For many, due to over a year of limited social activity because of a dangerous global pandemic, Netflix has become even more of a staple than it already was. Quarantine, however one did it, has also prompted both self-reflection and, more specifically, a growing awareness of lesbianism for Gen Z, even prompting controversial TikTok trends with users reading the Lesbian Masterdoc.
So, now that people are gaining awareness of lesbian identities and going crazy with their Netflix recommendations, what are the sapphic options available to Netflix original programming addicts?
Netflix Originals have steadily grown in popularity and are now a brand all their own. From all the way back to the very popular and controversial “Orange Is the New Black,” lesbians have existed in Netflix’s programming, but the relationship has not always been a stable one.
“Orange Is the New Black,” while revolutionary during its initial airing, was a shaky entry into lesbian pop culture. Many rightly critiqued the show as often scapegoating its Black characters, especially as it veered away from the autobiographical source material. However, it ran for much longer than many of Netflix’s offerings involving lesbians or queer women.
Since then, Netflix has become more comfortable with lesbians, albeit mainly as side characters. The lesbian secondary character appears enough to be recognizable, especially as aspects of her character often appear in non-lesbian queer female characters on Netflix shows or in other shows that Netflix distributes, like “Riverdale.”
Often, her story centers on her coming out or confronting her difficult relationship with her sexual orientation, highlighting how little writers understand the intricacies of lesbian-specific pop culture. In Netflix Originals, this archetypical character most notably appears in “Stranger Things” with Robyn, and in “Never Have I Ever” with Fabiola. There is nothing wrong with this character type, but one could raise objections to the consistent relegation of these characters to a secondary status that often exploits her queerness as her most humanizing struggle.
Paired with the limited selection of developed leading lesbian characters, it’s hard not to feel slighted by Netflix’s options. While Netflix has had lesbian main characters, they often seem to mysteriously end up in shows that aren’t renewed. Two of the most prominent examples of this are “Everything Sucks!” and “I Am Not Okay with This.”
Both were relatively popular when they premiered, but Netflix elected not to continue with their production. “Everything Sucks!” was canceled with little explanation. While it had accumulated mostly favorable reviews, it was not universally enjoyed and met some fair critiques. However, the beauty of Netflix is how diverse the offerings are when it comes to taste, meaning that even shows with flaws often draw large and loyal fanbases.
You could go from watching “Big Mouth” to “Outer Banks” if you felt like it, but most people find a style they enjoy and stick to it, even if it’s not perfect. So, the cancellation of “Everything Sucks!” doesn’t necessarily feel logical, even accounting for its criticism. Nor does the cancellation of “I Am Not Okay With This.”
“I Am Not Okay With This” was a more recent show and supposedly met its end in part due to COVID-19. This is disappointing, as shows without leading lesbian characters did not meet the same production blocks — see “Never Have I Ever” above or even more involved shows like “Sweet Tooth,” which required international travel for filming but still managed to premiere.
“I Am Not Okay With This” had an unresolved ending, much like “Everything Sucks!,” partly due to an unspoken expectation of a two-season run informed by the success of its straight counterpart, “The End of the F***ing World,” a show also based on Charles Forsman’s work and set in the same universe. The large fanbases of these shows really should have bought both shows a renewal, and one can’t help but wonder if the unfortunately controversial nature of sapphic relationships added to the reasoning behind their cancellation.
On a lighter note, options for lesbian main characters do exist on Netflix, though not necessarily in the form of traditional television. The animated show “She-Ra and the Princesses of Power” gained much traction and acclaim for its portrayal of star-crossed lesbian lovers and ran a full five seasons before finishing its arc.
The new movie series “Fear Street” has also given a platform to a wonderful assortment of lesbian characters to the degree that, even when viewers might be fooled into thinking that storylines are straight, those behind the scenes, both actors and directors, confirmed that the characters were gay. The explicit and implied queer representation in the “Fear Street” trilogy is encouraging, as is its success.
Hopefully, with lesbian characters and storylines drawing the kind of audiences they are, Netflix will consider making a lesbian main character the focal point of an upcoming Netflix Original show that runs for more than a single season.