Finding out last week that Netflix had canceled Gentefied after only two seasons felt like a gut-punch. But after the canceling of other groundbreaking Latinx shows on the platform like One Day at a Time in 2019 and The Expanding Universe of Ashley Garcia only last year, maybe I should’ve been prepared, especially in the ever-finicky medium of television.
With so much content available online, shows come and go all the time, rising (and falling) in popularity and relevance like clockwork. Because Gentefied didn’t show up in Netflix’s Top 10 List, it looked like nobody was watching, let alone giving it critical acclaim (which it was receiving). When something isn’t popular with the public anymore, whether upon release or over time, it makes sense within capitalistic industry standards to stop production.
The problem with this model (well, one problem, there are many) is that it’s exclusively designed to serve white-led and majority white-led media. When a show like Gentefied centers a Mexican-American family in East L.A. and explores topics like gentrification, immigration, LGBTQIA+ culture, and racism and colorism, it provides huge, groundbreaking representation to viewers who share similar experiences. But it won’t fit the mold of what usually trends on Netflix.
It doesn’t have the fanbase or lore of Riverdale, The Kissing Booth, or The Princess Switch franchise, nor their “so bad that it needs to be talked about” quality that lends itself to huge viewership numbers. Critical reception may be overwhelmingly negative but people are watching and generating revenue far exceeding what it cost to make these poorly written and directed TV shows and films. It shouldn’t be surprising of course, that these have all-white or majority-white main casts to make their stories more palatable to white audiences and success, therefore, more guaranteed.
The creators of Gentefied are grieving in the press so there’s no pretending it was canceled on their accord. To me, it felt like Netflix did little to promote the second season on social media. In the months prior, I had to search for news and trailer dates myself, and when nothing popped up, I promptly forgot about it. So seeing it suddenly appear on the platform in November felt like a total surprise. Gentefied deserved more hype leading up to its release. Marketing makes a huge difference for media that centers marginalized characters, especially in an industry designed to silence those narratives. Maybe Netflix thought the show would be better supported by its fans or maybe they already knew its second season would be its last.
Either way, Gentefied’s cancellation is an indication of the problematic way representation is valued under capitalism.
Audiences from marginalized communities want to see themselves and their stories told on screen. When media has historically centered white, cis, able-bodied, heterosexual stories, representation of other experiences can be ground-breaking, empowering, and inspiring. In recent years, Black Panther, Coco, even Crazy Rich Asians have shown both the cultural and financial value of shining the spotlight away from the mainstream standard of storytelling.
But capitalism has a funny way of taking advantage of what it once shunned for its own gain. Whenever I see race, ethnicity, or gender switches of historically white stories, for example, I want to celebrate the actors taking on what should be revolutionary roles. But I also have to ask, “Who is this retelling for? Whose idea was this? Should I give away my money just because I feel represented?” I don’t want to be so caught up in feeling seen in entertainment that I don’t think about who in the relationship is actually benefiting.
With its financial potential and cultural relevance, “representation” has become the go-to buzzword for why we should support certain works of art. But under capitalism, it’s hard to know whether the entertainment industry wants to represent marginalized communities or whether we’re simply helping out their bottom line.
Because the minute it looks like we’re no longer falling for the cash-grab, they blame it entirely on us and use it as proof of why our stories can’t work, or at least not for long. Media centering marginalized experiences now has huge expectations for success attached to it, not just to be financially rewarding but also to appeal universally across the communities they represent. The standards for white-led and marginalized-led media, while they have never been the same, can be damaging for creators and viewers alike.
That’s the double-edged sword here. I want my communities to be represented but not taken advantage of. I want creatives from marginalized communities to take up space in huge production companies but don’t want those companies profiting off of what I know they consider to be a trend rather than nuanced, complex experiences. Under capitalism, I know I can’t have it all.
What I can do is think more critically about the media that corporations are creating for us to consume and make the most ethical choices I can under this flawed system. Researching the creative teams of TV shows and films both behind and in front of the camera, looking at representation with nuance and critique rather than simply celebrating or taking it for granted, holding entertainment corporations accountable—there are ways to push back against the narrative that we should be grateful for any moment we see ourselves on-screen. Because if the situation with Gentefied has taught me anything, it’s that representation won’t always prevail to save us, let alone give us a voice. Sometimes we’ll have to find that for ourselves.