Why are so many shows with diverse representation getting canceled?

Estelle Wong, Contributing Writer

Yet another promising show with diverse representation focused on female characters was cancelled by a streaming platform. The latest victim is Amazon Prime’s Paper Girls, an adaptation of the graphic novel series of the same name. Low viewership was cited as the reason for its cancellation, despite having an established fanbase from the graphic novels, and an 89% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Teeming with mystery and interpersonal conflicts, Paper Girls was the kind of show that needed multiple seasons to tell its full story, but the expectation that shows must perform exceedingly well during its first season hurts creators’ abilities to tell stories they want. More than being able to see Paper Girls fully realized was its significance to the communities they represented. It’s so rare to see teenagers cast by actual teenagers, and much less ones portrayed by people of color and other minorities. Being able to have a show like Paper Girls is so meaningful, especially to see a Chinese teenager having a prominent role in the story.

There are a number of reasons why Paper Girls may not have done as successfully as it could have. For one, the show aired on July 29, weeks after the fourth season of Netflix’s Stranger Things was released, with a view count reaching over 1.4 billion hours. Despite having the potential to rival Stranger Things in terms of a dark sci-fi story centered around teenagers, fans reeling from the show’s aftermath continued to rewatch episodes even after the season was finished. The lack of promotional material leading up to its release also could have damaged its success. Compared to another show on the platform, LOTR: Rings of Power, which received a more robust marketing campaign, may have overshadowed the release of Paper Girls.

These reasons could have been handled differently with more support from Amazon Prime. For example, the release of Paper Girls could have been pushed back, or the show could have received more marketing and advertising. All to say that another reason why Paper Girls might not have succeeded was Amazon Prime’s lack of faith in the show.

For fans of Paper Girls, there is still hope that the show may continue on, with Legendary TV potentially picking up the series instead. But other shows with diverse representation haven’t been as fortunate in finding an alternative streaming platform. Shows such as I Am Not Okay With This, Gentleman Jack, and Julie and the Phantoms have all been canceled after a single season for low viewership, despite having a passionate fan base online.

Felicia D. Henderson, showrunner of First Kill, points to poor marketing for the show’s performance, “The art for the initial marketing was beautiful. I think I expected that to be the beginning and that the other equally compelling and important elements of the show — monsters vs. monster hunters, the battle between two powerful matriarchs, etc. — would eventually be promoted, and that didn’t happen.” 

This trend of series with diverse casts and storylines being canceled prematurely due to low viewership is worrying, especially as many of these shows were not properly advertised by the services. This limits the amount of positive representation for marginalized communities, and also sends the message that future attempts at diverse storylines will not be successful in the long-term. How can smaller shows gain a larger following if streaming platforms aren’t offering the support needed for their success?

The frequency to which cancellations occur make it difficult to invest in a new show for fear of a premature ending by a streaming service. It makes it especially difficult to trust streaming services known for canceling new shows. And frankly, shows with diverse perspectives made by marginalized creators deserve to have their stories told in its full form, not cut short because of being a potential loss for a streaming service.

The need for media representation to reflect the world’s diversity is becoming more important than ever before, and now marginalized creators have more opportunities to tell perspectives that haven’t been shown on screen before. If streaming platforms want to truly celebrate diversity, they have to do more than having a section dedicated to the current heritage month; they need to provide more support to marginalized creators so that their shows can succeed.