Controversial Netflix Cancellations

Controversial Netflix Cancellations

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Is sapphic media being erased?

Ridhi Balani, Contributor

Many people have probably experienced the pain of finishing the first season of a show and then waiting impatiently for the second season announcement, only for it to be cancelled. It is a very specific type of pain. Recently, this specific pain seems to be disproportionately attached to media with queer women as main characters.

I Am Not Okay With This, First Kill, Gentleman Jack, Batwoman, and Warrior Nun are just some of the many examples of recently cancelled shows that feature relationships between two women, despite each garnering decent success with their existing seasons. However, these cancellations do not seem to be targeted at queer media in general. To illustrate, GLAAD did a Where We Are on TV report for 2021-2022, detailing the representation trends of different groups in TV. The report found an overall increase in queer characters on streaming platforms, with shows like Heartstopper, Grace and Frankie, Derry Girls, Young Royals, Sex Education, etc. Still, there was a notable decrease in lesbian representation for the fifth consecutive year. 

This clear pattern of women-loving-women-focused shows being erased more so than men-loving-men-focused shows can be illustrated by comparing the first-season viewerships and company responses for Heartstopper (a show centered on a relationship between two men) and First Kill (a show centered on a relationship between two women). Both shows were released in 2022 and charted the global Top 10 list for 3 weeks. For example, First Kill had around 30 million streams in the first week, 49 million in the second, and 16 million in the third. In comparison, Heartstopper had around 15 million streams in the first week, then 24 million and 15 million in the following 2 weeks. Yet, despite having almost double the streams, First Kill was not renewed for a second season, whereas Heartstopper was renewed for not only one but two more seasons. 

Another example is I Am Not Okay With This, which was not renewed despite having a second and final season already written and ready to be made, as well as decent streams of the first season. According to Deadline, the reasons were cited as being “COVID-related,” and yet other shows and movies did persevere through the pandemic despite financial stresses. While COVID did disrupt the film industry, the types of shows that were cancelled due to COVID-related issues can still reveal which shows were given priority.

So, are sapphic shows being given less priority than other general and queer shows? The cancellation trends that favour them suggest that they are, and this is a damaging phenomenon for queer women. Representation is so critical for a functioning society that is able to support different communities adequately and equally. Young queer women deserve to see themselves having passionate teenage romances, something that should not just be reserved to only certain kinds of couples. Queer women should be able to see themselves as the main characters in shows and not just as side storylines in another person’s story. Minimizing the stigma around women-love-women relationships cannot be done without representation and some of the most powerful forms of representation are in the shows and movies we watch. This trend of queer women being sidelined in the media is harmful and needs to be corrected. I propose an influx of sapphic media forevermore.