Author: Ashley Benedict
As summer approaches, we all might be thinking about what Netflix shows we should binge. I’ve taken the liberty of compiling a list (with some help from friends) of shows that are currently streaming that are either diverse, socially woke, or both. Enjoy!
P.S. Unfortunately, most diverse/woke shows have only launched recently, so many of them only currently have one or two seasons available to stream. However, I do think that it’s still important to know that these shows exist, even if you decide not to watch until they’re finished.
In my opinion, this is probably the most diverse show out right now. It’s a Netflix Original, and the second season will be premiering on May 5, so now is the perfect time to binge the first season to get yourself caught up!
Why should you watch this show, you ask? Well, to start, the way the show is filmed is entirely unique. There are 8 main characters, all from 8 different locations throughout the world–and the filming actually happens in these places (which is why it takes so long for them to film, but it’s so worth it). The show happens across cultures, spanning from San Francisco to Chicago, from Reykjavik to Seoul, from Mexico City to Berlin, and from Nairobi to Mumbai. The main cast is also brimming with diversity, including:
- Race/Ethnicity: 1 Latinx actor (and 2 more side characters), 1 Black/African actor (and 2 more side characters), 1 Asian actor, 1 Indian actor. The other 4 main characters are caucasian, so the split between white and minority casting is even.
- Sexual orientation: 2 gay characters and 2 lesbian characters. 3 of these LGBT+ characters are racial/ethnic minorities, as well (2 Latinx, 1 Black). 2 of these characters are main characters and have their own complex story lines. Additionally: the show works on displaying the different stages of coming out, where 2 characters are out and proud, and one character is closeted, while the other doesn’t want to be in the closet anymore. It touches on fame and sexuality and how it continues to impact the careers of celebrities, and also how devastating it can be to be outed when it’s not on your terms. There’s also one scene in particular that shows how fluid sexuality truly can be, and it’s definitely a fan favorite.
- Gender: 1 trans character (whose actor is also trans!) Bonus: the show actually works super hard to address the discrimination that many trans women face in their real, every day lives. The main cast is also evenly split in terms of gender representation, with 4 women and 4 men!
- Religion: The different characters’ religions range from Christianity to Hinduism to atheism, and each one fully embraces these parts of their identities.
- Culture: The show’s directors tried their best to keep the cultural diversity as authentic as possible in the show, which is why the film takes place directly in these locations. There are episodes that focus a lot on Indian culture, and others that focus on Mexican culture, etc.
I’ll keep ya’ll in the dark about the actual plot of this show, because 1) it’s complex and difficult to explain and 2) you just have to see it for yourself to understand. But trust me, it’ll blow your mind.
2. One Day at a Time
This show has such a special place in my heart. It’s a remake of the sitcom with the same name from 1975, but far better. In a few words, this show is a feminist Latinx family sitcom. Specifically, it centers on a Cuban-American family and a divorced single-mother trying to raise her children while also dealing with her strong-willed, opinionated mother living with them and mental health issues from her time in the army. This show is beautiful, because it touches on so many hard topics while still maintaining a light tone. Here are just a few examples of it’s diversity and ‘woke’-ness:
- The mother, Penelope Alvarez, is a veteran from the U.S. military and deals with PTSD, as well as an injury from her time in service. The show does a beautiful job at displaying her issues, both psychologically and physically, as well as the mistreatment that veterans sometimes face and the difficulties they have adjusting to life after coming back from war.
- The daughter, Elena Alvarez, is a fierce activist and advocate for women’s issues and the environment and isn’t afraid to show it. Not only that, but halfway through the season, we find out that she’s gay, and the show does a wonderful job with her coming out story, while also showing how culture and religion can impact how one perceives sexuality and sexual orientation. She is a great example of how one can embrace their identity and stand firm with their beliefs.
- The show itself touches on some rather heavy topics, such as depression, drug dependency, sexism in the workplace (and in general), religion and faith, intimate partner violence, and immigration.
Overall, this show is just the best, and I encourage everyone to watch it. There’s only one season on Netflix right now, but a second season has been confirmed and will probably be released sometime in 2018.
3. The Fosters
Even the barest description of the show should be enough to show ya’ll how truly diverse it is: “a multi-ethnic family, filled with foster, adopted, and biological kids, being raised by two moms.” When you go even deeper, this show does extremely well in how it handles its characters as well as social issues.
- It depicts the realities of the American foster care system: this includes how foster care affects the children in the system, as well as how often children tend to be placed with individuals who don’t truly care about them and are just in it for the money.
