Netflix. We know it, we love it. Until we didn’t. Recently, it seems like as soon as you binge watch the first season of a new Netflix original and fall in love with it, it gets cancelled. We tend to blame other shows that needed to die back in 2018 like Riverdale but honestly, we need to blame the source. Netflix.
It might be the number one streaming service in the world, but Netflix has slowly become its own worst enemy.
Netflix prides itself on being the pinnacle of diversity and inclusion, in reality, Netflix and its entire brand are the CEO’s of performative activism. Recently, Netflix has shifted towards YA series depicting more progressive and inclusive storylines. Many of those shows, like The Society and Grand Army, are celebrated by viewers for the positive representation of underrepresented groups. Funnily enough, both shows were cancelled after one season after leaving fans waiting for an absurd amount of time, despite heavy promotion and large fan bases.
The repetitive cycle of binging an 8 episode series and then finding out it won’t be renewed is killing the loyalty of viewers. On twitter, I have seen so many fandoms vow to delete their Netflix accounts and move elsewhere because Netflix cancelled their favourite show but announces the release of a Hype House documentary in the same week! Many fandoms rally on social media, sign petitions and contact Netflix directly, all in hopes of getting their favourite shows renewed.
Netflix has been known to bury or refuse to promote their diverse shows. When we open the Netflix app, all the originals are in plain sight, they’re easy to find. To contrast, Sense8, a Netflix original, received no promotion and myself and many others had never heard about it until news of its cancellation. Sense8 was probably one of the more diverse and inclusive shows I had ever seen. It had BIPOC and LGBTQ2+ representation. When browsing through the Netflix home page, I was only able to find it if I searched through the deep depths of Netflix originals or searching it up. Yes, searching is easy, but if Netflix buries a show, how could anyone know exactly what to type in the search bar?
The issue with incessant cancelling and failing to promote diverse shows and movies gives the impression that Netflix just wants to bring in and bait the viewers who value progression in media, but they don’t supply adequate resources needed to continue the stories of BIPOC, LGBTQ2+, and other minority groups.
Other shows with minority representation like I Am Not Okay With This, GLOW, and The Society were all cancelled, even after their renewal was confirmed, due to the pandemic. While the pandemic was hard for many industries, the cancellation of these shows sent the message that when the going gets tough, Netflix doesn’t feel like these shows are worthy of saving.
Another instance I’ve noticed is with the casting of Black characters, more specifically Black female characters. For the past few years in shows like I Am Not Okay With This and Outerbanks, the Black female characters are usually light skin and biracial, while the Black male characters are a mix, but usually dark skin. Netflix has been following this pattern for a long while. The lack of diversity when it comes to casting Black women perpetuates colourism and takes away much-needed representation from darker-skinned or monoracial Black girls by holding biracial/light skin Black women as the standard. In Bridgerton, one of Netflix’s most popular shows, all the main Black women were light skin and biracial. The few dark skin female characters were background actresses with no storyline or dialogue.
To make matters worse, Culture Xchange reported that Netflix ranks last among 10 studios for its diversity of film and TV directors. Compared to the industry average, 38%, Netflix only had 29% of episodes directed by women and people of colour. A majority of the major, successful pictures on Netflix are accredited to white, mostly male, directors, writers and producers. It does not matter how seemingly diverse the cast is, inclusion begins behind the screen. It is important that people of colour have the opportunity to tell the stories of people of colour, and women have the opportunity to tell the stories of women. Otherwise, we run the danger of exploitation or appropriation.
An example of the importance of having POC behind the scenes can be found in the recent release of Netflix’s new YA original, Shadow and Bone. Disclaimer, I loved this show and I am no way bashing it– I am bashing Netflix. Shadow and Bone did an excellent job with having diverse characters in their main cast with 4 out of 7 being POC. Just to name a few, Jessie Mei Li is half chinese, and Amita Suman and Archie Renaux are both Desi. These diverse characters helped the show create positive representation on screen; however, that representation stayed only on screen.
Amita Suman plays Inej Ghafa, a multi-talented spy who is a part of a group called ‘The Crows’. It was revealed that the stunt double hired to perform a scene for Suman was actually a white woman in brown face. Instead of hiring a Desi/Indian stunt actress, they perpetuated tone-deaf behaviour, the same behaviour that Netflix seemingly speaks out against.
Many fans, including myself, were shocked to hear this. It was explained as a booking/time/money issue, and yes, of course, show business is a business. But when Netflix prides itself on allyship and progression, and when POC have always been at a disadvantage when getting roles in acting, it’s disheartening.
Netflix has always prioritized views and if a certain show pulls in the most revenue, then that’s the one they will keep renewing until the writers run out of crappy content. Shows and movies like Riverdale, Insatiable, and The Kissing Booth series (where the cast members are predominately white) are renewed, promoted, and pushed to the front of the homepage. Once promoted, people inevitably watch these shows (no matter how bad) and create buzz on social media, and that’s when the views and money rolls in. How can diverse and inclusive shows, movies, and writers compete with the ease at which these shows are renewed?
With the success and rise of other streaming platforms such as Hulu and Disney+, I think Netflix should be playing it safe. The constant cycle of cancellation, burying of shows, and lack of diversity behind the scene is a form of self-sabotage. If Netflix wants us to believe that they prioritize the viewers and truly want change, they need to act like it. Netflix, do better :/
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