Bring Sense8 Back: What Netflix's latest series cancellation means for global diversity on screen | TV

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By Claire.

This morning, my sister woke me up to tell me there was bad news overnight: after two seasons, Netflix has decided to cancel Sense8.

This announcement comes a week after the cancellation of Baz Luhrmann’s 1970s hip-hop and disco musical extravaganza The Get Down, another artistic and diverse master piece. Netflix may like to come off as a platform which champions diversity, but at the moment, is failing to keep that image up.

Created by Lana Wachowski, Lilly Wachowski and J. Michael Straczynski, Sense8 follows the lives of eight people from across the globe, who are interconnected in their minds, called “sensates”, allowing for these people to visit each other, feel their thoughts and emotions, and share skills to kick ass.

All 8 sensates together comforting Sun in Korea - So many different types of people supporting one another.

Filmed in sixteen cities and thirteen countries, what sets this show apart is not only the immense diversity of its characters, but also its production value, filming on location in each country the character is from and with local actors and film crew. From Seoul, Nairobi, Mumbai and Bombay, Mexico City, Sao Paulo, San Francisco, Chicago, Berlin, Reykjavik, London and Amsterdam, the show is literally the most global production seen on television.

Which is what makes the cancellation so disappointing.

In a review of the first season for Variety, Brian Lowry argued “‘Sense8’ becomes a pretty mundane, chaotic soap opera, following the lives of its various characters without doing much to advance what binds them.” I fail to see how this is a bad thing. 

Not only are we living in one of the most exciting time for television, where production values are bigger, the stories are more inclusive, and it is television shows which have more of an effect on society than film, but we also live in a time of intense international turmoil. So Sense8 may be turning more into a “soap opera”, about the characters lives rather than advancing what connects them, I don’t see this as a bad thing. (sidebar: was I the only one seeing all the action, fight scenes, and the whole cluster—what the group of sensates are called—banding together to defeat the enemy aka BPO?) Having a show where eight people around the word, from different cultures and ways of life, all banding together and helping each other in any way possible, is so important and life affirming to see. What connects us is our humanity, that we all live on this earth, and nothing demonstrates that more than Sense8.

Miguel Ángel Silvestre as Lito and Alfonso Herrera as Hernando at the Sao Paulo Pride Parade.

Actress Tina Desai, who plays Kala from Mumbai, told The Hollywood Reporter, "We might be culturally different, but we all think and feel the same way. If we can just respect that difference and then get over it and be more accepting, there really isn't any problem. The problem comes around when you resist change. That's what the show is doing: We all get past our differences and create something really amazing." 

The show teaches empathy, teaches tolerance. Wolfgang Bogdanow (Max Riemelt), a grumpy tough guy from an East Berlin crime family can blow up his uncle with a rocket launcher one scene, and help kick a homophobe’s ass in the next. Kala Dandekar (Desai), a devout Indian chemist can find out her husband’s company sends expired medicine to countries like Kenya, and feel the most intense betrayal. Sun Bak (Doona Bae), a Korean business woman who is an insanely skilled fighter is the one to help Capheus Onyango (Aml Ameen in season 1, Toby Onwumere in season 2), a tall and solid, Kenyan man fight his battles with her martial arts. A joke around the Sense8 fandom is that Will Gorski (Brian J. Smith), the All-American Chicago cop is the Cluster Dad, and Riley Blue (Tuppance Middleton), the Icelandic DJ is Cluster Mum. Although they come from different worlds, Nomi Marks (Jamie Clayton), a transgender woman in San Francisco offers advice and support to Lito Rodriguez (Miguel Ángel Silvestre), a Mexican actor who must deal with being publicly outed while in the spotlight.

Berliner Wolfgang Bogdanow (Max Riemelt, right) experiences Kala Dendakar's (Tina Desai, left) Mumbai through their connection. 

There is no accounting for how much this show means for a global audience as well. In a featurette uploaded by Netflix, actress Jamie Clayton says “I don’t think there’s one person in any part of the world who could watch the show and not feel connected to someone.” The show isn’t even just about people of diverse races, but also of sexuality, gender identity, religion, and subverting gender norms. In season one, Lito experiences Sun’s period pain; as mentioned above, the same woman helps a man fight; one of the most intelligent people in the cluster, Kala, is a woman; and in the final episode of season two, it is a white man who needs to be saved.  

Left to right: Freema Ageyman as Nomi's girlfriend Amanita Caplan and sensates Doona Bae as Sun Bak and Jamie Clayton as Nomi Marks. 

Fans have taken to Twitter to voice their disappointment, with Vine star Thomas Sanders writing:

A petition to renew the series has already be created.

In addition to the shows immense diversity, it is also a stunning and artistic production. Filming on location, instead of in a studio, provides an authenticity to the show and the character’s stories. The scenes are like pure art forms, and the editing is flawless. In a show where people are connected mentally, the ability to effectively show how the characters visit each other, but are unseen by those around them, is incredibly detailed and tricky to orchestrate, yet the editors pull it off seamlessly.

Some of the incredible editing. Source.

Not only do platforms such as Netflix need to champion stories of diversity, but they should also celebrate project which extend the boundaries of what a TV show is. To move forward in an already constantly changing industry, with the development of technology and a plethora of content already out in the world, isn’t it time to be bold and take risks in new formats? No other show does what Sense8 does. It is purely unique in its scope. Why doesn’t Netflix see the merits in that?

Netflix CEO and founder Reed Hastings told CNBC the platform has too many hits and not a high enough cancellation rate. If Netflix needs to cancel shows, why did they renew the teen drama Thirteen Reasons Why, which glorifies suicide? What will connect the characters now that the tapes are over? I will admit, I enjoyed the show and I think it demonstrates what it’s like to be a teenager in an adult way, but I don’t think it needs a second season. It’s lost on me. Sense8 comes together to fight a common evil both literally with the corporation BPO, and figurately in fighting bigots with lack of understanding. Love, empathy, sex and courage: This is what Sense8 is about, and I want to see more of that.

Bring Sense8 back.  


Both season's of Sense8 are available to stream on Netflix.

Cause a Cine do not own any of the images used in this post.
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