GLOW stars asked for more inclusive, authentic representation before cancellation
Netflix's female wrestling dramedy GLOW has been one of the most high-profile and widely mourned TV cancellations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly since the acclaimed series had already been renewed for a fourth and final season. Now, in the wake of the "un-renewal," the show's BIPOC stars have revealed that they came together to demand better, more inclusive, and authentic storytelling for their characters in what was to be the show's last season.
Ellen Wong, Sydelle Noel, Sunita Mani, Britney Young, Shakira Barrera, and Kia Stevens all posted an open letter on Instagram this week that they had sent to the showrunners and Netflix prior to GLOW's cancellation. Each also shared a personal statement addressing the show's portrayals of women of color and calling for change.
"We are writing to you today to share some feelings that have been suppressed in all of us for a long time," the letter reads. "As the principal women of color on a show tackling racist and offensive stereotypes, we have felt disempowered throughout our time on GLOW. We've individually come to you to express our concerns over the course of 3 seasons — whether it be in our character meetings or during specific conflicts within our storyline — and our characters continually remain less fleshed out and less dimensional. It has been problematic to use our faces, oftentimes solely in the context of a racist storyline, and to be brief with our story development to serve the in-depth white storylines… We can no longer be quiet about the pain this has caused us and the harm it has done in perpetuating the representation of people of color as sidekicks to elevate white leads."
The letter goes on to note that there were no people of color in the writers' room for season 3, which they felt led to inauthentic writing for their characters. The stars also laid out recommendations for season 4, including hiring "an executive producer or consulting producer of color," "fully address[ing] how portraying stereotypical and racially offensive wrestling personas has impacted our character's professional lives and personal dignity," and "amplify[ing] our voices and our importance within the season narrative."
Noel, who played Cherry Bang, revealed that after a Zoom call with the showrunners and Netflix executives regarding the letter, the cast was presented with "specific, tangible resolutions to address our concerns… We were all so hopeful and very excited by the opportunity to do a new season with these changes implemented. But now, unfortunately, because the show is canceled, the fans of GLOW won't get to see what could have been, and how our show would have been different… an actual 'ensemble' show."
EW has learned that due to these conversations, there were plans to address the cast's concerns in season 4, and the discussions and proposed changes did not influence Netflix's decision to retroactively cancel GLOW.
Earlier this month, a Netflix spokesperson cited the challenges of production during the pandemic as the reason for canceling, saying, "We've made the difficult decision not to do a fourth season of GLOW due to COVID, which makes shooting this physically intimate show with its large ensemble cast especially challenging. We are so grateful to creators Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch, Jenji Kohan and all the writers, cast and crew for sharing this story about the incredible women of GLOW with us and the world."
Flahive and March said in a statement, "COVID has killed actual humans. It's a national tragedy and should be our focus. COVID also apparently took down our show. Netflix has decided not to finish filming the final season of GLOW. We were handed the creative freedom to make a complicated comedy about women and tell their stories. And wrestle. And now that's gone. There's a lot of s---ty things happening in the world that are much bigger than this right now. But it still sucks that we don't get to see these 15 women in a frame together again. We'll miss our cast of weirdo clowns and our heroic crew. It was the best job."
GLOW began production on season 4 in Los Angeles in February, and the cast and crew were able to finish filming one episode and had started on a second. But when the coronavirus pandemic prompted a complete shutdown in March, production halted. Since the show is shot entirely in Los Angeles and the large ensemble cast frequently films wrestling scenes that require close interactions and heavy breathing and exertion, the series faced major obstacles in getting back up and running. Plus, GLOW's fourth season likely wouldn't debut until 2022, at least two and a half years after the previous season debuted.
Due to the significant delay, the high level of risk to safely produce TV during COVID-19 (plus the increased costs), and the potential exposure that comes with wrestling scenes, Netflix decided the series was too costly to produce. All the series regulars have been paid in full for the fourth season, and GLOW's season 3 ending cliffhanger won't see a resolution, leaving fans to wonder what would happen to all the women after Debbie (Betty Gilpin) bought a television network and wanted to move the GLOW show back to Los Angeles.
Read Noel, Wong, Mani, Young, Barrera, and Stevens' statements below.
Inspired by the real-life 'Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling' series from the 1980s, this Netflix dramedy revolves around a crew of Hollywood misfits turned female wrestlers in L.A. who take their show to Las Vegas in season 3.