Move over diamonds; it seems like Dinosaurs are a girl’s best friend. At least, that’s the case for Lunella Lafayette (Diamond White) in Marvel’s Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur. Based on the comic book of the same name, the series follows Lunella, a Black 13-year-old Manhattanite who uses her genius to accidentally conjure up a giant red Devil Dinosaur (Fred Tatasciore) through a time portal she’s created. Luckily for Lunella, and the entire Lower East Side neighborhood, she befriends the prehistoric creature and uses their unique partnership to fight crime in the area under the moniker of Moon Girl.
Another unique thing about the animated show, brought to life by actor Laurence Fishburne and producer Helen Sugland, is that it makes Marvel history for featuring the first Black female lead character in a Marvel television show. Lunella’s onscreen debut further adds to the recent strides and inclusivity that Marvel has made in continuing to showcase tech-loving and family-orientated Black females in films like Black Panther and the upcoming Ironheart series.
“Just the fact that we have to quantify this by saying that statement alone means that it’s been a long time coming, and this needed to happen,” supervising producer Rodney Clouden said. “Just to have a character like Lunella as Moon Girl, a young Black girl that’s into STEM and she’s about her family and the community, that model of one girl can make a difference. It’s a big thing that she’s a 13-year-old girl who happens to be a superhero, but she’s not just her superpower; her brain is her superpower.”
Here, showrunner and executive producer Steve Loter and Clouden discuss the importance of representation, playing in the Marvel character sandbox, and their inspirations for the series.
DEADLINE: How did Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur come to life? Did Laurence Fishburne first approach you? Or did all of you work together to pitch this show to Disney?
STEVE LOTER: It all started with Laurence Fishburne in a comic book store [laughs]. He loves comic books and fell in love with Marvel’s Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur because he had read [the original 1970s comic] Moon Boy and Devil Dinosaur when he was younger. He then went to his producing partner, Helen Sugland, at Cinema Gypsy, the amazing company that’s produced Black-ish, Grown-ish, Mixed-ish, and said, “I think this needs to be an animated show.” And Helen agreed. So calls were made to Disney and Marvel, and when Cinema Gypsy calls, you take the call [laughs]. And everyone agreed, “Yeah, this is an amazing idea for an animated series.” So, they just moved forward and said, “We need to make this.”
DEADLINE: Moon Girl is the first Black female lead character in a Marvel superhero show. This is historic. What does that mean for you to bring this iteration of the character to life?
RODNEY CLOUDEN: It means a lot. Just the fact that we have to quantify this by saying that statement alone means that it’s been a long time coming, and this needed to happen. Just to have a character like Lunella as Moon Girl, a young Black girl that’s into STEM and she’s about her family and the community, that model of one girl can make a difference. It’s a big thing that she’s a 13-year-old girl who happens to be a superhero, but she’s not just her superpower; her brain is her superpower. So, we wanted to spotlight that aspect of it and the ingenuity she uses to make something out of nothing with her gadgets to fight crime. She’s a role model someone else can admire and aspire to. So that’s why it’s really important, especially having her debut during Black History Month.
DEADLINE: It’s cool to see that certain episodes center around hyper-specific issues within Black culture. For example, in the episode where Lunella struggles to love her natural hairstyle and resorts to making a damaging chemical relaxer. Can you discuss the balance between making some specific cultural narratives and more universal ones?
LOTER: Starting off, representation matters. And that’s something Laurence said at the beginning of the production that I think resonated heavily, you know? You can’t be what you can’t see. And I thought that was a really important message for us to go into the production of making the show with that in mind. We also looked at Lunella as a 13-year-old with relatable teen problems because, as she’s growing up, intelligence does not equate to wisdom. So, she’s going through issues and problems that we all have faced as 13-year-olds, and each episode was thematically geared to be about that. For instance, there is an episode about impatience and another about jealousy. We explore that through her lens, but again, it’s something that we’ve all felt and have had to happen in our lives, but we would then find the villain of that particular episode to mirror that same thematic element. So her real-world adventures were reflecting her superhero adventures. But it was really important for us, like Rodney had mentioned, to ensure that we had deep storytelling. We wanted something relatable and emotional, but it was vital that it had to be through the lens of Lunella Lafayette.
CLOUDEN: To add more about the specificity of things, she is a Black girl. If she was a Latina girl or an Asian girl, there are certain specificities that you can lean on to tell the story, but the subject matter is universal. So, it’s just that it’s the same story, just in a different package. I think the specificity is good just because of being authentic in representing a particular segment of society. Still, the story is universal and relatable to everyone, and I think that makes it work. As for the hair episode, every time we go into a subject, we’re trying to see how we can address that visually or written in a unique way and not just the base thing that you’ve seen before.
DEADLINE: Considering this is a show for a younger audience, was there anything challenging about differentiating between comic book material and the show? Was there a challenge you faced with adapting any particular character?
