Warrior Nun, The Sapphic TV Show Cancellation That Broke The Community

You know that meme from The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills that says “Gonna give the gays everything they want?” Well, that couldn’t be far from the truth when it comes to scripted television. Queer television viewers are not happy with some choices that were made by networks and streaming services in the past year. Normally, we’re just used to characters being killed off, which had sparked a revolution in 2016 that brought attention to the discrepancies in how straight characters were treated on screen versus lesbian or queer characters. To this day, some television shows still use the Bury Your Gays trope (we won’t get into Killing Eve, at least not here), but what we have seen in the past year, is that any television show that has one or more lead characters who is a queer woman, has been canceled. The Wilds, Batwoman, Paper Girls, Gentleman Jack, First Kill, and Legends of Tomorrow are all shows led by one or more queer women that were canceled by their respective network or streaming service. There’s a chance that the beloved Amazon Prime show A League of Their Own may suffer the same fate.

The Wilds and Paper Girls were Amazon Prime shows, Gentleman Jack on HBO, Batwoman and Legends of Tomorrow on The CW, and First Kill on Netflix. Each show caused an uproar from their fans, but one of the most notable of that bunch is First Kill. It was the first show of its kind — a YA vampire show where its two lead characters were lesbians, one of whom was Black. According to Forbes, “Tracking sites say that First Kill racked up 97.6 million viewing hours when it was hanging out inside Netflix’s top 10. By contrast, Heartstopper racked up just a little more than half that, 53.4 million hours.” The comparison between First Kill and Heartstopper was something that was brought up quite often by fans, the latter of which was renewed for two additional seasons. So now, with Netflix in particular, viewers were seeing a difference in how the popular streaming service was handling the renewal and cancellation decisions of their shows. Heartstopper, although a beautiful, well-done show, has two white men as leads (one gay, one bisexual). General audiences tend to flock more to tv shows or movies (ie Love Simon) that center around white gay or queer men, because it’s easier for audiences to digest.

There also is a skewed interest in seeing content centered around gay and queer men, rather than lesbian or queer women. Then there’s the conversation around the quality of the tv show. First Kill didn’t have as good ratings as Heartstopper, yet why does a show have to be perfect to determine its survival? Why can’t we allow shows to grow and get better, especially if there’s an audience there? Plus, do you know how many awful shows there are out there? Yet, if they are about straight people and have enough views, they get renewed for multiple seasons. Sapphic or women-led shows don’t often get that chance.

Now, what if a show has both the high ratings from critics and viewers alike, AND the views? That should warrant its renewal, right? Well, not exactly. So, when they made their decision in December to cancel their critically acclaimed show Warrior Nun, created by Simon Barry, queer viewers were enraged. To be fair, its season one release was quiet. I personally didn’t know about the show until the week leading up to its season two release, but that was also only because of word of mouth. This show, to our knowledge, had a very minimal (or no) marketing budget. There was zero social media or billboard promotion, or anything else that would encourage people to watch the show. Netflix has always had a serious problem with their marketing, always putting their efforts towards a show they want to be a hit, and forgetting about the other shows that are released around the same time that are equally as brilliant. One example I can think of is around the same time Stranger Things was released, The Get Down (a Baz Luhrmann produced show) was also released, but didn’t receive as much promotion as mega hit Stranger Things, and was canceled after two seasons due to not having enough viewers. This time around, when it came to Warrior Nun’s season two release, it was wedged in between The Crown, an already established, award-winning hit, and Wednesday, a new show that was a modern reiteration of well-known character Wednesday Addams. Wednesday’s marketing was absolutely insane. Besides the normal social media promotion, countless billboards, and press, Netflix even had all the TSA security bins at Los Angeles International Airport decked out with Wednesday art. I saw it with my very own eyes and was amazed at the level in which they were spreading awareness about the show. Yet, even with all of this stacked up against it, Warrior Nun spent three weeks in Netflix’s Top 10, and has garnered millions of social media hits about the show, both before its cancellation, and after, in an attempt to get the show uncanceled or picked up by another service. Right now, as of January 2023, the show sits at a 100% Critics Rating and 99% Audience Score on Rotten Tomatoes, making it one of the highest rated Netflix shows EVER.

