Animation has always been a source of joy for me. As someone with an overactive imagination and a longing to find the surreality within reality, I have always found that watching animation gave me a sense of belonging even in the most unfamiliar of territories. Often, the alien worlds of the cartoons I watch feel more familiar and homely to me than the world around me. However, this sense of understanding isn’t confined merely to these fantastical worlds: they also help me find understanding in the real world.
One particular world I loved to inhabit was that of Netflix’s Tuca & Bertie, a cartoon which followed the two titular best friends and former roommates (who also happen to be birds) as they enter their thirties and explore different life paths as Bertie moves in with her boyfriend, Speckle, and Tuca moves in to her own apartment directly above Bertie’s. While being comical and visually inventive due to its surrealist art style, the show also managed to effectively tackle serious and very real problems such workplace harassment, trauma, assault, addiction, and complex family dynamics, leading to acclaim from critics and fans alike who felt recognised and understood in ways they never had before. Created by Lisa Hanawalt (of BoJack Horseman) and with Tiffany Haddish as Tuca, Ali Wong as Bertie, and Steven Yeun as Speckle, Tuca & Bertie wasn’t only revolutionary because of the topics it covered and the way it covered them but because it gave a voice to female creators in animation, showcased female-led TV content and allowed people of colour to display their talents in a way other shows rarely do.
So, what did Netflix decide to do with this inventive, funny, acclaimed, female created, and female and people of colour led series? Cancel it after only one season. Yes, as of the 24th July, Netflix announced that Tuca & Bertie was to be cancelled only two months after its first season aired. As a fan of the show I must say I was angered and frustrated but far from surprised. For many people, including myself, the cancellation of Tuca & Bertie had an eerie similarity to the cancellation of other acclaimed minority led shows such as The Get Down, Sens8, and One Day at a Time. Notably, the cancellation of Tuca & Bertie appeared to receive just as much backlash from both fans and critics as the cancellations of the others did. Despite the uproar surrounding the demise of the aforementioned shows, Netflix never backtracked their decisions. In fact, the only show out of the three to be revived by another network was One Day at a Time, which, three months after it’s cancellation, was picked up by Pop TV. Baring this in mind, my hopes for Tuca & Bertie finding a new home are admittedly a little depleted, but not lost forever.
However, while fans wait with bated breath to see what will become of the show, the question must be asked: why do Netflix keep cancelling acclaimed shows headed by minorities? Especially since they claim to support minorities (on a superficial level) with their renewal and promotion of Queer Eye, their promotion and seven season run of Orange is the New Black, their proud portrayal of the rainbow flag in their logo, and their threats of legal action against straight pride. Nonetheless, many people (myself included) can see that the streaming platform is far from a true ally to minorities. The only reason Netflix may act like an ally at times is because it is financially beneficial to them. They are a corporation after all and good business is what is most important to them.
With this in mind, let’s consider these cancellations. Clearly these shows weren’t creating enough financial revenue for Netflix. It doesn’t matter how artistic, smart, culturally important or critically acclaimed these shows were – all that matters to Netflix is, of course, viewership numbers (which they can translate into money). Some business minded people may be saying “obviously money is all that matters – they’re a business, they need money to be successful” and to that I would agree: it is obvious that money is Netflix’s only concern and yes, businesses do need money. But how can they ever make money from a show they don’t promote? The shows that I am talking about may have been praised by fans and critics but that praise did not translate into much promotion from Netflix, certainly not the amount of promotion that Netflix’s hit shows (Stranger Things, House of Cards, Black Mirror etc.) receive.
To me, the likely reason for this lack of promotion is obvious: due to these shows’ minority creators, and their focus on characters or issues these minorities face, Netflix executives seemingly saw them as “niche”, pre-empted that they would therefore attract smaller viewerships and thus spent less money and effort on advertising them, as in their minds, it was not profitable to do so. From the very start, these shows have been doomed to fail in terms of viewers and thus in terms of their potential to continue to their full fruition. “But why” I hear you ask “has Netflix promoted Queer Eye and Orange is the New Black? Why didn’t they neglect them like the other shows you mentioned?”. Well, I believe that Netflix isn’t trying to bury all content made by or centring minorities; I believe it is predetermining which shows have the potential to be successful and make the most money, and that unfortunately many shows made by or centring on minorities are not considered profitable. I obviously cannot say for sure how they decide which of these shows should be successful, however, Queer Eye seems like a good candidate for success as a feel good, fairly light-hearted show whose entire concept is unification. Orange is the New Black, on the other hand, makes sense for a number of reasons – it stars numerous well-known actresses, its controversial plot brought publicity and therefore, viewers, and it’s one of Netflix’s first original television ventures.
Am I calling Netflix racist, sexist, or homophobic? No. But I am calling their system for renewing shows one that benefits the already privileged and hinders many minority creators and minority led shows. With a system that would have promoted the show adequately, Tuca & Bertie could have been huge. It was a great series, with so much potential to be even greater, had it been given the chance to mature and grow just like its titular characters do throughout the show. But unfortunately, we don’t live in a cartoon world where everything is fair and everyone is valued equally, but a world that believes most content made for minorities will not gain a majority audience, a world that values money over art, so we’ll likely never know just how high Tuca & Bertie could’ve flown.
Words by Emma Reilly