In November 2019, the popular Canadian series “Anne with an E,” based on the beloved classic “Anne of Green Gables,” was abruptly canceled. Following the premiere of its third season on CBC and just before it was released on Netflix, the networks released a joint statement announcing that the show would end after three seasons. With no warning or lead-up to this unfortunate demise, fans were understandably distraught. Despite the statement expressing the tentative hope that the final season “brings a satisfying conclusion to Anne’s journey,” the show’s devoted fanbase felt otherwise and immediately railed against the cancellation.
Following this hasty corporate decision, fan campaigns rebounded. #RenewAWAE has been trending in multiple countries, with some fans creating social media accounts just to promote the series’s renewal. Months after the apparent end of “Anne with an E,” unrelated posts on Netflix’s U.K. and U.S. accounts are now bombarded with comments like “ANNOUNCE ANNE WITH AN E SEASON 4.” Some dedicated viewers have even paid for billboards in Times Square, Canada and Texas to promote the campaign. But the fandom’s efforts to save their show have manifested most prominently in their spate of online petitions — with one petition recently surpassing 1 million signatures.
The petition “Renew Anne with an E for season 4!!” was created shortly after the cancellation of “Anne with E” in the hopes of getting Netflix to renew the show. It hit 600,000 signatures in June before reaching 1 million signatures on July 25. At the time of writing, the petition currently has 1,141,681 signatures, making it the largest campaign to renew a show in Netflix’s history, breaking the record previously held by “Sense8.” New signatures are being added every minute, campaign hashtags are still posted and the show’s creator, Moira Walley-Beckett, has celebrated fans for their immense achievement.
Yet, despite fans tirelessly campaigning for a renewal, it doesn’t look as if either CBC or Netflix will waver in their decision to cancel the show — both sides of the discussion are resolute in their determination. As an only moderately obsessed fan of the show, I prefer to think outside of these dichotomies. I don’t mind which direction the scales tip, and so I provide you with a brief examination of reasons for and against the renewal of “Anne with an E.”
Reasons for Renewal
Although it received initial criticism for its darker version of “Anne of Green Gables,” fans have come to know and love “Anne with an E” for its unflinching focus on timely issues related to gender, race, class and sexuality. Through a 19th-century lens, the show deals with topics like queer identity, racial discrimination, sexual assault and the historical treatment of Indigenous individuals.
The third season strengthened the show’s focus on challenging issues by depicting a horrifying part of Indigenous history: the Canadian residential school system. At these boarding schools, Indigenous children were forcefully taken away from their parents to be “reeducated” via abuse. Before watching the show, I had no idea that such schools existed; through watching the series, I was driven to research more about Canada’s dark past and First Nations history. The open ending of the storyline about Ka’kwet, a Mi’kmaq girl and friend of Anne’s who is taken away to a residential school, is one of the main reasons why fans want a fourth season of “Anne with an E.”
Not only does “Anne with an E” foster inclusivity by focusing on social issues, it also offers diversity both on and off camera. Compare this to Lucy Maud Montgomery’s original “Anne of Green Gables” book series, where the characters were all white and presumably heterosexual.
Walley-Beckett created original characters who are people of color, like Bash, a Trinidadian man who comes to Avonlea with Gilbert to better “reflect the reality of Canada’s diversity then and now.” Additionally, there is queer representation with the characters of Cole and Aunt Josephine, again a change from the original source material. Above all, “Anne with an E” is a female-dominated show, with a nuanced range of female characters and an all-women writers’ room. This is a rare but welcome occurrence for any television show.
The Case for Canceling
However, while the inclusivity of “Anne with an E” is successful and allows for a more diverse representation of history, the show is sometimes unbelievably “woke” for its 19th-century setting. At one point in the third season, Anne and her classmates stand before the Town Council wearing gags and holding placards that read “Freedom of speech is a human right” to protest the censorship of their school paper.
The third season does take place toward the beginning of the 20th century, but are we really to believe that schoolchildren living in a rural island village in Canada would have been so politically forward-thinking? The theme song of “Anne with an E” does foreshadow that Anne is “Ahead by a Century,” yet her fellow Avonlea residents are not included in the chant. This begs the question of what a fourth season of “Anne with an E” would have left to focus on. How much more progressive can the writers make the show before neglecting its historical context?
Furthermore, “Anne with an E” is primarily a coming-of-age story. The third season successfully manages to conclude Anne’s adolescence, cementing her development from a talkative child with an unbridled imagination to a bold and thoughtful young woman. No longer an orphan drifting between abusive foster families, Anne has now found her true family in the unexpected home of Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert. The final season ends with Anne leaving Green Gables to attend Queens College, discovering her Scottish heritage and fulfilling her inevitable romance with Gilbert Blythe. This feels like a natural, if slightly rushed, conclusion to Anne’s story. There is no place left for the plot to go.
While a potential fourth season could focus on Anne’s new college life with her friends at Queens (as the book series does), the show just wouldn’t be the same without Green Gables and its familiar cast of characters. An “Anne of Green Gables” story without Green Gables would be like a “Harry Potter” book without Hogwarts — unfathomable.
Is a fourth season even possible?
As much as fans would like to see a fourth season of “Anne with an E,” a continuation of Anne’s story looks unlikely — at least in television form. Its creators have repeatedly communicated to fans that while they are grateful for their love and support, a renewal is not possible on a network level.
Walley-Beckett said she fought to renew the series, but “it’s impossible to argue with words like Economics, Algorithms, Demographics, etc, etc. But those words and others like them are the reason why the Networks don’t want to continue.” Similarly, producer Miranda de Pencier addressed the petition to save the show late last year, shutting down fans’ hopes with a morose statement: “There is just no way to revive Anne with an E anywhere at this point. It will not happen.” Some have even speculated that the unforeseen cancellation of “Anne with an E” is due to the breakdown of relations between Netflix and CBC, the two networks responsible for the show’s distribution.
Still, all of this happened before the record-breaking petition to save “Anne with an E” reached 1 million signatures. Walley-Beckett expressed her hopes to produce a finale feature film to wrap up the loose ends from the third season. In homage to Anne’s fiery nature, the kindred spirits of the “Anne with an E” fandom are still fighting, and their efforts may not go unreciprocated for much longer.