Despite Good Intentions, Netflix Hasn’t Quite Figured Out Racial Representation

The streaming service has developed a reputation for cancelling its diverse shows while promoting its all-white ones.

As Netflix has rapidly grown to be one of the most popular video-streaming services, it continues to create original shows and movies in an effort to stand out from other platforms and gain more attention from audiences of all ages. Through these efforts, Netflix has made original, award-winning content in a variety of genres, such as sci-fi, comedy, drama and many more, to stand out from the crowd.

In addition to its diversity of genres, the streaming service has also made it a point to offer series that feature a plurality of characters, whose identities span the spectrums of race, religion, age, ability, sexuality and many other characteristics. Indeed, shows such as “The Get Down,” “Sense8,” “Dear White People,” “On My Block” and, more recently, “One Day at a Time,” all represent the content company’s intentions to broadcast a more diverse world to its subscribers.

However, despite the company’s efforts to promote a more representative universe, they have not been wholly successful. In recent months, in fact, the Los Gatos-based business has faced criticism for its habit of cancelling its diverse shows within their first three seasons.

Most recently, the company came under fire after it announced its cancellation of the highly praised series “One Day at a Time.”

Based on a popular 1980s sitcom of the same name, Netflix’s adaptation of “One Day at a Time” highlights the struggles that most families go through, such as financial issues, mental illness and addiction. However, unlike the original series, the reboot focuses on a Cuban family, a decision that critics and audiences alike have applauded for its novelty. Additionally, most of the characters, specifically the mother-daughter duo Penelope and Elena, are strong, independent women who routinely advocate for women’s rights and equal treatment.

While the series does occasionally focus on its female characters’ empowerment, such as when Lydia talks about her immigration from Cuba and their commentary on Donald Trump, the show primarily focuses on the love within the family. As most popular, family-oriented shows generally center on white families, the change was a refreshing one.

Unsurprisingly, after Netflix axed “One Day at a Time,” fans decried the decision and demanded the company either explain itself or bring the series back. The 22-year-old company subsequently sent out a series of tweets justifying the move, reminding fans that the cancellation does not mean that their stories are invalid. Instead, they attributed the decision to the show’s low viewership, though Netflix, as per usual, declined to share the data that would back up their claim.

Because the show was cancelled less than a month after its third season premiered, it was puzzling to hear that the company came to this decision so quickly. Generally, on other services and networks, shows are given at least a few months before these types of decisions are made.

In response, in less than 24 hours, fans of the popular reboot, including actors Lin-Manuel Miranda, Melissa Fumero and Stephanie Beatriz, made #SaveODAAT a trending topic on Twitter. Using tweets with this hashtag, fans shared some of the show’s most memorable clips, such as when Elena came out to her family and confronted her father about his lack of acceptance for her sexuality, Penelope’s explanation of her anxiety and Schneider’s struggle with remaining sober.

Given how “One Day at a Time,” in particular, was praised for its relatability and its portrayal of a strong, loving, tight-knit Latinx family, fans demanded that the characters that they had become so invested in receive a proper ending. At this point, Netflix has promised no such closure for fans, which has only exacerbated the issue and led to a greater scrutiny of the company’s track record of cancelling its most diverse shows, often without sufficient explanation.

Out of all of Netflix’s original series, only seven shows have been renewed for more than three seasons: “Fuller House,” “The Ranch,” “House of Cards,” “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” “Grace and Frankie,” “Orange is the New Black” and “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina,” which all feature predominantly white casts.

And while “Orange is the New Black” does have multiple women of color as more important characters, it still revolves around its white main character. Though these shows have been ostensible success stories for Netflix, they are far from perfect. “Fuller House,” for example, was criticized for its outdated jokes but ran for five seasons.

Likewise, Netflix incessantly promoted the popular CW teen drama “Riverdale,” which features a predominately white cast, the moment the series became available on the streaming service. The service even provided stars with a platform to answer fans’ questions, despite the show not being a Netflix original series.

Yet when it comes to more diverse shows like “The Get Down,” “Sense8,” “Dear White People,” “On My Block,” “One Day at a Time” and countless others, Netflix does not promote nearly as much, if at all. Without heavy promotion and advertisement, users are less likely to discover and therefore, watch these series. By favoring shows like “Riverdale,” Netflix prevents other, highly deserving shows from reaching their fullest potential.

The video-streaming company has faced harsh backlash from the public in the past few years. From fans petitioning to cancel their subscriptions if the service removed the beloved series “Friends,” to controversial series like “13 Reasons Why,” Netflix has had its fair share of trouble. The company is walking on eggshells trying to produce compelling content while satisfying their customers. Be careful, Netflix!

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