Why is sapphic media held to such high standards?

First Kill. (L to R) Imani Lewis as Calliope, Sarah Catherine Hook as Juliette in episode 104 of First Kill. Cr. Brian Douglas/Netflix © 2022
First Kill. (L to R) Imani Lewis as Calliope, Sarah Catherine Hook as Juliette in episode 104 of First Kill. Cr. Brian Douglas/Netflix © 2022 /

Ahead of Netflix’s First Kill release, the show has already sparked discourse online surrounding the series’ portrayal of its lead characters, Calliope and Juliette. At Netflix’s Geeked Week, Netflix released the first clip from the highly-anticipated series, which featured Cal and Juliette making out in a pantry while Ashnikko’s “Slumber Party” played in the background. In the quotes of the tweeted clip from the Netflix account, there are several replies that express issues with the scene and insinuate that the series is catering to the male gaze.

One Twitter user wrote: “i hate this…. boys get Heartstopper and we get… making out… in the FIRST trailer? definitely not appealing to males at all.” Another wrote: “…this is going to sexualize lesbian relationships so bad.”

A number of these complaints compare First Kill to Netflix’s other most-recent queer hit Heartstopper, but that comparison is extremely unfair; it’s like apples to oranges.

First Kill, which is rated TV-MA, is a romance between a vampire and vampire-hunter steeped in the world of fantasy and desire. On the other hand, Heartstopper is a coming-of-age story that follows two boys as they learn to love themselves and each other, ultimately given the TV-14 rating for language.

The consensus on the Heartstopper side of the internet seems to be that First Kill, despite its all-female production and direction team, is appealing to the male gaze simply because two girls dare to kiss. That same side of the internet paid no mind to Hulu’s Crush, which debuted in March of 2022 on the streamer. The conversation around the movie became about how “corny” it was, despite its many similarities to Heartstopper, including the incorporation of art, the journey from friends to lovers, and the sometimes-cheesy dialogue.

Over the years, there have been a number of shows and films that featured representations of sapphic women, yet they always get shot down for one reason or another. Killing Eve was always labeled “too toxic.” Crush was “too corny.” She-Ra and the Princesses of Power were “too childish.” And now First Kill is “too sexual.”

It all begs the question: Will it ever be enough?

What hoops will sapphic media have to continue to jump through to simply get the same recognition as media that features gay men? Why are queer stories not as relatable when they’re told through the lens of two women rather than two men?

And, of course, this isn’t to say that Heartstopper didn’t deserve all the praise it received because it did. The show was delightful, and it was an incredibly wholesome and important addition to LGBTQ representation, but so are many other queer shows and movies that aren’t given the same time of day.

Netflix’s sapphic graveyard, which features canceled series Teenage Bounty Hunters, Everything Sucks!, I Am Not Okay With This, One Day at a Time, Sense8, and many more, is already full of numerous sapphic shows that were canned unceremoniously. Every single one of these shows not only had to fight against the odds of being renewed by Netflix, which were slim, to begin with, but also the unfair expectations placed on media that feature queer women.

Ahead of the release of First Kill, fans have already begun preparing to get the show renewed in hopes that there won’t be a new tombstone added to that graveyard with First Kill’s name on it.

As we move forward into a better TV and film landscape for LGBTQ representation, one can only hope that all queer content is given a fair and equal chance. It’s always heartbreaking to see both queer and straight audiences rally behind media that features gay men while actively avoiding sapphic media, exposing some of the inherent biases present in our media consumption.

Hopefully, as we move into the future, sapphic media will finally have its time to shine, and, maybe, First Kill will be the show to change the tide.

First Kill premieres June 10th, only on Netflix. 

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