In an era where division reigns, it doesn’t take 8 minds to see how Sense8 is one of the strongest advocates of diversity and inclusion in modern television. The show encourages us to love despite difference, a sentiment which is not lost on us in our current social and political discourse.
After just two seasons, one of the most diverse representations of the LGBT+ community has been axed from our screens. This decision feels like a modern-day attack on equality, and it’s important to pause and take stock of what we’ll lose as a result. One thing is for certain, it’s a blow for diversity.
Sense8 is a show that offers our community a diverse cast, portrayed not only through their geographical separation, but also through the racial, sexual, and gender identities they represent. Sense8 highlights the unity to be found within peoples differences—a unity that crosses borders, and is not limited by gender, faith or sexuality.
The show is unapologetically proud, granting an insight into the lives of LGBT+ characters all too regularly excluded from our screens. Although it addresses the hardships associated with gender and sexual diversity, it doesn’t limit characters to these storylines. What makes Sense8 great is that it gives LGBT+ characters value beyond their sexuality, prioritising what they have to contribute as an individual.
Jamie Clayton’s Nomi - a kick-ass, cyber-savvy activist, who happens to be trans - and Miguel Ángel Silvestre’s Lito - a B-grade action hero avoiding being outed as gay - represent queer identity without being reduced to it. They play broader roles, dealing with the mind-bending telepathic connections with their fellow ‘sensates’ across the world, something more than just the token gay or trans character.
Sense8 upholds equality in television and challenges societal values, cementing its importance to our community, especially now, when strides toward equality are being undermined across the world. Regression threatens our progress, as opponents of diversity attempt to divide us by encouraging sentiments of otherness. Responding to the rise of racial intolerance in today’s political climate, Sense8’s Daryl Hannah noted in an interview that "the world is going more towards this weird, fascist, racist, negative trajectory,” going on to say that “we have to dig our way out of that sooner or later”. Of the show, Hannah said that the second season aims to push “the message of inclusiveness, compassion and empathy”.
“That's really the theme of the show," she stated.
Here at home and abroad, complacency has become a barrier towards achieving social equality. Sense8's response has been to push us forward, reorienting our minds as to what to expect from representation in mainstream television. Losing this at such a pinnacle moment on the road to equality seems short-sighted, especially from an organisation who has been as innovative and progressive as Netflix.
Netflix is no stranger to taking risks over commercial viability of programs. Sense8’s focus on representation is exactly what we want to see on TV, and is an example of the risks necessary to topple the norm of under-representation. This issue not only relates to the inclusion of powerful LGBT+ characters, but also people of colour, both of which Sense8 acknowledges and responds to.
The symbology of losing this show at the beginning of Pride Month is compounded by Trump not declaring the significance of June to LGBT+ rights activism. Considering these decisions, it is important that those with power and influence rally around the LGBT+ community, to defend emerging threats to the values of tolerance, diversity and equality.
Netflix, then, can play an important role in standing up for us, by improving representation and in turn, fostering a kinder, more inclusive world. If young closeted people who are struggling with their gender or sexual identities can relate to the people represented in their favourite movie or TV productions, it can go a long way in helping them come to terms with who they are. Jamie Clayton highlighted this, saying that “it’s important that LGBT people be represented… But I think what we’re doing that no one’s ever done before is that we’re being shown as lead characters, we’re being shown in love, we’re being shown having sex… We’re stable people with jobs and with lovers and with whole rounded lives…we’re not these fractioned people [with] no friends, [who] are depressed. We’re living.”
We all need characters we can identify with, and Sense8 is more than just your average TV sci-fi show—it carries our voices and messages of equality into lounge rooms globally. It seems shallow for Netflix to be hung up on ratings, given the irony that Sense8 is a show dealing with minorities. Not to say that it lacked popularity, the Change.org petition calling for the show’s renewal has gained over 400,000 signatures in just a few days.
Now we can only hope that Netflix will pay attention to the outcry over their short-sighted decision and pursue a reversal, but if they don’t, we must be ready to fight for the representations we deserve. Sense8 is a pioneer in the pursuit of lasting LGBT+ representation in television. We cannot allow it to become a one-off, or for the people who made it to underestimate its importance.
Jamie Clayton’s tweet following the announcement echoes this sentiment. Sense8 has something more to offer than entertainment—it carries lessons about the value of diversity. It exposes us to a version of the world that is full of awe-inspiring sites and personalities, something not to be feared. Today, more than ever, anything that undermines fear is something we should hold on to.