First Kill fans were left devastated on Wednesday after Netflix announced it was bringing out the coffin for the lesbian teen vampire drama after just eight episodes.
Based on a short story of the same name by V. E. Schwab, the series follows Juliette, a young vampire who has to kill someone to earn her rightful place in the family. Unfortunately for her, but fortunately for legions of young queer fans, she falls in love with the new girl in town, Calliope, a Black teenage girl who also happens to be a monster hunter.
It’s got a little bit of everything for the very-online: blood-sucking creatures, steamy gay make-outs, and some good old Romeo and Juliet tension. To the throngs of young fans who’ve been left heartbroken by its cancellation, it was everything.
“It wasn’t just the representation,” says Sav, an 18-year-old college student from Phoenix who says she saw herself in Cal as a bisexual young Black woman. “I think the storyline is really good and the way they did it—it’s just beautiful to watch. The plot is just amazing. Cal Burns is a great character. It was something unique and beautiful to me.”
Netflix says audiences just didn’t bite. Less than two months after the show’s premiere, the company says the decision to can the show boils down to a simple question of “viewing versus cost,” a spokesperson told The Daily Beast. While First Kill logged quite a bit of time on the streaming service’s Top 10 list—a fact that is cited time and time again by the show’s grieving fan base—the ranking doesn’t take into consideration whether people actually finished it or the size of its budget.
Some feel there’s something more sinister afoot. Shows centered around LGBTQ+ characters, particularly lesbian or bisexual women, are often sacrificed at the altar of ratings or “engagement” quicker than their straight counterparts, they say. In an unfortunate example that pits one LGBTQ+ show against another, fans are pointing to the difference in treatment between First Kill and Heartstopper, another recent offering centered around two teenage boys who fall in love. That one was renewed for a second and third season less than a month after it was released, though it also garnered near-universal critical acclaim. (First Kill has a 58% on Rotten Tomatoes.) Fans of First Kill were so outraged that they got #CancelNetflix trending on Twitter.
“It’s just like gut-wrenching when they give out a two-season renewal and we can’t even get one,” Sav says.
Others point to the show’s lack of marketing as a sign that Netflix didn’t really believe in the show to begin with. Both Sav and Ridwan, a 24-year-old PhD candidate in Minneapolis, say they found out about the show from their Twitter feeds and have seen very little promotion for it.
A source close to the production agrees, telling The Daily Beast that the few ads that were released downplayed the show’s supernatural thrills in favor of photos of the two main characters making out, potentially kneecapping its reach.
“I was going out of my way to talk about this show in all these different spaces and promote it,” Ridwan says. “The consensus we’ve come to is that this was not a show Netflix had any intention to renew. This isn’t just about a sapphic show being canceled. This is a larger question that needs to be had about how Black folks, especially queer Black folks, and their stories, their visions, their voices are thrown out constantly. We don’t matter in these spaces.”
That sentiment is echoed by Anthony Allen Ramos, VP of Communications & Talent at GLAAD.
“The cancelation of First Kill is joining a growing list of lesbian-centered series such as Gentleman Jack and Batgirl, which is both surprising and unfortunate. While it is increasingly difficult to track what can lead to a streaming series’ cancellation, it is a loss to see any story end that represents LGBTQ people in an interesting, complex and fair manner,” says Ramos. “Netflix should listen to this outcry over the cancelation of First Kill and further recognize that there is a strong consumer appetite for content that centers around interesting and complex stories about queer women.”
A petition to renew the show for a second season has already garnered over 3,000 signatures. The bloody drama has a loyal fan base willing to stick out their necks for it. Some viewers are still in the closet, while others are just beginning to understand who they are. Naturally, they’ve turned to the internet for that comforting sense of community that a solid fandom can provide.
“It’s been a show that’s been low-key healing for so many people. I know a lot of people who were in a very bad place. We found First Kill and then we found each other and found these spaces,” adds Ridwan, singling out showrunner Felicia Henderson for praise along with the cast.
Michael Bronski, author of A Queer History of the United States and a women’s studies teacher at Harvard, calls First Kill a “perfectly good” Netflix show. “We all know what to expect from a Netflix show,” he says.
He concedes that it’s difficult to suss out Netflix’s intentions given their notoriously opaque inner workings. Still, it’s clear that the show meant a lot to a certain type of viewer.
“Obviously, Netflix is flailing about trying to figure out what they’re doing,” he says. “I think that once you have a show like this—you actually have a lesbian fan base of not just younger lesbians, but older lesbians—it’s exciting, you get very attached to it. I totally can see why they would be disappointed that it’s canceled. On the other hand, I think it is always, for whatever group we’re talking about, a mistake to think that the metrics of for-profit cable companies always align with the importance of representation in your life.”
Sav says this is all part of a pattern with Netflix and other streamers who reel in gay and bisexual female viewers with promises of representation only to yank them away, citing Everything Sucks, I Am Not Okay With This, and Annie with an E as other shows with lesbian relationships that were nixed too early.
“It makes people not even wanna watch the first season in the first place,” she says.