Diverse shows struggle to keep their spots on Netflix


Olivia Gaziano

In many Netflix movies, there is unfortunately a lack of representation in the films.

“I Am Not Okay With This,” “The Society,” and “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” are all Netflix original series that have made it onto the Top 10 in the U.S. Today’s list on the popular streaming platform. These shows have received praise from audiences for their representation, such as including LGBTQ+ characters, people of color, and promoting gender equality. Another thing these shows have in common, however, is that they are all soon going to be canceled. Canceling shows for interesting reasons is nothing new for Netflix.  Shows tackling heavy subjects that are not often brought up in regular conversation, and providing a diverse cast can educate people, even if it is just a little. 

According to Netflix’s claims, these shows are going to be canceled due to complications brought on by the pandemic. However, a teaser for “The Kissing Booth 3” was recently released, and audiences of these canceled shows were not happy with the fact that Netflix, a multi-billion dollar company, is saving their budget for a movie that they view to be problematic rather than investing in other shows with stronger takeaways.

The Kissing Booth franchise’s first movie follows a teenage girl named Elle and her growing crush on her best friend’s brother, Noah. Noah is the main love interest of the story but throughout the movie, it is clear that he has abusive tendencies. He tells Elle that she was “asking for it” when she is catcalled, convinces Elle into getting inside a car by screaming at her, and when Elle tells Noah that she is tired of him controlling her dating life, he treats it like a joke,  and overall, was glamorizing abuse to a young demographic. The three aforementioned shows are not the only examples of Netflix canceling diverse shows. In contrast, “Everything Sucks” a coming-of-age show with a diverse cast of characters and themes of friendship and self-discovery.  Despite the show’s positive feedback and success, it was canceled after one season because Netflix thought the fan base would not grow.

Another show that was canceled recently by the company was “Glow,”, a story that follows a group of female wrestlers in the 1980s, leading to some of the cast- Britney Young, Kia Stevens, Sunita Mani, Shakira Barrena, and Ellen Wong- to come forward about their experience on the show on Instagram. 

The post talks about how “Glow” had good intentions by casting a group of females and POCs as their leads, but as the series went on, the writers thought they already did their part because of the casting choices. 

“We have been loyal to GLOW, dedicating years of our lives, passing up on other professionals and opportunities with the understanding that our characters are integral to the show’s conceit,” the show’s lead actresses posted on Instagram. “However, with each season that passes our characters have been demoted to background players, often non-speaking or having a dialogue that does not drive the narrative.”

“Anne with an E” received the same treatment in 2019. “Anne with an E” was getting canceled because it appealed to a younger rather than an older demographic which was not what the company was aiming for. Netflix was criticized for this decision on social media, even becoming a Twitter moment with the headline reading “Fans are urging Netflix to renew Anne with an E after news broke out of its cancellation” because people thought that it was ridiculous that they chose to cancel a show with an interesting plot and themes of female empowerment. Also, the protagonist of the story was thirteen so Netflix should have expected to attract younger people. Rather than acknowledging that young people liked their show and using the show as a way to educate their audience about gender equality, they simply walked away. If this had something to do with their reputation and wanting to be taken more seriously as a streaming service, that would make a bit of sense for wanting to appeal to an older audience. Looking at all the heat they face, however, they do not seem to care.

We are getting more socially progressive as a society every day, but when a movie is glamorizing abuse, it can have harmful results, especially since these relationships are viewed as ideal.

Netflix seems to be giving all their attention to projects like “The Kissing Booth” to avoid other projects that have diversity, so they will not be accused of wrongfully portraying a group of people and just participating in tokenism. Tokenism in entertainment is when writers create a few side characters that are a part of an underrepresented group of people to create the illusion of inclusivity, but these token characters are not given much depth- and only appear when the show is lacking diversity. This mainly occurs when writers realize that their cast is mainly white but do not want the work of including three-dimensional and well-researched characters, so they write a character to stick into the background.

Tokenism can be harmful because it gives the illusion of diversity, making companies think that it is acceptable to exploit marginalized groups and their stereotypes for their show. This can also limit an actor’s opportunities since they are more often viewed as a marketing opportunity, rather than someone who has a chance to be given the role of a complex character. This exploitation can also make an actor think that contributing to stereotypes is all they are good at because that is all they are wanted for. 

Some ways to tell tokenism apart is if a character was put on the show’s poster but is rarely in the show if they’re the only marginalized person in the cast if they lack depth and if they never experience character development. “Teen Wolf”, for example, has been accused of tokenism with the side character Danny Mahealani, who was gay and only in the show for three seasons. Danny seemed to only pop up every once in a while to talk about his love life. Another example is Cho Chang in “Harry Potter”, an Asian character who was sorted into Ravenclaw, the house for intelligent students. This falls into the ‘Smart Asian’ stereotype. However, writers have been doing a better job lately by making characters from underrepresented groups more distinct and unique rather than forcing them inside a bubble of stereotypes, but there’s still more room for improvement    

Sometimes writers will choose to create a story that had a diverse cast and assumed they did its part. These are characters; they require development in order to learn and grow not just by being a frequent character for one season and completely forgotten the next. A majority of the characters in “Glow” were based on actual female wrestlers from 1980-1990, they did not put so much time and dedication into their career just for them to be written out of their own 

Companies can produce fantastic shows and movies that just happen to have a lead that is part of a minority. Casting producers should remember that diversity does not mean ten white characters and one person of color, and to not fall into other traps of tokenism. Including characters in various marginalized communities- the LGBT community, people of color, the disabled- will benefit both audiences and the shows themselves.

 HBO constantly gets recognition for its show “Euphoria” having an eighty-four percent on Rotten Tomatoes, receiving five Emmy nominations, and “Euphoria” just so happens to also have a diverse cast. Netflix even had this happen to them with the “Umbrella Academy”, with an eighty-two percent on Rotten Tomatoes, made it onto  the Top 10 in the U.S. Today’s list for streaming service for both seasons, and having two Emmy nominations under their belt. Despite all this knowledge Netflix continues to ignore it.

 Our strength, as a species, is in our diversity. Audiences will be given a chance to look through the perspective of someone different from them. People who relate to these characters and their struggles will feel more included. Maybe one day, the entire entertainment industry can meaningfully bring diversity in shows.