As if Netflix’s cancellation of GLOW wasn’t upsetting enough already (in THIS year of ALL YEARS are you OUT OF YOUR MINDS), we’ve now learned that season four was likely aiming to address some of the cast’s (and viewers’) concerns about the show’s handling of storylines involving women of color. GLOW star Sunita Mani has publicly shared a letter that was sent to the show’s producers and creators asking for better representation. The letter was signed by Mani and five of her co-stars—Sydelle Noel, Britney Young, Kia Stevens, Ellen Wong, and Shakira Barrera—and was sent during the show’s hiatus (due to the pandemic) and before Netflix’s decision to cancel.
Mani, who played Indian American wrestler Arthie Premkumar, shared the letter on her Instagram account “in hopes of transparency making things better for all.” The letter is preceded by a longer statement from Mani, who explains that the Black Lives Matter protests over the summer inspired the show’s POC stars to discuss GLOW’s handling of issues of race—specifically that the series hadn’t explored how these characters would feel about portraying wrestlers who played up racially offensive stereotypes. Arthie’s wrestling persona is a Middle Eastern terrorist named “Beirut The Mad Bomber,” while Tammé Dawson (Kia Stevens) plays “Welfare Queen,” a combination of negative stereotypes including the “Angry Black Woman” and the Black woman who takes advantage of government programs like food stamps. These elements accurately reflect both the stereotypes of the era and the characters played by the real-life GLOW wrestlers, but Mani and her co-stars reasonably felt that the series could do better by its POC characters in interrogating their relationships to those stereotypes.
The letter notes that there were no people of color in the season four writers room, and states “GLOW has been marketed as a diverse ensemble, but for all of us diverse cast members, it has never lived up to these ideals. Since Season 1, the show has planted racial stereotyping into our character’s existence, yet your storylines are relegated to the sidelines in dealing with this conflict or have left us feeling like checked-boxes on a list. Unfortunately, we feel that the promise of this show has not been fulfilled.” Mani and her cast members went on to outline potential steps that could be taken to increase representation, including hiring an executive or consulting producer of color, and asking the creators and writers to “Fully address how portraying stereotypical and racially offensive wrestling personas has impacted our characters’ professional lives and personal dignity.”
In her attached personal note, Mani says that while she was initially scared to send the letter to her bosses, the response was positive and productive. “Our show creators and producers HEARD us,” she writes. “They were in the process of making Season 4 reflect some of the systemic problems we outlined.” It’s sad that viewers will never get to see how the series might’ve addressed these issues, but it’s even more disappointing for GLOW’s POC cast members, who deserved the opportunity to have their characters and voices better represented.