LOTER: We love the comic book and its authors and artists, Amy Reeder, Brandon Montclare, and Natacha Bustos. The work that they’ve done was an inspiration and a springboard for the show, obviously. But when you retranslate anything into a different medium, it tends to change and transform into what that medium requires. So, though the comic was a launching pad, we recognized early on that though it is made primarily for a kid’s market, we wanted to make it four quadrants. My experience in feature films really opened my eyes to being able to make something that would be for everybody, including parents and kids. You want to bring up subjects within the narrative that can spark a conversation between parents and children, so it was really important for me to make sure that there was enough narrative engagement to bring the whole family to the table.
CLOUDEN: With how the writers wrote the scripts and how we handled specific [topics], we made sure to respect our audience no matter what age you are. For example, my son is 10, and he’s pretty savvy in terms of understanding storylines and things like that, and I think there are a lot of kids that are pretty savvy too. As Steve said, we craft the script in a way that leads to discussion, and we didn’t want to “dumb down” the show, so to speak. Through the writing, the art, and even the music, we wanted to make it a sophisticated and elevated children’s program.
DEADLINE: One of the characters you’ve adapted differently from the comics is the Beyonder, played here as a sing-songy flashy, charismatic man voiced by Laurence Fishburne. Considering that he’s also such an obscure character, how did he end up in the series as a fun new addition?
LOTER: Well, it’s funny because the Beyonder was a suggestion by Kevin Feige himself, who thought that would be a perfect foil for Lunella to deal with. And we are all huge Marvel fans. We grew up with the comic books, and we love the movies and the TV shows, so the opportunity to play in that sandbox is incredible. But because we’ve been fans for a long time, we have a vast knowledge of obscure Marvel characters. So, as we were making this show, we thought, “Oh, wouldn’t it be great to pull some characters that we grew up with that may be obscure, that maybe Marvel hasn’t done a lot with yet, and put them in the show.” Not only to give them their moment in the sun, but to give them the opportunity to be the right character for the right story narratively.
CLOUDEN: The Beyonder may not be well known to some of the folks who are not in the layman of comic books, but he’s a major character in the Secret Wars comic books. So, if you’re into comic books and Marvel lore, he’s a big deal. But we had a chance to put our spin on it and our take on his character, making him a little more fun and mercurial. And then, when you add Laurence’s performance to it, he brings a certain element of fun and gravitas to it, mischievousness and danger. A little dangerous… the man is dangerous. He’s very powerful. He may be fun. He comes off as fun and playful, but he can do a lot with a snap of his finger.
DEADLINE: The animation style also reflects this energetic vibrancy and graffiti style; what were some of the influences here?
LOTER: Spider-Verse was inspirational in opening the doors to being more creative and risk-taking and pushing the envelope of design in music and animation. We were looking and asking ourselves, “How can we do that? How can we do our own Spider-Verse?” But not copying it, we wanted to put our own flag in the sand, and we also wanted to do it on a TV budget. But we wanted to have something that stood out from the crowd and thinking about what New York is. How do we represent New York in the best way? And we have this comic book material, so we have to marry that aspect of what is New York and represent this comic book in the best light.
CLOUDEN: We started to draw from the influence of pop art like Basquiat, Andy Warhol, and Keith Haring, and the graffiti style and the comic book style. And then a little bit of Marc Hempel, a comic book artist, and UPA and Saul Bass. The show has a broad variety mixture of old and new influences. There are different influences of abstract art, so we all threw that in a blender and then made that happen. You can see it with the backgrounds; you have the textures, the layers, the half-tones, and all that, plus the pen and ink style and the spotted black dots on the characters. We think those styles marry each other, not compete against each other. And then with the animation style, you have a combination of the zippy and poppy, and then you’ll have moments where you need to focus on the dialogue or the danger of the situation, and we slow it down, and it’s a little bit more fluid. And adding the modernness of the emoji pop-ups to signify communication was cool.
DEADLINE: What do you hope audiences get out of this show?
LOTER: I love the show, the message, and that families can watch it together. And I think that the show is really inspirational. I believe having Lunella Lafayette, the first African-American teen girl superhero on the scene whose superpower is her brain is an important moment in time. I think that the art style is engaging. I think the music is crazy good. Raphael Saadiq is our music executive producer, and I think he’s elevated the material to a place we never dreamed it could ever be. So, I think it’s got something for everyone because what Disney and Marvel do so well is they do stories with great action, great comedy, and a ton of heart, and it really feels like you’re on a wonderful adventure.
CLOUDEN: Yeah, and it’s Black girl magic. We need to see more of it, and I think that everyone will be able to see Lunella and relate to her problems and situations. The show’s for everybody from eight to 80, and I think everyone will get something from it no matter who watches it.
Marvel’s Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur is currently airing episodically on the Disney Channel and will stream on Disney+ starting Feb.15
[This interview has been edited for length and clarity]
Must Read Stories
Subscribe to Deadline Breaking News Alerts and keep your inbox happy.