When you drive by Netflix’s swanky headquarters on Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, you are met by a large, impossible-to-ignore billboard. But since last week, instead of an ad pushing their latest hit, a neon-splattered notice demands in huge white letters that the streamer “#SaveWarriorNun”. Reader, the billboard has been hijacked.
For those unfamiliar with Warrior Nun, here are the basics. Adapted from Ben Dunn’s comics, the fantasy drama series follows Ava (Alba Baptista), an orphan teen turned demon-hunting leader of a secret sect of nuns. A solid first season was released in July 2020, with a stronger, more focused follow-up premiering in November last year. It spent three weeks in Netflix’s ‘Top 10’ trending titles and became their highest rated show ever on reviews aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. Despite its success – partly attributed to its strong LGBTQ representation – in December it was announced that Warrior Nun had been cancelled.
Cue a public outcry, followed by a cleverly organised campaign of creative, attention-grabbing protests from fans. The billboard will stay in place for four weeks, but fans have also taken over Twitter with hashtags like #NetflixCorrectYourMistake; set up a petition that has more than 100,000 signatures; and raised $35,000 to fund action. Bizarrely, Warrior Nun is now the most-talked about show on the internet.
Incredible!! I’m stunned and beyond impressed. You guys are next level! #SaveWarriorNun https://t.co/hxenii7OCE
— Simon Barry (@SimonDavisBarry) January 20, 2023
According to showrunner Simon Barry, the decision to cancel was based on data. “More people watched season one than season two, therefore it didn’t meet the bar that is their internal standard for what is worth renewing,” he tells NME via Zoom from his Los Angeles home. “It’s not something you can have an argument about,” he adds, even if season one was released in the middle of the pandemic, promoted more heavily than later episodes – and had no direct competition. Season two was released in November, run over by whirlwind success Wednesday, and buried by the algorithm which automatically pushed The Crown onto newsfeeds.
“It doesn’t feel like we’re being singled out,” Barry continues, explaining that in the months leading up to Warrior Nun’s second season, Netflix had started changing their spending habits. “Squid Game had proved that an investment in local language shows could pay off. Netflix seemed really excited about finding the next Squid Game and targeting markets where it still had huge potential for growth,” as opposed to keeping existing viewers content. “I knew we had an uphill battle on our hands [for the future of Warrior Nun],” Barry says. “I thought we’d be ok though because it’s not a very expensive show to make and we have such a dedicated fanbase.”
Some fans were also expecting the worst. “I was heartbroken when Warrior Nun was cancelled, but I wasn’t surprised,” says SiwaPyra, a Twitch streamer involved in the #SaveWarriorNun campaign. “Netflix has a clear pattern of cancelling female-led shows with sapphic characters like Teenage Bounty Hunters and First Kill.”
“I’m just tired of seeing shows get cancelled that make queer women feel seen,” adds Warrior Nun fan Kristen who says this decision by Netflix felt like “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
“When you turn on the TV, you’re always going to see straight, white, male characters. Being able to see well-written LGBTQ+ characters in shows is so important, especially in a world that really tries to minimise their voice.
“It’s not just the LGBTQ+ content [that makes Warrior Nun special],” she continues. “It tackles science and religion, with complex characters that resonate with people. It’s not like other shows.”
“I’ve had religion my whole life, and that led to some difficulties when I came out because of that historic clash between faith and sexuality,” explains SiwaPyra. “It can be lonely to walk both worlds, where one side hates you and the other doesn’t understand how you can keep your faith but seeing a character like [Sister] Beatrice (played by Kristina Tonteri-Young) and her coming out scene, it just latched onto my soul. I know so many other people with similar stories, and I think what people really loved about Warrior Nun was that it represented them, whatever their experiences. It exposed real truths about organised religion, but in a respectful way. “
The campaign to save Warrior Nun has grown bigger than anyone expected. Born out of Warrior Nun watch parties, the movement (yes, it is a movement) now includes data analysts, lawyers and graphic designers. They’re all carefully tracking every victory, eager to prove to Netlifx how much more Warrior Nun has to give. “We want more, because there is supposed to be more,” says Ari, one of the campaign’s leading members.
While season two of Warrior Nun wrapped a major character arc – big, extra-dimensional baddie Adriel (William Miller) was finally defeated – it also set up what would have been an explosive third season, with talk of a “holy war” in the offing.
“We were planting seeds in season two that would pay off in season three,” says Barry, who wasn’t expecting the show to be cancelled. He has the “general story arc and intention for season three,” ready to go, should the call come.
And the fans are hopeful something can be done. In 2018, SyFy announced it would be cancelling Wynonna Earp before a fan-led campaign allowed creators a fourth and final season to wrap things up. The likes of Brooklyn 99, Futurama, Family Guy and Buffy The Vampire Slayer all continued well past their original cancellation as well.
My loves. OOPS WE DID IT AGAIN CONGRATS!!#SaveWarriorNun #WarriorNun pic.twitter.com/A3LUQEIq9i
— Agnes Szalkowska (@AgnesSzalkowska) January 29, 2023
“This is the first time I’ve been hopeful that a show I like will be saved,” says SiwaPyra. “I’ve been perpetually online for the past 15 years and I’ve never seen anything like this campaign before. If it’s all about money to Netflix, we’re proving to them that this show has a passionate fanbase that’s willing to follow, engage and back Warrior Nun. If they invest in the community, we’ll clearly give back.”
“No matter the outcome of this campaign, I have met some of the most incredible people and I have participated in something that hopefully means something,” she adds.
The movement to save Warrior Nun is proof “we did something right,” says Barry. “You want people to have an emotional reaction when you’re telling an emotional story.”
Barry goes on to say there’s a “flicker of hope” that a Netflix reversal is possible, and knows people are looking into the legalities of taking the story to another streamer, though he admits he “can’t think of another time that’s ever happened.” On Twitter, he’s mentioned a video game to continue the story and suggests a “feature film or two” to wrap everything up. “One way or another, it deserves to have a conclusion and there’s a lot of story left to tell. How that will manifest, I don’t know. But there’s intention, which is always the best way to start.” A giant billboard staring Netflix in the face can’t hurt their chances either.