Ever since I found Cupcake & Dino General Services on Netflix, it’s been one of the shows where I’ve felt most included as a queer, non-binary person. For those who haven’t seen the animated series, it features a living giant cupcake and his yellow dinosaur brother who provide general services to those who live in Big City. The characters the brothers serve happen to be vegetables, birds, ghosts, jugs of juice, and many, many more. It’s a diverse and colorful world, for sure.
Cupcake & Dino is also unafraid of queer and non-normative representation—for instance, there is a point where Dino, who has always wanted to dress high-femme, is supported by his brother to do just that. And though the series doesn’t include a major character who’s clearly out as non-binary and/or trans, (though it does contain a smaller character who is referred to as they/them,) I can easily imagine that some of these characters are. Honestly, I feel more included and welcomed by Cupcake & Dino than I have with almost any other series.
So of course, when Pedro Eboli, Creator and Director of the show, generously offered to chat with me, I was excited to ask him whether he and his team intended on creating such a welcoming world.
“I don’t know if we thought about the word ‘welcoming’,” he replied, “but the word we would say all the time during development was ‘empathy.’”
Eboli’s response totally clicked for me. Cupcake and Dino clearly live their lives empathically. They take pride in accepting every General Services job they’re offered—be it acting, maintenance, pet-sitting, or being someone’s best boo—because they’re in this to help others, whoever those others turn out to be. To me, it sounds like a perfect recipe for inclusion.
In fact, we could argue that empathy helps to create inclusivity. At Forbes, Janice Gassam Asare, author of the best-selling books Dirty Diversity and The Pink Elephant writes, “When trying to foster a workplace that is equitable and inclusive for all, it is imperative for leaders to be well-trained in inclusive strategies. There is one key trait that all great leaders should possess. Some may call this trait the crème de la crème of all leadership traits: empathy.”
Cupcake and Dino are certainly great leaders. And empathy is clearly an important part of that. “For sure, Cupcake and Dino aren’t the strongest, smartest or most resourceful General Servicers in the Big City,” Eboli told me, “but they are the ones who usually try to connect with others around them—or even when they don’t, they eventually come around to it.”
Cupcake and Dino’s openness to connecting also has the convincing ability to heal. Even the characters who are more shut down seem ultimately changed by the brothers’ attempts to connect. “Our villains aren’t really all that bad,” said Eboli. “They are mostly misguided, grumpy or too full of themselves. They just need a friendly hand, which is all Cupcake and Dino have to offer at the end of the day.”
And isn’t that all most of us need? Isn’t a society that’s open to helping and connecting likely to be more inclusive? Because as a person with a non-normative gender identity, all I need to know before I ask you to honor my pronouns is that you’re willing to help—and Cupcake and Dino clearly are. Helping is their vocation and they take pride in that. They are amazing role models.
I’d live in their world in a heartbeat.
As you may already know, shows like Cupcake & Dino General Services are created through a collaborative process. That process, according to many of the writers involved, often severely lacks diversity and inclusion. If inclusion is lacking during the creative process, true inclusion on the screen is surely more of a challenge. And when Eboli spoke to me about Cupcake & Dino’s development, it was inspiring to see how seriously he took this:
“I loved our crew, our writers, and the conversations we had during production,” said Eboli, adding how important it was to remain open to suggestions from all who were involved. “We let the board artists, animators, voice artists, and musicians all put their personal touch into the project. They all contributed with jokes and moments in their own way. We wanted the show to feel embracing, and for that we needed to embrace different voices in it.” This also paid dividends in terms of how the process felt for Eboli. “It was one of the most rewarding experiences in my career,” he said.
Eboli’s honoring of diverse voices during the creation process reminds me of a conversation I recently had with Jasmine White, the Executive Producer and Creator of the soon-to-be-released Hotline. Hotline is a miniseries about Black trans lawyer Hazel Clarke, played by Ianne Fields Stewart, who’s involvement in a suicide hotline leads to her being suspected of murder. The miniseries is slated for release in 2021. White, who is also in programming and development at Lifetime, told me that Hotline received generous funding from Indya Moore of Pose.
“Though we’re starting to see more on-screen diversity,” White told me when we spoke, “behind the scenes it’s a different story.” (We only have to think about the allegations against Jeffrey Tambor and, more recently, Joss Whedon, to consider what this can mean.) However, White, who was especially committed to casting LGBTQ+ people of color, was determined to keep her diverse team safe. This is why she ensured sensitivity reads of her screenplay—and, during development, required that everyone’s pronouns be honored. Plus, when some folks did not honor the safe space, she had to let them go.
As a non-binary person, I know I’m going to feel included in Hotline—not only because I’ll see trans and non-binary people represented on-screen, but also because of White’s commitment to authenticity.
White added that Hotline’s safe space also created an environment where Hotline’s performers felt able to speak up and share ideas. And from this, came deeply authentic on-screen moments that White could never have predicted. “That’s the authenticity that can come when everyone feels safe to be themselves,” she said.
Pedro Eboli described the episode of Cupcake & Dino called The Grocer’s Creed as “one of the silliest-looking things we’ve done.” In this episode, Cupcake and Dino’s Uncle Chance, a grocer who has always followed The Grocer’s Creed very literally, finds that the rules stop working for him. “In the end,” said Eboli, “he meets the Great Lettuce, this guru-like figure who wrote the creed. She teaches him that he needs to be malleable and adapt the rules to his needs and his life. She teaches him that there are no hard rules.”
Eboli and his team always thought of this as being an episode on religious fundamentalism and how people stick to outdated rules that no longer serve our lives, Eboli said. “We had those conversations,” he told me, “even though the show is about a cupcake and a dinosaur who are siblings.”
Perhaps that’s something else about Cupcake & Dino General Services that makes me feel so included. These are not writers who are afraid to create for society’s greater good. These are stories that the adults of tomorrow need to hear in order to create a better, less rigid, more open world.
My own favorite episode is the pilot, entitled The Manly Men’s Man Club, where the delightfully fey Dino and Cupcake are shamed into growing “manly” mustaches if they want to clean the place. Ultimately, they learn that their own expressions of gender are wonderful and valid—and even give them the power to save the club from an out-of-control mustache. Cupcake’s heroic dancer routine is an absolute delight.
The Manly Men’s Man Club was the first episode of Cupcake & Dino General Services I watched, and it provides me with all I need—the reassurance that, whatever our gender or presentation, or however we feel we don’t fit, we are valid and wonderful.
If that isn’t inclusive, I don’t know what is.
You can watch Cupcake & Dino General Services here and keep up-to-date with the Hotline’s release here. Also check out my blog ChuckleDuck.life for more great quotes from Pedro Eboli.