- LGBTQ+ representation: not only does this family have two moms, but there are other characters, including one of the children, Jude, who identify with this community. This show does a lot to portray the issues that still exist today for the LGBTQ+ community and issues with society’s acceptance as well as self-acceptance.
- Going further into the LGBTQ+ representation, Jude, the youngest son, is such an important character for kids who are questioning their sexuality. Most people tend to think of being gay as an adult thing, and showing Jude’s confusion and eventual acceptance of himself is groundbreaking, completely shattering the idea that the LGBTQ+ community consists of only adults.
- Mariana, one of the daughters, is a figure head for girl empowerment, and proves that you can have brains and also feel good about yourself and love your body. Many women believe that it’s impossible to be sexy while still being smart, and Mariana breaks down this idea time and time again.
- Traditional families: this show completely goes against what many presume to be traditional, nuclear family roles. There are two moms, only one biological son, as well as adopted and foster kids. And yet, they are a family, which further breaks down preconceptions about what constitutes family–it’s not blood, but love. Additionally, the fact that the house is run by two females and no male figures destroys the idea that in order for households to be run successfully there needs to be a male authority figure.
- Other topics touched on: gun control, gun violence, racism, ethnicity, sexism, and more.
There are currently 4 seasons on Netflix, and season 5 will premiere on Freeform starting July 11, 2017.
4. The Get Down
This show is perfect for those who are interested in the origins of disco, hip hop, and rap. Though the history isn’t 100% correct, I think that this show does a lot in providing us with a narrative that explores this time of musical exploration, and it does so through the eyes of minority teenagers living in the Bronx in the 1970s–which was overall a pretty rough time for those who lived in New York. This show depicts the poverty and urban decay in the Bronx rather realistically, yet the characters remain positive and hopeful, which is a refreshing take for stories centered on poverty.
Another great thing about this show is its focus on black and latinx stories, without ever trying to impose white characters into the narrative–which many shows tend to do, and that often takes away from the minority characters’ perspectives. Not surprisingly, this show contains one of the most diverse casts on TV right now–and this does not include just race, ethnicity, and class.
The show also touches on the role of the LGBTQIA+ community in the origins of hip hop, as well as the control that they had over the music scene in the 70s. However, the importance of the LGBTQIA+ community in the music scene isn’t emphasized as much as it needs to be. Jaden Smith’s character, Dizzy, shares an almost-kiss with another graffiti artist at a gay club, and that’s the closest we get to LGBTQIA+ representation in the characters. There’s also some possible tension between Zeke and Shaolin–but it’s all interpretation. Hopefully as the show evolves, the writers incorporate more of these elements into each episode and allow themselves to explore the sexualities of their characters while also emphasizing the music history of the LGBTQIA+ community.
This show is trying to do so much that needs to be explored further; it delves into the intersections of queerness, black and brown identities, as well as poverty, and though it takes place in the past, we can all apply these struggles to today’s world, too, which is pretty important.
(It also doesn’t hurt that some of the actors in this show include people like Jaden Smith, Shameik Moore, Justice Smith, and Daveed Diggs.)
Part II of the first season was recently released on April 7, so there is officially a total of 12 episodes available to stream. We can only hope that season 2 comes soon.
People have been split on whether or not this show is truly feminist, but my opinion is that it is pretty dang feminist. The argument stems from the fact that the show runners have placed traditionally masculine characteristics on a female lead in order to make her appear stronger, rather than embracing feminine strength. I would argue 2 things in regard to this: 1) This is a show about a superhero–about Supergirl, specially–who shares all of the same abilities as Superman. That fact in itself is enough to explain why her powers are the same as his. It’s not a move to make her just like him. They come from the same planet, and therefore will have the same powers on Earth. 2) Giving female leads traditional masculine characteristics ultimately destroys the idea that these characteristics are reserved for men only. Supergirl is physically strong, yes. But she’s also intelligent, quirky, kind–and she embraces her femininity as well. All the while, unlike other female superheroes, Supergirl isn’t sexualized, which is so incredibly important to recognize.
The show isn’t perfect by any means, and sometimes the feminist message is too overt, which can cause viewers who view feminism as “dirty” to be turned away from the show. However, I think that there are some feminist issues that need to be addressed head on, which Supergirl does really well with. Kara’s (Supergirl) boss is Cat Grant, a strong, cutthroat single mother who built her entire empire from the ground; her sister, Alex, is a queer woman who comes to terms with her sexuality late in life, and also works as an agent for a top secret government agency as her boss’s right-hand-woman while somehow always being there for Kara. This show is filled with strong female characters–who are all strong in different ways. And that, to me, is pretty great in terms of feminism.
