Television fans were once able to enjoy endless seasons of a show without fearing that they’d never see the conclusion of a story. But the streaming age has completely transformed the industry, and it now feels like series are lucky to last more than a season or two, resulting in the growing phenomenon of online fan community renewal campaigns.
Attempts by fans to save a show from cancellation are nothing new. In years past, letter-writing campaigns were very effective in securing additional seasons or reviving shows long enough to provide a satisfying conclusion. These days most efforts happen on social media, especially Twitter. Modern fans know how to harness algorithms to their benefit, planning specific phrases to tweet en masse so they appear on the Trending tab, spamming video edits of characters from the show, and appealing to the admins of streaming service profiles. Some fans are more dedicated than others, with queer fan communities being notably invested in shows that reflect their own experiences. If any of this sounds like something you’ve observed recently, there’s a good chance it was thanks to the incredibly enthusiastic fans of one particular show: Warrior Nun.
Last December, a month after its second season aired on Netflix, Warrior Nun was cancelled. Based on the 1990s comic book series Warrior Nun Areala, the Netflix adaptation follows a group of young women operating within a secret Catholic order to fight demonic forces of evil. The show features some significant changes to the comics. Most importantly, the second season of the show confirmed the romance between the central characters Ava and Beatrice—which was not featured in the comics. While the explicitly romantic side of their relationship did not get much screen time, it became a crucial aspect of the show post-cancellation, as it added Warrior Nun to the list of recently axed queer TV shows.
This summer, fans received the news they’d been hoping for for months. On June 27th, creator Simon Barry—who had been very actively engaging with fans’ renewal campaign—cryptically tweeted a GIF of a rising sun. Later that day, he announced that the show would “return and is going to be more EPIC than you could imagine,” and on July 1st, a website with a countdown timer went live. At the end of the countdown, it was announced that the story will conclude with three feature films. This success was unexpected, but it was not without the tireless work of fans over the previous eight months. Fans managed to trend #SaveWarriorNun on a regular basis, flooded the replies of popular tweets promoting the show, and even bought a billboard to sit outside the Netflix offices. Viewers’ voices clearly made a difference. So why were such measures taken for Warrior Nun specifically?
The most likely answer is that it was the last straw for many fans of queer television—specifically shows featuring relationships between women. Just three months before the release of the latest season of Warrior Nun, Netflix cancelled the high school vampire romance First Kill after only one season. The backlash surrounding this cancellation was massive, and subsequent renewal campaigns were the model for Warrior Nun fans, many of whom were already frustrated First Kill viewers. The less popular but still beloved Paper Girls was also cancelled around the same time. All three shows featured sapphic lead characters with romantic pairings. All three shows are also in the speculative genre, finding an overlap of viewers. So by the time Warrior Nun was cancelled, it was the same queer fans experiencing endless cancellation announcements. Their disappointment was not just about losing the shows they loved—it was about losing a reflection of themselves on-screen.
The Warrior Nun renewal has other queer fans hopeful. The same month Warrior Nun season two was released, Disney+ dropped the first season of Willow, a high fantasy series based on the cult 1988 George Lucas film. The Willow reboot has one of the most prominent sapphic relationships of any of the shows previously mentioned, a sweet and well-paced teen romance between a princess and her knight. Confirmed in the first episode with a kiss to assure fans there was no queerbaiting happening and slowly building throughout the rest of the season, the central romance of Willow is a meaningful piece of representation and storytelling for many queer fans. Unfortunately, Willow not only got cancelled after a season but was completely erased from its streaming platform barely six months after it aired. Fans attempted a renewal campaign similar to Warrior Nun’s but were unsuccessful as a much smaller group. After seeing Warrior Nun fans’ initial success, Willow fans found a renewed sense of hope for the possibility of another season. That being said, the fight for a Willow comeback is certainly an uphill battle, as fans’ current focus is just to be able to get the show on streaming again.
The phenomenon of shows being completely wiped from existence has a unique effect on queer audiences. With the removal of Willow from Disney+, proof that the story of a lesbian Disney princess existed is only legally available in limited Bluray DVD sets. Currently, the story is best documented across fan edits on Twitter. As the arts move away from physical media, fans will play a larger role in ensuring that evidence of important and powerful stories is not lost. Preserving queer history and storytelling has always been central to the community, with archival work being a key part of queer culture. Queer people are united through the marginalization of an identity trait that isn’t inherently passed down through family or genetics. For many queer folks, understanding themselves and their history is an active effort that can only happen thanks to previous generations documenting their lives and stories (real or fictional) of people like them. While a few cancelled TV shows may not seem like much in an era where endless entertainment is available on demand, fan reactions demonstrate that one show can mean so much more when placed in a broader context. The saga of Warrior Nun has proved that queer audiences see themselves as more than just viewers. And when their personal experiences connect to fictional ones on-screen, they will do everything they can to maintain that connection.