This week we heard that Netflix cancelled both the beloved adult animation Tuca & Bertie as well as the supernatural drama series The OA. A total of eight series by female creators was cancelled in just a week. Though fans have often taken action when shows ended abruptly, being a fan in the age of platforms and streaming means being on the loosing end. Fans took to social media, petitions among others. Even if it is not always effective, fan activism is important. Here’s why.
Netflix Disrupts Fandom with its Wave of Cancellations
Praised for its originality by critics and audiences, The OA is a beloved show on Netflix. Its drama, performances, and esoteric atmosphere are beyond anything else. The cancellation came as a surprise to many fans, who felt that the show has been less marketed than other originals, like Stranger Things.
Since The OA is very original and quirky, some fans even have the theory that the cancellation is fake. (Though I personally highly doubt this). The show features a unique choreography of “movements” for interdimensional travel. On the subreddit of The OA fans are coordinating a “Global Virtual Flashmob” on Aug. 12 at 12pm ET. The subreddit is encouraging its members to post photos or videos of themselves doing the “movements” that the characters perform. This is a beautiful homage and statement, and I do hope that it goes viral.
Earlier this summer, the adult animation Tuca & Bertie, with a stellar female cast, was also cancelled. This show is a particular favorite of mine. Its quirky atmosphere, colorful style and adult discussions of sex and relationships really stuck with me. The news was devastating, and many took to Twitter.
There is a wider context behind all these cancellations. Netflix has pulled the plug on many series which were created by women, and this is a problem. Indiewire writes:
‘When considering Netflix has said goodbye to 21 series so far this year, that may not sound like a lot. But seeing more than one-third of canceled series stemming from women creators isn’t great.’
Viewers have been actively posting on Twitter and other social media to show their support of shows like The OA and Tuca & Bertie. The actual interface of Netflix is of course used as well. Some users on Twitter recommend taking action on the platform itself, for instance by using a request form with protests to bring Tuca & Bertie back.
When One Day at a Time was on the verge of cancellation, viewers actively recommended watching and rewatching the show to crank up the numbers (sadly to no avail). They used the #RenewODAAT to spread the word.
Fan Activism Work, but Not Always
Unfortunately, channels and platforms cancel shows frequently. In the field of fan studies, we have researched fan activism around shows like Firefly, Carnivale and Pushing Daisies in great detail. Sometimes fans were effective. Firefly got a film and other popular, cancelled shows like Twin Peaks eventually got a revival. Post-object fandom, to use Rebecca William’s term, can keep interest in shows going.
Showing how deeply we care about shows is important. It also helps audience members work through the pain of an abrupt ending. Don’t forget, these fans are mourning. Most fan studies emphasize that activism stems out of feelings of disappointment, sadness, and the need for narrative closure (paying attention to these sentiments is what I often call ‘affective reception’ in my work). Fans want to see the stories that they invested in come to a proper end. Yes, I intentionally use the words “proper end”, because it is also upsetting for audiences when a show fails in closure, and in telling an appropriate ending. Game of Thrones is a recent case that illustrates these sentiments.
Fans take to Twitter, petitions, and letters of complaint to make a difference. It is a form of fan activism. In a qualitative study on fan activism, Neta Kligler-Vilenchik and colleagues conclude:
Fan activism can be understood as embodied in a community, created and maintained around shared media experiences, that channels members’ wish to help toward social action (and sometimes even creates it). In doing so, fan activist groups bring together the power of fandom to connect, engage, and mobilize its members and an explicit civic goal toward which this energy and enthusiasm are channeled.
Overall this paints a positive and empowering image of fan activism, but we should not forget that – even though activism shapes communities – it is tied up with social justice. Thus, activism stems from a real need and pain. In these times of polarization we need social justice, more than ever. It is deeply problematic that Netflix cancelled so many shows by female creators and with prominent female leads. Audiences are right to complain.
In other news, YouTube consistently cuts problematic male creators slack when they violate their guidelines. It almost makes platforms seem extremely biased, doesn’t it?
Are Cancellations the New Normal?
While fan activism can be powerful, we must not forget about the business decisions that underpin these cancellations.
Last month Netflix lost 17 billion dollars in one day. Netflix numbers are in decline this year and that’s no surprise. It’s slowly loosing its key position in the market. Subscriber growth is slow, partly due to major content providers pulling their content off Netflix to boost their own services. Having a long list of competitors like Amazon Prime and Disney Plus (upcoming) and genre-specific services (e.g. Crunchyroll for anime) doesn’t help. And we see more services being announced each month.
To be honest, I expect more cancellations. But what I hope is that Netflix turns this around. They could make supporting progressive, original content a unique selling point for their business, rather than extending shows that had a proper ending already, like 13 Reasons Why.
Now that more streaming services are emerging, Netflix needs to sharpen its value proposition. I hope that there’s a place for artistic, original, female-driven content in that vision.