A third season has been confirmed by the CW to air sometime in 2017-2018, so be sure to stay updated on the exact date!
6. Orphan Black
Here is yet another show dedicated to depicting strong and independent women. Even more impressive, it’s a show based around clones, so most of the characters we see are played by the same actress. Badass, right? Since the show is based on clones, one would assume that all of the characters would look the same and act the same, but the writers completely break down these expectations as we are introduced to new clones time and time again.
There’s Cosima, who’s an out-and-proud lesbian and a science genius who works as the brains of the operation; there’s Alison, a hot mess of a mother who certainly wears the pants in her marriage (her husband took her last name, how cool is that?); there’s Helena, who deals with mental illness but still plays a crucial role in the story line and shows true acts of heroism throughout; there’s Rachel, who works against the other clones and, even after being stabbed in the eye with a pencil, never stops scheming; there’s Krystal, who’s initially shown as a preppy blonde, and immediately destroys stereotypes by being portrayed as an intelligent, complex character; there’s Tony, a trans* clone (that sadly hasn’t been brought back, but should be); and finally, Sarah, who’s the main clone of this story, and whose past as a con artist helps her get out of some pretty sticky situations–and she certainly doesn’t need anyone to save her.
The non-clone characters are pretty complex and three-dimensional as well: there’s Felix, Sarah’s gay foster brother, who often helps her get out of sticky situations, while also maintaining a life of his own; and there’s Delphine, who falls in love with Cosima, despite identifying as mostly heterosexual, and really knows how to kick some ass.
“Orphan Black” is a show almost entirely led by women. With so many female characters, the show is able to discuss complicated subjects, such as identity and consent. The clones have to learn to see themselves as people instead of just copies of another. The clones also have many people trying to control their lives, from large corporations to the military. They are seen as science experiments instead of humans, which is one of the main struggles for the clones on the show. The show helps to create a dialogue about important issues, such as women’s rights and identity, without making it feel forced.
The show currently has 4 seasons on Netflix, and BBC has confirmed that the 5th and final season will launch on July 10, 2017 @ 10 P.M.
8. How to Get Away with Murder
This show is hands down one of the most progressive shows on television right now, and here’s a breakdown of why:
- Diverse characters: this cast consists of 2 black women (1 of whom is bisexual), 2 black men, 1 latinx woman, and 2 gay men (1 of whom is Asian American)
- Complex characters: the main protagonist, Annalise, is one of the most complex characters I’ve ever seen. She’s a morally grey criminal law professor and criminal defense attorney with a tragic past, who is strong and confident, but also emotionally vulnerable. She does not shy away from confrontation; she’s charismatic; and she’s not afraid to be sexual. Few critics have dubbed her as the stereotypical “Angry Black Woman” but to say that is to completely bypass the complexity of her as a character, and how important it is for black women to be portrayed as dynamic on screen. Keating also has relations with her white husband, her black, male lover, and a white woman–which is groundbreaking in terms of bisexual representation. Having a bisexual lead for a primetime TV show is almost unheard of.
- Gay relationships: the relationship between Connor and Oliver is one of the most realistic gay relationships on television right now. They are domestic and sexual, they fight and make up–they act like a couple, which is sadly something we don’t see very often. The sex scenes between these two are also groundbreaking, in that, we actually get a lot of screen time with them, which doesn’t happen for most shows. The show has also broken stereotypes about gay sex (which assume one tops and the other bottoms) by having Connor request they switch. It also takes on the taboo against talking about HIV, and includes one of the very few HIV-positive characters in TV history. I will say that Connor and Oliver do tend to fall into tropes about gay and Asian characters, but compared to other shows, their characters have been portrayed with more respect than usual.
- Female representation: Considering that the genre of the show – legal murder mystery – is a typically male dominated sphere in entertainment, it is extremely significant that there is strong female representation. While we usually see only female victims and the occasional female romantic interest in these types of shows, HTGAWM has female murderers, female legal professionals and female law students. Annalise Keating and her assistant Bonnie Winterbottom also actively go against the “nurturing” “motherly” tropes that women are so often stuck with. And on top of this, they are not vilified for being “barren and cold-hearted bitches”, they’re characterised as accomplished lawyers who are worthy of respect.
