The Dragon Prince is an animated fantasy show and Netflix Original, set on a continent divided in two. To the east are the magical lands of Xadia, home to elves, dragons, and elemental magic called primal magic. To the west are the human kingdoms, a race cast out of Xadia when unable to perform primal magic, they learnt to do dark magic instead.
The history of the continent is steeped in revenge, retribution and anger. The two races are constantly acting in response to the other which has led to the deaths of many of the main character’s loved ones before the series begins. This cycle of revenge and anger only begins to break when moonshadow elf Rayla, and human princes Ezran and Callum discover that a dragon egg, which would be the Dragon Prince upon hatching, has not been destroyed by Ezran and Callum’s Father, King Harrow, as they were told, but is being held in the castle. Together the three of them vow to return it to the Dragon Queen in hopes that it will prevent another war between the two races.
The Dragon Prince, at its core, is about how the mistakes of one generation are passed down to the next. A lot of the character development and plot comes from the characters coming to terms with the actions of their parents, and their relationship with them. More accurately, however, the show focuses on the actions of their fathers. Every character’s mother in the show is dead or has left. Even though by the end of episode one King Harrow is also dead, leaving only one father still alive, the show still heavily revolves around them through flashbacks and conversations, with the mothers getting significantly less influence over the character’s lives.
Before delving further into why this is a problem, it would be unfair firstly, to not point out that there is by no means a lack of female characters in the show. The women in the show are written thoughtfully and have some of the best character arcs in the series. They get to be heroes and villains, kind, funny, sad, and angry. But they don’t get to be mothers or to explore their relationship with them.
Secondly, the character’s mothers are not completely forgotten. Callum and Ezran’s mother, Queen Sarai does have her death and the consequences of it explored over two episodes and she has a significant impact in an episode where Callum is learning about his magical ability. Similarly, in the third season, the true fate of Rayla’s parents are revealed. However, the children of the dark mage Virin, Claudia and Soren have the absence of their Mother explained only briefly, and expanded on a little in the novelisation of the show. Additionally, Rayla’s caregiver after the death of her parents is a man, and King Harrow is mentioned in nearly every episode, if not shown in a flashback.
In terms of the story, this makes sense. The Princes don’t even know King Harrow is dead until later in the series and so the show takes place as they are grieving. However, the fact that the decisions were made by the writers of which parents would be the focus of the story, and they all ended up being the fathers is very telling. The show has a problem with depicting motherhood, and there’s no other way to put it.
There could be a couple of reasons that led to this. The first being that the creators of the show are men and so writing about men and fatherhood may feel more natural to them – Aaron Ehasz who created the show and worked on Avatar the Last Airbender explained in a series of tweets how his step-father was the inspiration for both Uncle Iroh in ATLA and King Harrow in The Dragon Prince. Although this may be a reason, it’s not a good excuse. It shows a lack of diversity in those selected to write for the show, and lack of critical thinking about their own biases when it comes to writing. If the people writing the show don’t feel like they could write story lines about the motherhood well, they should hire people who can. Diversifying writers rooms can only lead to better, more nuanced storytelling, as well as paving the way for more marginalized people to find a place in these spaces they’ve been excluded from for so long.
The second reason that seems a possibility is in trying to create a reflection of our world – one where our planet is being destroyed by governments and corporations where men are far more likely to be in positions of power, the show is trying to make a point about how many of the problems have arisen from the actions of men. Whilst this isn’t a bad theme to explore, doing so at the expense of telling women’s stories is still contributing to the problem of sexism in storytelling. It robs us of stories about mothers, what they will do for their children and their own feelings and roles in the history of the world.
A simple solution to this would have simply been to replace some of the surviving dads with mums. There’s no reason Harrow couldn’t have died leaving Queen Sarai to rule, or why Claudia and Soren’s mother couldn’t have been the one to raise them, or why Rayla’s caregiver after her parents’ deaths couldn’t have been a woman. Failing this, simply giving the characters more time to reflect on their absent mothers as they do their absent fathers could also solve this issue. This feels particularly vital for Claudia, who’s own explanation about where her mother is, is short, but reveals deep scars and emotional trauma that are the basis of the choices she makes at the end of season three.
Luckily, the show has been renewed for four more seasons. This leaves plenty of time for the writers to change things. Hopefully, in future episodes we’ll begin to see how the character’s mothers have shaped their children’s lives as much as we have their fathers. In a fantasy world, there shouldn’t be any room for the sexism of everyday life. If there’s space for dragons, elves and magic, then there’s space for motherhood as well.