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An Open Letter to the Television Industry Regarding the Mass Cancellations of Sapphic Shows

Updated: Apr 9, 2023


Dear Big Media,


March 2020. The world had shut down and everyone understood; it sucked, but everyone’s safety was of utmost priority.


But now it’s been three years - the virus has been mitigated (for the most part) but the cancellations have not. Now, the television industry is scrambling to readjust (again). Instead of flooding stuck-at-home viewers with content, they’ve backtracked and, as a result, we’ve entered into this new era of cancellations.


There are many factors that contribute to the cancellation of a television show, but lately, one big factor has stood out. Despite what they say, the usual suspects of money or ratings are not to blame. Because if you look deeper, the common denominator in a significant number of these cancellations is the inclusion of prominent sapphic storylines. If you find yourself watching some of these shows, you may notice that as soon as the canonical sapphic characters get together, the show gets axed.


To be clear, this isn’t just one or two shows; it isn’t even a handful.


Sense 8. Stitchers. Stumptown. GLOW. Teenage Bounty Hunters. Everything Sucks! I Am Not Okay With This. Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Atypical. Dear White People. High Fidelity. One Day At A Time*. The Bisexual. Gentefied. VIDA. Wynonna Earp*. Lucifer*. Black Lightning. Feel Good. Shrill. High Maintenance. Lovecraft Country. All Rise*. Vampire Academy. Motherland: Fort Salem. Batwoman. Naomi. Genera+ion. Charmed. 4400. Nancy Drew. Gentleman Jack. The Wilds. First Kill. Fate: The Winx Saga. Legends of Tomorrow. Warrior Nun. Paper Girls. Uncouple. Q-Force. A League of Their Own*. 1899. Willow*.


*Four of these were saved after successful fan campaigns, one was canceled twice, one was offered a second (and last) season of a short four episodes despite a major proactive six-month fan campaign right after the premiere of the first season, and another was just given what amounts to a non-cancellation cancellation (Writers and producers of the show have favorably shared plans for season two with the streaming company, but have been told there is no current intention to produce a second season of the show anytime soon, or perhaps ever.)


The majority of these shows don’t go past one season. ONE season. They're not even given a chance. In a medium where stories succeed based on their ability to grow, they’re not given a fucking chance. The usual suspects of ratings or success that would determine the fate of a show would appear to be inapplicable here, especially considering minimal promotion, as many of these shows found large audiences and boasted high ratings. So, even when the party line is being towed and all evidence points to a successful series, these shows are unceremoniously put on the chopping block.


And the list just keeps growing.


Recently, The L Word: Generation Q was canceled, which means at least 18 more LGBTQIA+ characters (on top of the 140 characters gone due to cancellation of shows in the 2022-2023 year alone) are gone.


We're tired.

But above all, we're angry.


Fiction doesn’t just resemble life, it informs it. To pretend as if the stories and representation we see on our screens don’t impact real lives is ignorant. Representation is not some silly trivial matter - it is the physical manifestation of being seen, values, and heard; of showing the world we exist, and, for people of marginalized groups, showing that we belong, normalizing our very existence. After the fight for binary genders and racial equality on screen, you, up there with executive powers, know the importance of this. So why is it that sapphic stories are now being placed on the chopping block en masse?


How did we get here?

This trend of sacrificing sapphic, female-led shows must stop. This open letter to the television industry and the powers that be is my appeal. It is shaped by exhaustion and anger, and imbued with the cry of the LGBTQIA+ community, and lovers of television everywhere.


We understand a need for business strategies to prioritize revenue through subscribers, but


don’t you see that the more shows you cancel, the more you’re forced to hemorrhage yourself? Even the mainstream is taking notice.



