‘Shadowhunters’ is an LGBTQI love letter, so why has it been axed?
The Shadowhunters saga took a turn over the weekend as the dedicated fandom travelled to the San Diego Comic-Con to save their venerated show. In case you have not been following this ongoing tale, back in June, Freeform announced the cancellation of the genre show even though execs were quoted as being “very happy creatively”. Apparently the decision was down to “economic reasons”. The agreement to finish Shadowhunters also put an end to the Netflix output deal with Freeform’s co-production partner, Constantin Film, thus closing the show with the third season.
Like a group of valiant demon hunters, the reaction has been nothing short of extraordinary. Launching a #SaveShadowhunters campaign, the dedicated fandom members took to Twitter to share their upset, but they haven’t stopped there and have found active ways to promote their campaign beyond the Twittersphere, the most outstanding example unfolding at the SDCC. Like a proverbial slap to the face of the fandom, Freeform chose not to hold a panel for the young adult show despite the fact this could mark its very last season.
Instead of sharing their disdain online, the Shadowhunters fans raised a ton of cash and hired a #SaveShadowhunters pedicab that circled SDCC. One particular driver let attendants ride for free while blasting the theme tune “This is the Hunt”, but perhaps the highlight was the moment Jack Yang, who plays Asmodeus on the show, cosplayed as his own character and took a ride in the #SaveShadowhunters pedicab.
This is just one of many attention-garnering actions the fandom has made since the cancellation announcement (bear in mind, it’s only been a month) – its members have also flown a #SaveShadowhunters banner over the Netflix headquarters, purchased a billboard in Times Square to promote their campaign, and placed ads in Seoul subway stations.
All of this is testament to the fandom’s dedication, highlighting a wider statement that shows how audiences now rule the TV shows they watch and not vice-versa. As the nature by which we watch television changes, it’s becoming increasingly evident that a show’s importance isn’t solely based on live metrics and economics anymore and that its story and significance goes beyond the conventional restrictions of entertainment consumption.
Shadowhunters offers diverse storylines and depictions of LGBTQI and female characters with complexity that are unrivaled by other young adult shows on TV right now. The fantasy genre provides escapism for its viewers, but it’s also educational – Shadowhunters has strived to move forward with acceptance and inclusivity where others are falling behind and it’s for these reasons the fandom refuses to put down its battle weapons and will not give up in the face of adversity.
Shadowhunters’s inclusive narratives have offered fans so much more than an hour of weekly escapism. As Twitter user @OUaTPreachers explained, the show feels like a “safe space” to the viewers. It portrays how “normal” an LGBTQI relationship is, destroys toxic stereotypes attached to bisexuality, and diminishes prejudices some people may have with regards to gender and sexuality. “Personally, this show helped me accept my own bisexuality after suffering internalised biphobia,” which is in part explored via Magnus’s (Harry Shum Jr.) confidence and inability to feel “bad” for being bisexual.
— #SaveShadowhunters • DAMMIT MEGAN™️ (@OUaTPreachers) July 22, 2018
The show is noted for giving its LGBTQI characters stories with significance. “I have been in a lot of fandoms in my life and I’ve had my share of queerbaiting,” said user @hellofavillain, “Shadowhunters was so refreshing to me. At first glance it looks like a typical teenage drama, but once you get into it, you start to notice the difference.” The show offers numerous LGBTQI characters who are so much more than their sexuality and gender. A pointer that comes to the fore when the fans speak of the show is that the producers listen to the viewers and their concerns, which has resulted in a series that has truly touched the lives of its audience members in meaningful and profound ways.
I think definitely the scenes with Maia! She's strong and like Luke said "she's not anyone's woman", the scene after the date with Simon when she says she won't apologize for being with others because she was single at the time, her talking about racism and generally, Maia ❤
— too much is my middle name (@hellofavillain) July 22, 2018
“I love the story, especially the storyline of Alec (Matthew Daddario) and Magnus,” added @hellofavillain. “Both of those characters touched me personally and I see myself in them. They gave me the courage to come out to my family and I’ll be forever grateful for that. Also I think we’ve been blessed with the amazing cast, crew, producers, and writers who are always ready to engage with us. It feels like a safe place, like a family.”
