Voltron and the Fight to Make Shiro Queer

Putting Shiro in a relationship with another man took several years of attempts before it finally made it to screen in Voltron Season 7.

This article contains Voltron season 7 spoilers.

At a packed hall in San Diego Comic-Con in July of 2018, Voltron fans held their breath in amazement as it confirmed that Shiro, the leader of the Voltron paladins, was queer. We were introduced to Shiro’s former significant other, Adam, in a flashback. It was a huge moment for the series and its fans, who had desperately been hoping for explicit queer representation in the series.

Bringing that representation to the show was a long journey that started near the beginning of the series’ production.

“It was something that’s been in Shiro’s character basically from the start,” explains executive producer Joaquim Dos Santos. While it was never expressly decided how Shiro or even Adam identify, Dos Santos prefers to say, “They’re in a relationship. I think that’s where they identify.”

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(Note: Throughout this article, we will be referring to Shiro as queer, an umbrella term for the community as a whole.)

Executive producer Lauren Montgomery goes on to add that the important thing for them was to, “allow the fans to see what they want to see. We didn’t wanna put anyone in a corner where other people feel like they are not represented.”

That representation didn’t come to the series easily. While the Shiro/Adam scene took place at the start of Voltron season 7 it had originally been planned for season two. Speaking at San Diego Comic-Con, Dos Santos and Montgomery revealed that the flashback was originally supposed to take place in that season’s premiere episode. They later explained to Den of Geek that the season two premiere was supposed to be just Keith and Shiro on the deserted planet interspersed with flashbacks to the Garrison. In fact the first few episode of season two would have included flashbacks for more of the team, according to Montgomery.

“There was a whole episode with Keith and Shiro on the deserted planet with flashbacks,” Montgomery says. “Early on we wanted to take a little more time with (the Paladins) back-stories. We’d have an episode with Hunk and Lance on the mermaid planet. An episode that was split between Allura and Coran with the wormhole and then Pidge on the trash nebula with some flashbacks too where saw her family and what they were like.”

Much of the material in these flashbacks made it into later episodes, including the season seven premiere. This is why May Chan, a writer who hadn’t been with Voltron for several seasons, was given credit for the premiere. She had worked on those initial flashbacks with Shiro.

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“We went back and revisited a lot of the stuff that she had written for that original episode,” explains Montgomery. ”It was important for her to have the credit for the work she had done.”

While the original scripts had been finished they ultimately weren’t recorded because of fears from higher ups in DreamWorks about needing to have the Voltron robot and Lions in every episode.

“We had two episodes (at the start of season two),” remembers Montgomery. “It was Hunk and Lance on the mermaid planet and the other episode that caught you up with the other main characters and what they were doing in that time. No flashbacks, no back stories.”

“It’s understandable (about the lack of flashbacks) since the series was pretty new,” adds Dos Santos.

It makes sense that Shiro’s flashback was supposed to take place so early on in the series since he was originally supposed to die at the end of season two. If the original plan had gone through and Shiro hadn’t eventually returned, the Voltron producers state they would have introduced another queer character.

However they were forced to bring Shiro back instead of killing him off so more toys of the character could be sold. Once they found out Shiro wasn’t going to die, Dos Santos says “we knew we could kind of hold off on this reveal (of his former significant other).”

It made interactions with some Voltron fans tense over the next few seasons, many asking if there would be explicit queer representation in the series. No one on the cast and crew confirmed or denied it, which frustrated some fans to no end. Montgomery compares it to how they originally kept the fact that Pidge was a girl in this version of the series a secret.

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“It’s similar here where we know it’s coming and we know people are gonna be upset because they haven’t seen it yet,” Montgomery says. “We just hope on the back end they’ll forgive us.”

So Shiro’s flashback with Adam was held off until the seventh season where even then it was a fight to get it included. In an interview with Inverse, Shiro actor Josh Keaton recalls the scene between Adam and Shiro “almost wasn’t going to happen.”

