Netflix is not only an extremely successful streaming service, but also one of the most important entertainment creators. The success of Netflix originals such as Roma, Orange is the New Black, House of Cards, and Stranger Things has legitimized its status as a cultural trendsetter.
However, Netflix shows rarely get renewed beyond their third season, and the shows that do usually feature protagonists that are straight, white, and cissexual. In recent years, it is becoming more apparent that Netflix is culling its most diverse shows, cancelling the already rare stories about minorities and the issues that affect their lives. This trend is extremely concerning because it may normalize the idea that the stories of marginalized peoples are unimportant and that they should be the first to be cancelled whenever any other network needs to manage its budget.
Diverse shows that Netflix has cancelled within the last five years include The Get Down, Sense8, and most recently, One Day at a Time. All of these shows were critically acclaimed, featuring actors, characters, crew members, and creators from diverse backgrounds, which led them to having extremely passionate fan bases. The Get Down was about the rise of hip-hop in New York during the 1970s and followed a cast of African-American characters; it dealt with issues of race, gang violence, poverty, religion, and sexuality through its rich tapestry of characters, lush cinematography, and historical themes. Sense8 was a fundamentally global sci-fi show, following 8 characters from all corners of the world, and transcended the boundaries of sexuality and cultural division. It is one of my favorite shows, and one of the only shows I’ve ever seen that featured interracial queer relationships and polyamorous relationships. It had such a vocal fan base that Netflix renewed it for a two-hour finale after their initial cancellation. Finally, One Day at a Time, was a sitcom that followed a Cuban family and tackled issues such as mental illness, single parenting, and sexuality with poise and humor. It was also trending on Twitter after its cancellation, though this wasn’t enough to save it. All three of these shows were also lauded on Rotten Tomatoes, with audience scores of 90% for The Get Down, 92% for Sense8, and 89% for One Day at a Time. Other lesser known shows with diverse casts or stories that Netflix has cancelled include Seven Seconds, All About the Washingtons, and Everything Sucks!
Netflix’s official reasons for cancelling these shows include production delays, large budgets, or lack of viewership. While these aren’t illegitimate reasons and Netflix does reserve the right to cancel whatever shows it wants on its service, the way the company treated these cancelled shows was extremely telling.
While cancelling One Day at a Time, Netflix repeatedly praised it and talked about “finding ways to tell these stories,” a stance that seems incredibly hypocritical as it cancelled the show in the same breath. Netflix keeps using diversity as a platform to bolster its own financial success without actually delivering any evidence of a strong commitment to telling the stories of minority characters. Similarly, during its announcement about the cancellation of Sense8, Netflix’s Vice President of Original Content Cindy Holland espoused the merits of the show, calling it a “truly global show with an equally diverse and international cast and crew.” Once more, a representative of Netflix used buzzwords like “global” and “diverse” while cancelling one of the most progressive shows on television. Why does Netflix keep praising itself for its diversity while cancelling the very stories that feature people of color or LGBTQIA+ people?
By insisting they are cancelling shows because not enough people watch them, Netflix is actively shifting blame on its viewers. However, there is no way to ascertain viewership numbers because Netflix doesn’t release that kind of data. One reason these shows may lack adequate viewership could be due to a lack of promotion. Though I could not find actual marketing data about how much money Netflix spends on advertising each of its shows, the creators of One Day at a Time had gone on social media to plead for viewership before its cancellation. It begs the question, why are the cast and creators asking for viewership on Twitter instead of Netflix investing money into promoting the show on a greater scale?
In an age where there aren’t nearly enough shows with adequate representation of marginalized minorities, and where real-life racial tension and divide is rife in our rhetoric, Netflix’s continuous cancellation of its most diverse shows is particularly detrimental. These programs, which communicate the importance of representation and diverse storytelling, deserve greater promotion and exposure. Perhaps Netflix would seem more genuine if it actively advertised these shows or put the shows’ critical merit above their commercial success. However, the streaming service’s recent actions reveal its true priorities and demonstrates how corporations, no matter how “relatable” or “woke” or dedicated to progress they may seem, value profit above all else. They are not our social justice advocates and they do not have an interest in telling our stories if it does not reap a benefit for them. Thus we, as the passive viewer, should take action to advocate for ourselves.