What’s notable about Shadowhunters is how it doesn’t just tokenize its characters when it comes to representation. It’s inclusive and incorporates previously marginalized sexualities, genders, and races without patronizing or stereotyping. Twitter user and dedicated fandom member @spacemisha spoke about the “few hundred years old warlock” who falls in love but is still hurting over an abusive relationship, conveying the message that a man can also be a victim of assault.
The show explores asexuality via Raphael (David Castro), who is not interested in sex. Then there’s Sam (Tara Joshi) and Ollie (Alexandra Ordolis), a sapphic couple, and we’re also given Underhill’s (Steve Byers) story, who came out thanks to Alec after he gave him the courage. “We’ve got POC representation, discussions of racism, amazing female characters. There’s also a place for Jewish characters and I found that very interesting because I didn’t know much about their traditions before.”
I love the friendship between Izzy and Clary, they could have easily turn it into some ugly storyline but they always have each other's backs, since the beginning!
— z. (@spacemisha) July 22, 2018
On top of all this, female friendships and gender issues are also treated in a way that is not often seen in other young adult shows of similar vein. There’s a lot of girl power to be seen and yet the women support each other rather than fighting the entire time. As outlined by @spacemisha, the friendship between Izzy (Emeraude Toubia) and Clary (Katherine McNamara) could’ve been turned into something ugly for the producers to cash-in on some fast and dirty moments of drama. But instead they’ve had each other’s backs since the beginning and that is beautiful to see.
Meanwhile, the male characters are not forced to adhere to macho expectations – they’re allowed to cry and show emotion, something which has often been absent in sci-fi / supernatural / superhero shows and movies.
— #SaveShadowhunters • DAMMIT MEGAN™️ (@OUaTPreachers) July 22, 2018
It doesn’t stop there – one of the key reasons the show is able to present such stories with the depth and brevity they deserve is because Shadowhunters has adopted an inclusive team behind the camera too. The most famous episode (S1E12) that includes Alec’s coming out story was written by openly gay actor & producer Michael Reisz, noted @hellofavillain.
In addition, numerous episodes were directed by Amanda Raw, who said during an interview with Shumdario: “I was blown away by the reactions from the LGBTQ fans, and as a bisexual woman myself, am so honoured to be able to have told that story.” It’s for these reasons the show went on to bag both the GLAAD Award and Bisexual Representation Award, proving the show offers dynamic and realistic portrayals of LGBTQI characters that are refreshing to see within the mainstream media.
It’s clear from the reaction so far that there’s so much more of this story to explore. “We were waiting for Aline (Eileen Li) to get a girlfriend (like she has in the books), for Magnus and Alec to adopt children (as they also have in future books), and my heart is just breaking that we may not get any of this,” said @spacemisha. “We could have so much more positive stories for the representation and we’re getting a rushed ending.”
Another reason the Shadowhunters fandom is so ferociously fighting its corner is that the cast & crew were already teasing season four before the cancellation. This is not a show that has reached a creative dead end and it is certainly not one that fans don’t want to see more from – in fact, Shadowhunters was the fifth most tweeted about show during this year’s SDCC and yet it didn’t even have an official panel at the event.
Which is why we and the fandom have been left wondering why the show hasn’t been renewed yet. There’s endless potential for the characters, the show has only just touched upon the world in which the narrative is based, and there’s evidently a passionate and sizeable fanbase quite literally doing anything and everything in their power to see Shadowhunters return to the small screen – and they’re hardly requesting a huge budget to be thrown at it. All they want is for the episodes to keep flowing so they can see where their characters are taken on their respective journeys.
We could spend all day discussing the reasons Shadowhunters is the best YA show on TV right now and how it’s garnered such a dedicated fandom; it still doesn’t give fans the news they want to hear and it doesn’t answer why the show was cut in its prime. But perhaps instead of why, we should be asking how and when? TV fandoms continue to validate their power by fighting back when their beloved shows are unjustifiably axed.
Just look at recent hits such as Netflix’s One Day at a Time and Fox’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine, both of which were picked up for new seasons following abrupt cancellations – if the cry is loud enough, the networks have no choice but to listen. And when it comes to Shadowhunters, the outcry is so loud you can hear it from the Shadow World. Now it’s up to Freeform to react, or else risk losing this TV gem and its dedicated fandom for good.