Media Matters

So, let’s just start this off with a bit of a disclaimer. I spent the first thirty years of my life not feeling like I “fit in”, but ultimately still living as a hetero cis white guy. Media was sculpted to fit me in that mold. I was the audience to which it panders; I saw “myself” in a lot of the characters in the shows, comics, and movies that I gave my time to. As I’ve grown into where I am today, though, this has diminished. Where I once “connected” with these nerdy, pale-skinned, scrawny heroes, their plainness and mediocrity is now laid bare for me. This doesn’t change how I felt growing up, but it changes things now.

So, when not long after I “discovered” my real self, Netflix put together an ambitious show that highlighted a diverse cast of protagonists, it clicked with me in a way that nothing really had before. I’m talking about Sense8; in particular, one of its eight leading roles — Nomi Marks, portrayed by Jamie Clayton. The connection is pretty plain if you know much about me or Nomi, but I’m going to say that not everyone does. So, let’s take a minute to familiarize ourselves with the character and some particular things about her that resonated with me in a way that other characters simply can’t.

See, it’s rare enough to see a transgender character in … well, pretty much any mainstream media. Rarer still are those done well, or those portrayed by actors and actresses who’ve lived that struggle in their own lives. Right off the bat, we’ve got a character that I can connect with if for nothing more than this — but wait! We’re not done yet. Nomi, you see, is in a very committed and pretty awesome relationship with another series regular, Amanita Caplan, as portrayed by Freema Agyeman. This is damn near unheard of for any transgender character — either part of it, really. A transgender woman who is in a happy, well-rounded relationship with a woman? I don’t know that I’m aware of this happening anywhere else.

This, then, marked a first for me in my newfound identity — there was a character, a leading character — who was like me. A person with their own struggles and complications that was still heroic and beautiful, while also dealing with the trials and tribulations that come from being transgender and gay. I don’t know if I can reasonably explain to anyone that’s not a part of a marginalized group what this meant to me, what it felt like to turn the show on and see someone that honestly felt like they shared some of my own confusing, confounding experience. Nomi was a character with depth, and Clayton’s portrayal of her fears and joys was fantastic and affirming.

So, when Netflix formally announced today (the beginning of Pride Month, no less!) that Sense8 would not be returning for a third season, I was … let’s say upset. No, fuck that. I was devastated. Maybe, in the midst of all of what we’re dealing with in the world today, having such strong feelings about a damn TV show is stupid or petty, but I don’t care. It hit me like a ton of bricks, enough that I spent some time at my desk today fighting back tears. Actual tears. It wasn’t an issue of the show’s cliffhanger season two ending — though that’s pretty shitty, too — it was the feeling of having this one thing, this one stupid goddamn thing that made me feel good in the midst of all this, taken away. It was seeing the only character I’ve ever felt this connection with get kicked to the curb. Why?

Well, to hear Netflix founder and CEO Reed Hastings tell it, the cancellation was for one simple reason. No, it wasn’t ratings, it wasn’t the cost of production, it wasn’t difficulty in the show’s globetrotting filming process — it was that Netflix simply doesn’t cancel enough shows. That’s it. That was his fucking excuse; that “[their] hit ratio is way too high right now” and that they “have to take more risk” because they “should have a higher cancel rate”. This is, perhaps, the most bullshit line I’ve ever heard from any content-creating executive — and that is saying a shit-ton, given the track record of people in such positions. The one goddamn instance of someone like me being represented in mainstream media, given the axe just because something had to be.

Now, this is just my own perspective, of course, but it’s a tale as old as media. The cis/hetero white guys at the top cut the content that speaks to the marginalized; the people of color, the queer, the socially-maligned, for whatever stupid reasons they care to cough up at the time. I’m far from the first to suffer this indignance, and I’m certainly not going to be the last. I’ve tried to speak up, where my voice has any meaning, on these sorts of things, because I knew it had to suck. I knew it was a shitty feeling, to have your heroes stolen away by real-life villains who simply don’t see you as enough of a demographic to keep on making things for you.

I don’t know when, or even if, I’ll ever see a character like Nomi Marks again. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to turn to my TV and see someone there that I can share that connection with. Honestly? I’m not holding my breath. If Netflix, the “difference maker” in the television-content equation, can cast that aside while making a living out of resurrecting tired old IPs and the cast-offs of more conventional networks, then why would I let myself hold on to that hope? If the one fucking instance of this happening can be kicked to the curb simply because “something needed to be” is insulting and really, really disappointing.

Anyway, if you haven’t watched Sense8 I definitely encourage you to do so. Without going into specifics, there were several times that the show made me cry — and mostly tears of happiness! Seeing a reflection of myself out there, being done well, and getting to live a good life in spite of the struggles was a pure and awesome joy for me, and there’s plenty more to like about the show. Yes, it’s going to end with a bullshit cliffhanger that’ll never be resolved, but trust me when I say the journey to that point still has interesting and good things to say, and a beautiful person that will remain a hero of mine even if her story has been left on the cutting room floor.

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