Good sapphic representation seems few and far between in media. Despite a steady increase in the number of sapphic characters we’ve seen on TV or in movies in recent years, much of the representation that is given is short-lived, just plain bad, or repetitive. Sapphic characters are often heavily sexualized, underdeveloped, or part of a period piece. Some networks have attempted to create characters that actually feel human in recent years and some of those attempts ended in great results. People were seeing themselves in characters perhaps for the first time ever. Take Netflix for example, they’ve created a variety of shows in recent years that feature strong sapphic leads and have made audiences very excited. Here’s the thing though, most of that progress ends up losing meaning. Because although Netflix can produce a show with good sapphic representation, they can’t seem to renew any of them. Most of the shows that Netflix has created in recent years that feature sapphic characters have been canceled. Netflix draws in queer audiences with the promise of representation, then betrays them. It’s time we talk about that.
An example of this phenomenon happened earlier this year when Netflix decided to cancel two shows with sapphic leads within a week of each other. ‘I’m Not Okay With This’ (2020) and ‘Atypical’ (2017). ‘Atypical’ was lucky enough to last 3 seasons before it was canceled, however, it should be noted that Casey (one of the starring characters) didn’t even realize she was into girls until partway through the second season and didn’t start dating her love interest, Izzie, until the beginning of season three. So, the actual total time of queer rep in the show was more like one and half seasons before getting canceled. A fourth season may also be in the works before the show’s official end, but COVID has made those exact plans unclear.
‘I’m Not Okay With This’ unfortunately only got one season before being canceled. Sydney, the main character, is a teenage lesbian who is discovering she has superpowers, dealing with the after-effects of her dad’s death, and falling in love with her friend all at the same time. The story was intriguing and an interesting mix of an authentic gay youth experience and sci-fi.
Sydney’s deeply layered character is a rarity in lesbian media and that excited many young sapphics, especially lesbians, who tuned into the show. It is even revealed that Sydney’s friend Dina likes her back. Dina is deeply layered as well, but has a very different experience with her sexuality. The show was canceled in the name of COVID, Netflix claiming that it was canceled due the financial and timing effects it had. This would be fair if the second season hadn't already been green-lit, written, and budgeted before the show was canceled. A situation I find highly frustrating.
‘I’m Not Okay With This’ is not the first example we’ve seen of Netflix canceling a show with a teenage lesbian lead after the first season. In 2018 they did the same thing to ‘Everything Sucks’. ‘Everything Sucks’ was a show that was made by Netflix in 2018. One of the main characters, Kate, is another example of a sapphic character with depth. Kate was a sophomore in high school, the principle's daughter, who was coming to terms with the fact that she was gay. Many people watching the show identified with her struggles and the experiences that lead her to know and accept that she was gay. It felt real and raw. Unfortunately due to the show being canceled audiences never got to see much of what happens after Kate came to terms with her sexuality, the show is even left on a cliff hanger about whether or not she will tell her dad.
I am not going to sit here and act like ‘Everything Sucks’ was perfect. It wasn’t. Kates love interest in the show, although a year older than her in the script, was played by an actor much older than the actress who played Kate and that made the dynamic very uncomfortable to watch. However, that is something else that is 100% Netflix’s fault. Netflix should’ve originally casted two age appropriate actors, but they don’t care enough about sapphic stories so they didn’t. Instead they ruined a storyline that could’ve been wonderful by making it uncomfortable to watch, then canceling the show.
There are many more examples of Netflix not caring enough about about sapphic characters or storylines to keep them running. For example ‘Sense 8’ featured multiple sapphic characters and was canceled after just two seasons in 2018. ‘One Day At a Time’ featured a young lesbian and her non-binary lesbian partner and was canceled in 2019 after 3 seasons despite great ratings. ODAT, however, was picked up for a season by POP. ‘Trinkets’ featured multiple sapphic characters and was canceled around the same time as ‘I’m Not Okay With This’ after only two seasons. Some of these shows were cancelled for seemingly no good reason. There was no worthwhile explanation for why they couldn’t go on. Others were given reasons like low views or poor casting. But here’s the thing, all of the above reasons are the fault of Netflix.
Obviously the shows they gave no explanation for canceling are Netflix’s fault, but so are the shows they did provide with reasons. Poor or uncomfortable casting? Netflix is the one doing the casting, they have access to some of best casting directors in the field and they can do better. Lack of views? Netflix can promote these shows better. Many of them end up getting not even a tenth of the promo some of the trashier, straight, rom-coms or dramas get, and then Netflix acts surprised when people don’t view them as much.They then conclude that means people don’t want to see sapphic content. Netflix must do better when it comes to creating Netflix originals with sapphic characters that do the community justice because, as of now, they’re failing.