- Power dynamics: Annalise is the most powerful character on this show, and she’s a bisexual black woman. One of Annalise’s assistants who she bosses around, and who abides by her every word is male. It makes us realize how conditioned we are to assume that the female’s “natural” position is below the man. In your average TV show, we would expect Frank’s role to be played by a woman, and the fact that the character is not only male, but also hyper-masculine is very significant in challenging the status quo.
There are currently 3 seasons available to stream on Netflix, and season 4 should be set to launch around the fall on ABC (if the pattern continues). Until then, just sit back and enjoy watching the drama and mystery unfold.
9. Orange is the New Black
This show does a lot in terms of diversity and social ‘woke-ness’, such as:
- Race and ethnicity
- Showing how race intersects with gender, religion, class, region, and sexuality in important and diverse ways, e.g., displaying the inter-ethnic tensions within the Latinx community
- Class differences
- The corruption of the prison system
- Challenging heteronormativity and homophobia / creating a place where same-sex relationships are the norm
- Humanizing inmates
- Telling women’s stories, including the stories of minority women
- Police brutality
- Segregation within prison systems
- Mental illness
After season 4, however, many critics say that the show crossed the line from accurately portraying racism, to actively perpetuating it–which I kind of agree with. Though the latest season has worked hard in incorporating realistic and challenging themes, it crossed the line at some point (after killing off one of the most beloved characters). This was most likely done in the way that the show gave the guards who dehumanized the inmates sympathetic backstories, which gives the audience a way to excuse their racist and violent behaviors.
That being said, this show surely is one of the most diverse and socially conscious out right now, and it particularly makes us realize how fine the line is between respectfully portraying the realities for many marginalized communities and helping to perpetuate these negative ideas and actions. One of the problems may be that the writers for the show are predominantly white, and therefore lack an insight on how to handle these issues without falling into stereotypes or crossing the line. As the next season is released, just keep in mind that this show isn’t perfect, and can be rather problematic at times.
With 4 seasons currently streaming on Netflix, the confirmed release date of season 5 is June 9, 2017. Be sure to catch up before then!
Scandal broke down barriers when it cast the first black female lead for a primetime TV show in over 40 years (since 1974) back in 2012. And unlike other shows written by Shonda Rhimes (How to Get Away With Murder and Grey’s Anatomy), this show is feminist in that its main character, Olivia Pope, fights for all womenkind, not just herself. Just like Annalise Keating (How to Get Away With Murder) she’s an emotionally complex, strong, and independent woman who transcends racial stereotypes and breaks down previous tropes that have been created for black women on television. Kerry Washington (the actress who plays Olivia Pope) has said that she appreciates how her character’s blackness is an important aspect of her identity, but not the “only defining aspect of who she is.”
Olivia Pope also not only stands up for sexual assault victims, but also calls out Fitz (her love interest) for using derogatory terms towards women and utilizes her femininity as a weapon, instead of having it imposed upon her. Other female characters, such as Karen, defend their sexual autonomy and also call out the sexist nature of politics; the former First Lady of the show mentions that she will be “remembered as the wife as a man who did something with his life.”
Though the cast is mostly white, other kinds of diversity, such as sexual orientation, ethnicity, age, and gender, comprise most of the cast. A pleasant surprise is that the show’s thematic subtext shows just how much harder anyone who’s not a white, straight man has to work to prop up the white, straight man, and how difficult it is to rise above existing power structures that systematically oppress minorities.
To no one’s surprise, Scandal has been renewed for its seventh season, and is set to air sometime in 2017-2018.
BONUS SHOW: Dear White People
I can’t really say anything about this show, since it comes out tomorrow (April 28), but based upon the trailer, I can say with confidence that it’s most likely going to be a groundbreaking show. Many people have already tried boycotting Netflix because of this show’s address towards racism and white privilege, so I can personally say that I’m excited to watch this, and I hope that ya’ll decide to check it out as well.
Honorable Mentions/Recommendations from Friends (both on and off Netflix):
- Brooklyn-Nine-Nine (Hulu)
- Black Sails (Starz)
- Quantico (ABC & Netflix)
- Cristela (ABC)
- Power (Starz)
- Master of None (Netflix)
- The Mindy Project (Netflix)
- Empire (Netflix)
- Broadcity (Comedy Central)
- Luke Cage (Netflix)
- The People v. OJ Simpson (FX)
- Jane the Virgin (the CW & Netflix)
- Fresh off the Boat (ABC & Netflix)
- Black-ish (ABC)
This is officially my last post as intern for the Women’s Center, so I hope ya’ll enjoyed it. I wish everyone has a fun and safe summer filled with activism! Let’s all just relax, sit back, and watch some Netflix for the next few months. We’ve earned it.