Alternate takes were recorded of Shiro and Adam talking to each other that were less explicit about their relationship, Keaton remembers. One of these alternate takes was discovered by fans on the English Auto Description track for Netflix, which can be watched below. In it Adam refers to Shiro as his “flight partner” and “best friend.” 

— Voltron News & Updates (@vld_news) August 11, 2018

This version was more than likely added to Netflix by accident, as descriptive audio often has to be worked on way in advance. The cast, crew, and even the public relations team at DreamWorks fought for the inclusion of the audio that more explcitly made their realationship clear and won that battle.

After the scene was screened at San Diego Comic-Con a wave of gratitude and positive news coverage came from Voltron fans across the board. Many were excited to see more of Shiro and Adam, many hoping the two would have more screentime together. Some of this was fueled by misleading banners Netflix had created for the season which included photos of Shiro and Adam together. It should be noted Netflix itself controls those banners and the Voltron creative team have zero control over them

Montgomery and Dos Santos however were careful not to promise anything with the two characters. After all, Shiro and Adam had already broken up in the flashback. Instead in interviews with the press Montgomery and Dos Santos focused on how positive it was that the series had a confirmed queer character in Shiro.

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Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, Montgomery focused on how Shiro’s sexuality wouldn’t change his story arc. “[Shiro] being a gay man hasn’t changed anything of what he’s done in the show up to this point and it’s not gonna change anything that he’s gonna do in the future,” she said.

Dos Santos pointed out just how far TV has come with characters in shows that are meant for young boys, drawing comparisons to contemparoy 80s series when the original Voltron was airing.

“When we look at that lineup and we see that Shiro is clearly the more G.I. Joe-type character, the hyper-masculine soldier guy, he’s still very much that guy. We just love that. We think that’s the coolest thing in the world. If you’re talking to the 1980s toy execs who are like, ‘Yeah, this is the guy who all the boys are gonna like. He’s gonna shoot all the guns!’ And he still is! He’s still that guy and he’s gay and he’s our Shiro.”

Even with that focus on the triumph of positive representation in Shiro, many fans were still let down when Adam was killed off in season 7 before Shiro even returned to Earth. It was all the more heartbreaking that Adam’s final words to Shiro were that if Shiro went on the mission, Adam wouldn’t be waiting for him. When asked if that was intentional foreshadowing to Adam’s death the executive producers flatly deny it.

“It was just him saying, dude we’re not longer together if you make this decision,” says Dos Santos. “(It) had nothing to do with him foreshadowing his own death. He didn’t know.”

When asked why Adam was killed off, Dos Santos focuses on how it was meant to help further the story. “We needed to set the stakes up for why the Galra were such a threat to Earth.”

Montgomery adds that the decision was obviously not made specifically to kill Adam, “it just happened because that’s what this story is. There’s an invasion and people have to fight back. If (the Paladins) had come back to Earth and everything was hunky dory and Adam just happened to die off screen I would definitely be more pissed but this is a show where lives have routinely been given for this cause. Admiral Sanda, Ulaz, plenty of the Blade of Marmora, and the rebels. So it’s not uncommon for characters to give their lives fighting against the Galra.” 

While it’s understandable that some fans are outraged about Adam’s death and the lack of screentime for Shiro and Adam together, it all needs to be viewed in context. It took years for the confirmation of Shiro’s sexuality to make it to screen and it involved a lot of battles to even get what we did.

While more can be done for positive representation of queer characters, especially not killing them off, Adam’s death doesn’t negate all the hard work the Voltron team accomplished in their journey to get queer characters on screen. Even if Adam is dead, Shiro is still there and he’s still incredibly positive representation. 

A queer disabled man of color is rare in TV in general, let alone in animation that’s marketed to kids. It’s still a step in the right direction.

Shamus Kelley is a pop culture/television writer and official Power Rangers expert. Follow him on Twitter!  

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