GLOW’s sudden cancellation due to COVID-19 means we won’t get to see the natural conclusion of the show, but now we are learning what else the cancellation is costing us. It turns out that in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests in the early summer, a cadre of actresses from the show, all women of color in the ensemble, wrote a letter to the creators and producers of the show, asking for their characters to be better represented. Sydelle Noel (Cherry Bang), Sunita Mani (Arthie), Britney Young (Carmen), Shakira Barrera, (Yolanda), Kia Stevens (Tammè), and Ellen Wong (Jenny) all signed the letter, stating they “felt disempowered” on the show, and that it was “problematic to use our faces, oftentimes solely in the context of a racist storyline, and to be brief with our story development to serve the in-depth white storylines.” You can read the complete letter, along with a note from Sunita Mani that reveals the producers of the show agreed to make changes to the scripts in season four, on Mani’s Instagram:
GLOW was a lot more inclusive than most shows, but this is a reminder that there is always more work to be done. For instance, it’s notable that in season one Cherry Bang, played by Sydelle Noel, had a larger role and personal life issues to rival those being faced by the lead characters played by Alison Brie and Betty Gilpin. It originally seemed like she and Tammè, played by Kia Stevens, were going to be a counterpoint to the kind of issues faced by white actresses in 1980s Hollywood, but by season three Cherry and Tammè had been relegated to the background. Similarly, Carmen, played by Britney Young, had her role minimized as her relationship with Bash Howard (Chris Lowell) was supplanted by a green card marriage subplot involving Kate Nash. This is nothing against Brie, Gilpin, or Nash—or their storylines—but it does show that at one point, it seemed GLOW was going to be a more balanced ensemble that tackled a myriad of systemic issues in Hollywood, only to perhaps fall victim to some of those issues itself. But it also seems course correction was occurring, as Mani notes in her preambulatory note that the producers and writers were making changes to the scripts in anticipation of returning to work after the lockdown.
Now it’s time for coincidence or conspiracy. So the leadership of GLOW was onboard with improving the roles and stories for the women of color on the show, which is great, but then the show got cancelled. The reason is, ostensibly, COVID-19 and anticipated costs associated with returning to work (which could be as much as $500,000 per episode to meet new safety guidelines). The Hollywood Reporter’s Lesley Goldberg notes that GLOW’s per-episode cost had reached $8-12 million BEFORE factoring in new costs like PPE for everyone on set. This was not a cheap show to make and new COVID guidelines were going to make it even more expensive. But then there is the question of script changes, and whether or not any additional costs would come from them. You have an expensive show getting more expensive by the minute thanks to COVID-19, and now you also have, perhaps, even more costs being added to accommodate script revisions. Could that have played a role in GLOW’s untimely demise?
Am I blaming the actresses for speaking up? No, of course not. But maybe all these shows being “cancelled by COVID” aren’t entirely about COVID. I won’t be surprised if, eventually, we find out more about what went down with all these shows, many of which had already been renewed or were already in production, like GLOW, that got the axe. I just feel like there’s more to be learned here. In the meantime, though, you can read the farewells of Sydelle Noel, Ellen Wong, Britney Young, Shakira Barrera, and Kia Stevens on their respective Instagrams.