Your blood will not clot with just reality shows and viral shows alone. Of course, not every show is everyone’s cup of tea, but unlike Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos’ claim, a lot of these shows were successful, despite the meager budgets, lack of faith, and often a considerable lack of promotion. Almost all of these shows have a following - big ones too - or come critically acclaimed. They may not be Game of Thrones or Stranger Things numbers, but not everything can or will be. Success has become synonymous in the digital space with the word “viral,” and that is simply not a realistic perspective to put onto every show. It’s the worst kind of idealism, trying to sacrifice quality and reliability for superficial quantity. In addition, if you never let a show learn and go through its necessary growing pains, how will it ever manage to find success? To borrow a lesson from Warren Buffet, investments need time to grow and without some level of patience or grace, you’ll just be racing towards the bottom, transferring your gold to steadier hands.


Have you also never heard that a reliable return is most dependent upon a diverse portfolio? And for art, a stable, long-lasting business is built upon a vault of creative projects, more than just your viral hits. It does not survive based on banking on the riskiest potential goldmines. Yes, you may strike gold - you probably already have - but gold is not lightning - you’re highly unlikely to strike twice, especially if you’ve depleted the first reserve. And, if you haven’t noticed, your bets aren’t exactly panning out. Everybody can see you scrambling.


When the world stopped, it seems you had finally to realize that the world goes beyond your own bubble and your resulting shift towards international audiences is a welcome one. However, the queer community is not just a Western phenomena, even if some people in power like to think so. The LGBTQIA+ community is everywhere. Even in places where people seek to extinguish our light, we are there, shining. We are in every place, every aspect of time, and exist in every strand of the multiverse. Ditto to the allies and accomplices and lovers of quality entertainment. We are not a liability but rather an opportunity, if you can move past superficial capitalism to see so. An investment in our community will give you returns and retention. Look at the most popular pieces dominating film and television right now and you’ll find that sapphic representation is vital to their success.

Quality in media is highly dependent upon the quality of representation - you are sacrificing that for mere short-term gains when we all see the cliff you’re heading towards. Just like politicians, you’re not giving us any credit let alone the benefit of the doubt; audiences are not dumb. We are not sponges designed for passive consumption, even if you have come to that consensus. And we see right through the trend you’re trying to perpetuate.


Fans aren’t just teen girls with obsessions - we’re lawyers and doctors; skilled craftsmen and laborers; teachers and parents; entrepreneurs and businessmen; we’re scholars and activists; artists and creators. We’re your neighbors and friends; family, both chosen and by blood. We are you. Stop treating us like we’re just pawns in a chess game.


Trust me, you are not as clever as you think you’re being.


You may have established yourselves as the keepers of the gate, but we have the power of numbers. Embrace us instead of being the old man, holding onto the last vestiges of his pride who forgets where he came from. Remember who built you, who supported you when it was tough, the values you endeavored to operate under. And if that doesn’t move you, then think of all the money you just lost and can get back. It’s not like I want to be writing this letter or for fandoms to be spending their precious time, money, and energy fighting against cancellations, both after the fact and preemptively. You think we want to be doing this? No, we want to enjoy our lives and connect over our favorite shows and characters finally getting to just live.

In 2016, the LGBTQIA+ community brought up the issue of the continuous, harmful trope of killing off queer characters (*nudge, nudge* guess which community was mostly affected by this trend too) in television, under the banner, #BuryYourGays. It took a lot of uproar, but creators finally took notice and held themselves accountable. On April 21st of 2016, “the writers room for the television show Saving Hope created and signed a pledge to the LGBTQ community in response to the ongoing criticism of writers’ propensity to kill off LGBTQ characters on television.” It was entitled The Lexa Pledge, after a lesbian character killed off in the show, The 100, right after she and another sapphic character got together. (Like right after). The Lexa Pledge offers a series of seven promises for television writers to follow. It instructs creators to be more mindful that the fate of these characters on screen ending in an untimely and unnecessary demise were doing real psychological and emotional harm to an already vulnerable community. And it worked. The pledge got signatories from other writers and creators and they followed through; we got to see versions of ourselves live and love on-screen. But now, in 2023, we’re again fighting for that survival. We’ve traded in one harmful trope for another.