Warrior Nun follows a young woman named Ava, who is resurrected when a mystical and magic wielding halo is inserted in her back by a member of a secret group of bad ass, demon fighting nuns. With this chance at a new life, since in her previous one, she had been completely paralyzed, she ventures off to enjoy what the world has to offer. But of course, with this halo in her back, things don’t quite go as planned, and she has to team up with the nuns to protect people from demons, and protect the halo from getting into the wrong hands. Ava is played by the insanely talented Alba Baptista, in her first major English-speaking role, and her counterpart that has all the sapphics simping is Kristina Tonteri-Young’s Sister Beatrice. Put the two of them together, and you get the holy partnership Avatrice. One of the first, well thought out sapphic slow-burns I have ever seen in television. The sexual tension is palpable, and has you screaming at your tv during certain scenes, because WHY WON’T THEY KISS. This is the type of slow burn we get for straight ships all the time, so seeing it on this show, where it was done with such respect, was so fulfilling. We also have Alba and Kristina to thank, because their chemistry is so electric and rare, which makes watching them play off each other in scenes all the better. Is it getting hot in here or is it just Alba and Kristina making phenomenal improvised acting choices that is making me sweat?

Beyond these two actors, the rest of the ensemble cast is incredible, with Lorena Andrea as Sister Lilith, Olivia Delcán as Sister Camila, Sylvia De Fanti as Mother Superior, Tristán Ulloa as Father Vincent, Toya Turner as Shotgun Mary, Thekla Reuten as Jillian Salvius, and many others. The way they all interact with each other is seamless, which can be difficult with a large cast. Another standout about the show is its cinematography, which was one of the first things I noticed. The filming locations to begin with are stunning, but the incredible work of Imanol Nabea and Christopher LaVasseur are noticeable from the get go.

In all honesty, I could go on and on about Warrior Nun and how exquisite and special it is. But, to refrain from turning this into an essay, I’ll just say this—the cancellation of this show was the last straw for many sapphics, who have seen a troubling trend of shows that reflect and represent us being canceled.

You can’t go a single day without seeing something trending pertaining to Warrior Nun, because the fanbase is putting everything they have into the possibility of another streaming service picking up the show for a third season. Because we’re fucking tired of losing shows, good shows, that streaming services like Netflix deem unworthy for renewal. I really hope that this battle will be won. We’ve seen it before with other shows, so there’s faith that this can happen for Warrior Nun with the #SaveWarriorNun campaign. If not, it will just be added to Netflix’s graveyard of unfinished shows.

Just like in 2016, I hope that the outcry from the LGBTQ community in response to Warrior Nun’s cancellation causes the industry to rethink the metrics in which they decide whether a show is worth continuing. Of course money and budgets is involved, and I can understand cancelling a network show that doesn’t get enough viewers, but streaming services are not the same, and due to the copious amount of series that are pushed out on streaming, you’d think there would be more leniency in the factors that go into renewals. Nevertheless, networks and streaming services, Netflix in particular, have increasingly been cancelling shows after one or two seasons and not allowing them to grow and develop. Season two of Warrior Nun was rated even higher than season one, and even though the first season had great writing, the second was even better, with the development of characters and storylines. Simon Barry and his team were building up for an even greater season three, and because of Netflix, we won’t see that, at least not on their platform.

I’d like this to be an open discussion, for all the Warrior Nun fans and queer viewers who have had enough. Be loud, express your anger, talk about the importance of this show, and what has made you fall in love with it like I did. This is such a special show, and it was one of the few shows in the last few years that I really connected to. It should be talked about, so more people watch it, and Netflix and the rest of the industry know—we won’t stay quiet when our representation is taken away from us.

Isabel Maina

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