of yours that stands out from your time at Filmation?
Writing the song "I Have the Power" and getting to make a music video for it is one of my favorite memories from my time working there.
I wrote the song for the main title of the film that introduced She-Ra, The Secret of the Sword. I was already excited to do it, but when we got the opportunity to produce a music video for the song I was ecstatic. It was a labor of love for which I have been rewarded a million-fold because the fans actually did love the song and the video!
As a matter of fact, I am proud to say that I have even heard of fans using the song in their weddings. For me, this just proves that He-Man and She-Ra have the best fans in the world!
See the music video for "I Have the Power," along with an introduction from Erika, below.