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First Kill’s Cancellation Is a Major Loss for Lesbian and Black Representation

Although the budget was a dollar and a dream, Netflix's 'First Kill' managed to gain over 90 million viewing hours and a small cult following. So why was it canceled? Given the trends in series cancellations, it may have been because of the Black and queer protagonists.

After a singular spectacularly campy season, First Kill has been unceremoniously canceled by Netflix… and I think we all know why. First Kill is yet another in a long line of queer shows canceled by streaming services and networks. The two protagonists, Calliope (Imani Lewis) and Juliette (Sarah Catherine Hook) are Romeo and Juliet-esque star-crossed lovers. Cal comes from a long line of vampire hunters, and Juliette comes from a family of Legacy vampires. 

It’s clear from the start that First Kill’s budget was a dollar and a dream. It has poor CGI, some corny narration, and an awful soundtrack that often distracts from the action. The marketing for the show was minimal if anything. Yet, First Kill managed to overcome these obstacles and come out the other side with a devoted following, and deservedly so. 

First Kill is campy from the very start. The opening credit sequence features a weird song referencing Twilight. Its promise is true: this is definitely a better love story than Twilight. Hook and Lewis have fantastic chemistry. What’s even better is that this show flips the script on the mysterious, cold, elusive vampiric romance protagonist popularized by Twilight. Instead, Juliette is an adorably awkward teen vampire struggling with to hide her massive crush on Cal—the elusive, mysterious vampire hunter. The dynamic between the two girls is a constant push and pull that makes for engaging romantic drama.

Ben, wearing sunglasses and dressed in a sweater that says "I am a luxury", walks down the steps outside next to Jules, also wearing sunglasses

The queer representation in First Kill is amazing. The show was created and written by gay author V.E. Schwab who wanted to portray gay characters not as supporting players, but as leads. The two main characters are both lesbians, and their sexualities are accepted by both of their families. The girls face no homophobia, which makes the show all the more liberating to watch. Juliette and Cal are also both fully fledged characters outside of their romantic relationship. Although it’s important to represent lesbian characters onscreen, representing three-dimensional lesbian characters who exist beyond their sexuality is even more critical. First Kill does this. The story is not about their queerness—it’s about their love for each other and their complex bonds with their family and friends.

What’s more, both of their best friends are queer BIPOC! Cal’s best friend Tess (MK xyz) is a queer Blasian girl. Both girls can lament to each other about the difficulties in finding other queer women. The conversations between the pair feel so authentic. Juliette’s best friend Ben (Jonas Dylan Allan) is a Black gay man who’s hooking up with another student who’s still in the closet. This trope of a gay guy dating another who’s still in the closet and doesn’t deserve him was admittedly tiring to see here. Regardless, it’s wonderful to see a Black gay character—often presented as an outcast or background character—presented as one of the confident, popular guys in school.

The relationship between Ben and Juliette is one we rarely see onscreen. They are best friends who used to date before discovering they were both gay. Juliette and Ben spend all their time together and are shown to be physically intimate like spooning in bed. Their relationship reminds me of a queerplatonic relationship. It’s wonderful to show a guy and a girl who are so intimate without being necessarily romantic/sexual. 

Juliette and Calliope lay in bed together looking sad

Deadline reported that First Kill was canceled because it didn’t have “staying power,” as in viewers were not watching to completion. Although it’s not clear whether the lesbian protagonists influenced the cancellation, it’s clear that queer-led series, especially lesbian ones, are less likely to be renewed. Other lesbian-led shows Netflix canceled after one season include I Am Not Okay With This, Everything Sucks!, and Teenage Bounty Hunters. All of these shows did fairly well when released, and their cancellations led to outpourings of anger on social media. Recently, Netflix also canceled Q-Force—an animated comedy about a team of queer spies—after one season. Other queer-led shows canceled by Netflix include The Society, One Day at a Time, Sense8, and more. (Let’s cross our fingers and hope Netflix doesn’t kill The Sandman, its newest gloriously queer show that I need to be renewed!) First Kill gained over 90 million viewing hours and remained in Netflix’s global Top 10 TV shows during its first three weeks. Yet, it was still canceled. 

If it wasn’t for the queerness, some believe the cancellation may have happened because of the Blackness. A huge number of shows with Black leads have been canceled in 2022 alone, including 4400, Batwoman, Charmed, For Life, Kenan, Naomi, Queens, Raising Dion, and much more. First Kill features a Black family and a dark-skinned Black female protagonist. Cal’s family plays a major part in the show. They are a tight-knit family who work as a team to get things done. Cal’s mother Talia (Aubin Wise) is one of the best characters on the show. She’s a badass who’s fiercely protective and loving of her children. Many Black viewers have noted that she and the Burns household feel very authentic and relatable.

Cal's mom Talia cups her face while Cal cries

Of course, Blackness and Black families are not monolithic, but it’s important to note that this representation is familiar to Black viewers’ experiences. This is thanks to all the Black creators behind the scenes of First Kill. Out of the eight writers for the show, four were Black. The executive producer for the show is Felicia Henderson, who is a Black woman. She’s worked on shows like Family Matters, The Fresh Prince of Bel-air, and Moesha. In an interview with Den of Geek, she noted that there’s a lack of representation for BIPOC in young adult media, especially sci-fi and fantasy. She spoke about how important it was that she brought all of herself to First Kill and created a show where she and other Black viewers could recognize themselves. She was drawn to First Kill because “It’s three-dimensional and accurate representation” for both BIPOC and queer people. 

First Kill isn’t the best show ever made, but that doesn’t mean it deserved to be canceled. The family and romantic drama is engaging, and the monster lore is interesting. It’s a world I would have loved to dive more into. The characters are compelling enough that I was invested in their narratives. I’m heartbroken we aren’t going to find out what happens next with Cal and Juliette. I’m even more heartbroken that the beautiful queer and Black representation on and behind the camera was thrown away. When studios and streaming services shoot down projects that spotlight marginalized voices like this, it makes me worried for the future of this industry. I can only hope that as long as we show production companies like Netflix that we care about these kinds of shows that they will give inclusive media like First Kill a chance in the future. 

Incluvie score: 5/5 Movie score: 3/5