#CancelYourGays, as it is known, is effectively another version of the #BuryYourGays trope, except it kills the entire world. And when most of the canceled shows feature prominent sapphic storylines and relationships, what that does is effectively an erasure of a whole community. Moreso when people have banded together over their love of these shows and characters, only for their cries to be outright ignored. This is a prevailing trend happening at an extremely rapid pace, causing significant harm to the community. At least when we were being killed on screen, our characters were mourned and buried, grieved and honored in their world. But with these cancellations, the entire world is being swept away. Erased, as if we never even existed, telling audiences that this already vulnerable community is ripe for the picking; that we don’t matter and neither do our love - or our lives.


Whether this is a deliberate attack on the community is not a question I can definitively answer. What I do know is that in order for this to even reach this level, these actions have to be fueled by pure ignorance. And I can say with absolute certainty that it is happening at an extraordinarily opportune time, where backlash against the LGBTQIA+ community is again at its peak, with trans rights, trans people, and sexual education under attack; while female bodies, namely bodies with uteruses, are at the mercy of lawmakers who don’t even have them. While my country, the United States of America, the supposed beacon of freedom and diversity, is leading the charge, other nations are following suit. What we show on our screens matter a great deal in this time of violence and siege. And what you’re showing is that it is okay, even encouraged, to add fuel to the fire of those who wish to burn us at the stake and erase us completely.

For the moment, the main culprit is Netflix, but the rest of you have immense blood on your

hands as well. Ya’ll seem to think that this is not a phenomenon worthy of caring about. And while hundreds of thousands of fans, if not millions, across numerous fandoms scream in effigy and protest, you turn your backs and continue to put us on the chopping block. You actively allow and advocate for transphobic media, promote shows that queerbait, or are merely just straight replicas of already canceled sapphic shows. You ignore the people you claim to serve. Constantly.


It is perhaps the only consistent thing you’ve ever done.


It’s like we’ve returned to the 2000s and 2010s, both on screen and in real life, where following a period of progressive action, backlash comes in the form of active persecution of queer voices. What’s more is that you’ve condoned it then and you’re doing it now. Well, it may be news to some, but we’re actually not there anymore. It’s 2023 and we’re not going to quiet ourselves to make you comfortable.

Funnily enough, that time period was when now streaming giant, Netflix, was just starting to take off and did so on the shoulders of the sapphic, queer characters of now legendary show, Orange Is The New Black. Apparently you don’t remember being lifted up onto the grand stage by us. Interesting.


You were once going to disrupt the entertainment industry! Now look at you, the once-darling of the media world, grown up to join the same goon squad as it sought to fight against.


Streaming is our new normal - there’s no doubt about that, but the way that you have all been running the show has proven to be a huge detriment to the industry. Not only are audiences suffering, but creators and artists as well. It isn’t that hard to run a humane organization, and yet, at every turn, it seems like you all can’t help but poison the well. It is truly astonishing.

And this is all on you, the executives running your little business, up on your throne in that glass skyscraper, growing old and forgetting where you came from. Your past accolades won’t save you. What you fail to understand is that we’re not just going to sit back and take it. This digital epoch that we live in offers us the power of community and because you won’t utilize it, we will. Sapphire Society is only one of many organizations coming out of your ruin that seeks to turn social media activism into something bigger. Something real.

 

We vow to do right by artists and audiences alike.

We value and prioritize quality representation and will actively seek to promote it, instead of using our passive actions as an excuse to cancel our stories.

We understand the vital importance of this endeavor, and that it has real-world consequences.

We will build our organizations and projects so that we leave this space and time better than we found it.

We will never treat vulnerable communities like a trend or exploit solidarity for profit.

We vow to do better and be better than those in current power, and when we are able to hold that privilege, we will treat it as such and do our level best to hold ourselves accountable to those whose stories we tell.


We are fiercely urging you, Big Media, and those currently with power to do the same.


Signed,

SouJee Han


& co-signed by,

Sapphire Society

SouJee Han - NY, USA

Christina M. Perez - VA, USA

Gab Vigneux - Ontario, Canada

Jess Domingo - Ontario, Canada

Emily Peel - London, England

Kiel Emanjaro - Philippines


Click here to sign your name and view all the signatories.

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