In the past year, Netflix has canceled several of its more diverse original series, leaving audiences to question who the Netflix executives deem as worth of inclusion, as well as how those decisions are made. Among the shows canceled, two of the most diverse and beloved are Sense8 and The Get Down. The former, a science fiction show highlighting the telepathic connection between eight strangers from seven countries, including a transgender woman from San Francisco, a gay actor from Mexico, a Hindu woman from India, and a high-stakes thief from Berlin. The show explores issues of class, race, gender, sexuality, and more, making it one of the most diverse shows to become internationally viral. The Get Down also received praise for its diversity, centering on a group of friends living in the Bronx during the late 1970’s. “The characters consist of creative, young Lantix, Afro-Lantix, black, and queer individuals who [are] likeable and a source of positivity in the New York borough during and undeniably rough time” (Jones, 2017).
The official reasoning behind the cancellation of these shows is that they were too expensive (which, admittedly, has some credit as the budgets for Sense8 and The Get Down were $108 million and $120 million respectively) and that the “hit ratio” was too high, but many are wondering if that is the full story (Trowbridge 2017). It is worth noting how both diverse shows were cancelled quite close together despite the critical acclamations of both series. In considering these cancellations, it is important to note that another famously diverse show, Orange is the New Black (OITNB), continues to air, with its sixth season expected to be released this June. While many people have been using the argument that, because OITNB is still on air, it can be seen as proof that the diverse story lines of Sense8 and The Get Down are not the reason for their cancellations, I argue that this is not an accurate argument.
While both Sense8 and The Get Down center around the lives and stories of people belonging to minorities from the point of view of those minorities, OITNB does not necessarily follow suit. In an interview with National Public Radio’s Terry Gross, Jenji Kohan, creator of OITNB, stated that
“… Piper was my Trojan Horse. You’re not going to get into a network and sell a show on really fascinating tales of black women, and Latina women, and old women and criminals… It’s a hard sell to just go in and try to sell those stories initially. The girl next door, the cool blonde, is a very easy access point, and it’s relatable for a lot of audiences and a lot of networks looking for a certain demographic” (Kohan 2013, quoted in O’Sullivan 2016, 401).
Given the success of Sense8 and The Get Down, both also Netflix original series, it is clear that this “Trojan Horse” argument is unnecessary. O’Sullivan argues that “Kohan’s explanation of the white supremacist logic embedded within television production is deeply troubling, especially in relation to her usage of the term “criminals” in the same sequence as “black women” and “Latina women” (2016, 402). Considering the shockingly real statistics that “African American women are three times more likely than white women to be incarcerated, while Hispanic women are 69 percent more likely than white women to be incarcerated” (Ajinkya quoted in O’Sullivan 402-403), it is crucial to ask why, then, as a white, upper-middle class woman is needed to approach the stories of the women who are so much more often being affected by the prison industrial complex. Mohadesa Najum, quoted in O’Sullivan’s article, reflects this question, remarking that
“The WoC [women of color] in the show each possess their own deeply moving stories. Yet, what is needed to bring them to the forefront is a WASP protagonist who appropriates WoC stories for television audiences… Why do we need an archetypal white woman to make the stories of WoC appealing and worthy of television?” (Najum quoted in O’Sullivan 2016, 401).
While some argue that it is a stretch to say that the canceled shows were targeted due to their diversity, it is important to not rule this out as a possibility and to consider the consequences of the cancellations. Vox reporter, Kaylin Jones points this out, noting that
“it isn’t often that minority and marginalized fans can find themselves in characters. They… settle for the characters and the storylines they are given because they have to. For them, it’s more than just the show getting cancelled. It is often times seeing characters they relate to and characters that look like them get erased, no matter what the reason is. It sends out this message that the stories of groups who sit on the outskirts of societal norms don’t matter” (Jones 2017).
Jones, K. (2017, June 07). Netflix cancels two beautifully diverse shows, and we’re not happy about it. Retrieved December 08, 2017, from http://www.voxmagazine.com/arts/tv/netflix-cancels-two-beautifully-diverse-shows-and-we-re-not/article_c9316eee-4bb9-11e7-9ec1-73c316fc45b9.html
O’Sullivan, S. (2016). Who Is Always Already Criminalized? An Intersectional Analysis of Criminality on Orange Is the New Black. The Journal of American Culture, 39(4), 401-412. doi:10.1111/jacc.12637
Trowbride, C. (June 27, 2017). Twitter Wonders Why Netflix Has Canceled Several of Its Most Diverse Shows. Retrieved December 08, 2017, from http://www.zimbio.com/TV+News/articles/fQAXSF0f9BG/Twitter+Wonders+Netflix+Canceled+Several+Most