What is the shelf life of a black netflix series?

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SCREENSHOT: Netflix.
Last summer, Netflix announced that She’s Gotta Have It would not be renewed for a third season. When I got the news, I was aggravated. Coming off the sudden cancellation of The Get Down, Poussey’s violent and unnecessary death on Orange is the New Black, Mo’Nique being asked to discount her worth, and the former CEO being ousted as racist, there are many reasons to divest in Netflix.

She’s Gotta Have It needed (a lot of) work, and I wonder if Netflix did not want to put that work in. For them, it seems, investing in white mediocrity is easier than investing in uniquely Black tales (see: 13 Reasons Why and Tall Girl juxtaposed with The Get Down and Seven Seconds)

​​If I were to guess at the shelf life of a Black Netflix series, I would say two seasons. Max. This means: no character development, no substantial storylines, and no closure. As a Black viewer and creator seeing this pattern, it sends the message that Netlfix may greenlight a Black story, but the buck stops there.           

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What frustrates me the most about the cancellation is the fact that She’s Gotta Have It could have been a good show – if the same amount of care was put into it that we see in other Netflix shows. If Netflix can stretch a 300-page book to an eight season series (Orange is the New Black), they could hire culturally competent Black writers who know how to depict Black women without relying on misogynoir (Yes, Spike, I’m talking to you).

From the jump, there was always a disconnect between me and Nola Darling. Maybe it was the fact that every episode, I was reminded that this was a “Spike Lee joint.” That’s nice, if you want a man who openly supports abusers creating a show that heavily revolves around body politics (you don’t).

Admittedly, I did not finish hate watching Season 2 because a lot of the problems that I pinpointed in Season 1 resurfaced. However, despite the lack of range for many of the topics presented, the show did have some unique elements.

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​One of these is the way it talks about gentrification from a sort-of nuanced standpoint. On the one hand, Nola and her friends are fighting the system. On the other, Clorinda, a Black woman, is enabling that system that oppresses the people close to her. That storyline opens a dialogue about how “urban planning” is not just about race but also about class.

There was also the case of Shamekka’s butt injections. If that story had been told carefully, we could have talked about plastic surgery in a nuanced way that would not shame women who choose to have work done but instead paint a full portrait of the risks some women take when choosing to achieve a “perfect” body.

I could go on and on about the ways She’s Gotta Have It could have shifted the culture. However, as the African American proverb goes, it coulda…shoulda…woulda…but it didn’t. When looking at two other Netflix series, I see a pattern.

Fool me one time,
shame on you.
Fool me twice,
can’t put the blame on you.
Fool me three times,
f___ the peace signs,
Load the chopper,
and let it rain on you.

J. Cole, “No Role Modelz”

Netflix killing The Get Down was an egregious cancellation. The show had a unique storyline, and we got to see a diverse cast of characters whose story arcs touched on various social justice issues.

For example, Shaolin Fantastic’s experiences with abuse touch on the erasure of men from ‘me too.’ conversations. This storyline was important because some male victims, especially Black men, are reluctant to come forward because they being perceived as “weak” or being told that they “let” themselves be attacked.

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SCREENSHOT: Netflix.
Therefore, giving visibility to Shaolin as a survivor would counter the erasure of men from the ‘me too.’ Movement (Tarana Burke’s version of course). As Burke said during her ‘me too.’ HBCU tour, “The first role for men in the ‘me too.’ movement is as survivors.

Considering these things, I would have appreciated exploring this topic more.
Alternatively, we could have seen Mylene’s career trajectory; we could have dug deeper into Dizzee’s sexuality; we could have figured out how Zeke magically morphed into Nas. We coulda…shoulda…woulda, but we didn’t get the chance to do any of that.

I was fooled once with The Get Down.

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SCREENSHOT: Netflix.
For some, this might be an unpopular opinion, but I think that Seven Seconds could have been developed into a full series. If we could stretch 13 Reasons Why into three seasons when we were already given all 13 reasons in Season 1, I think we could have explored police misconduct and how it robs young Black people of their lives (see: Tamir Rice, Rekia Boyd, Ayanna Stanley).

Yet, Seven Seconds was cancelled after 1 season, as if that story was final. Like The Get Down, there were areas of potential development. We could have explored other cover ups from that racist police department (because that case surely was surely not a lone wolf case).

Alas, we were left saying, “coulda…shoulda…woulda” for the second time. I was fooled twice with Seven Seconds.

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Now, on this third go-round, I am loading the chopper and letting it rain on Netflix. In other words, I am calling them out for placing no value on Black stories.

After Netflix released 
Tall Girl this week, it feels like the perfect time to finally put this article out (I’ve had this topic sitting in my phone notes for months). In the past few years, Netflix has demonstrated a pattern of divesting in Black stories but will greenlight a show that depicts height as some form of oppression.

Like I said earlier, it’s been time to divest in Netflix. As I ease my way over to Hulu, I leave you with a question: Can Netflix support a Black story beyond the drawing board? ~ ℝ

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