Mike Coppola/Getty Sunita Mani
Before GLOW's cancellation, actress Sunita Mani and her fellow costars of color sent a letter to the show's executive producers, addressing how some storylines in the series perpetuated racial stereotypes — despite the series being "marketed as a diverse ensemble."
Mani, who played Arthie Premkumar on the Netflix comedy, posted the letter, to Instagram on Monday. Signed by herself, Sydelle Noel, Britney Young, Shakira Barrera, Kia Stevens and Ellen Wong, the letter explained that their desire to speak out was inspired by the continued protests against police brutality and racism following the killing of George Floyd earlier this year.
Though Mani, 34, expressed her sincerest gratitude for her role on the show, she asserted that it is also her "job" and "opportunity" to "hold my show accountable."
"In June, while experiencing this country's outcry for Black Lives Matter, the POC cast of GLOW talked through how we felt about our own show's reckoning with race. It was a raw and personal coming-together, to be seen and heard as we grappled with our value as women of color against a system and industry that values whiteness. And when it's your own house, it's terrifying. Because I adore my house, my job, my GLOW family and show creators, so it's terrifying to confront something that also gives me a job and opportunity," Mani began in a statement.
Netflix Sunita Mani in GLOW
"I couldn't have done this alone. And I would never want to. It's so difficult to weight the personal toll of representation against the professional responsibility that, in this case, is about serving that representation," Mani said.
**A statement on GLOW** I want to relay the above in hopes of transparency making things better for all. I made a joke about that recently and now I’m asking you to take me seriously, sorry! The above is not posted to save Glow, it’s just some personal stuff that we want to share. I loved playing Arthie Premkumar❤️
A post shared by @ sunitamani on Oct 19, 2020 at 9:32am PDT
Mani explained that the letter was written when the show was on a hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic. The plan was to send the letter with the expectation of "coming back for a season 4."
Earlier this month, though, Netflix canceled GLOW after 3 seasons, citing the global health crisis, "which makes shooting this physically intimate show with its large ensemble cast especially challenging."
In her post, Mani said she decided to take the letter public "because it encapsulates such a personal journey of GLOW and Season 4 would have been such a catharsis; posting this is acting as some personal closure for me."
Mani added that the producers heard and responded to their call to action.
"They were in the process of making Season 4 reflect some of the systemic problems we outlined. I was so afraid to speak on these issues to my bosses, whom I respect and I think are so brilliant, but was deeply moved by the support of my fellow cast mates. This was a huge deal — creating space for change — and it was a testament to the love and support that was, by no twist of fate, an intentional element seeded by our show's creators and germinated in the entire cast," Mani wrote.
In the letter, Mani and her costars expressed that they found it "problematic" that sometimes their characters existed "solely in the context of [a] racist storyline" while their white counterparts had more "in-depth" storylines.
The women went on to state that although the show has been marketed as a "diverse ensemble," it has "never lived up to these ideals."
"Since season 1, the show has planted racial stereotyping into our character's existence, yet our 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," they said.
Netflix GLOW cast
The actresses stressed that the letter is not meant to condemn their white costars, but rather to"elevate us all in a deeper, more significant way."
The women then listed out ways the show could be more inclusive, including hiring an executive producer or consulting producer of color.
"We feel that in order for our characters and storylines to be authentically represented we need writers who have similar experiences to ours, and who understand our character motivations given the situations presented on our show," they stated.
Mani and her costars also asked that producers "fully address how portraying stereotypical and racially offensive wrestling personas has impacted our character's professional lives and personal dignity."
"We find ourselves questioning if playing these characters is truly dismantling and critiquing the systems that continue to benefit from using them," they expressed. "It is unrealistic and dismissive that our characters who are also actresses playing the exact same characters we are, would not feel this impact and express how it's affected the way they see themselves and how they see themselves within their profession. In season 4 our characters are given new wrestling personas. We ask that dialogue be written to explicitly reflect how our characters previous wrestling gimmicks were damaging to their respective communities," the women wrote.
Mani, Noel, Young, Barrera, Stevens and Wong also asked producers to "amplify our voices and our importance within the season narrative."
"Each season that passes our characters have been demoted to background players, often nonspeaking or having dialogue that does not drive the narrative... We also feel sidelined by the extensive storylines given to guest actors/characters...We care deeply about these characters, and have waited patiently for them to make an impact on our show. Given that this is our last season, we ask that true effort be taken in expanding their involvement and presence on the show beyond servicing a diversity quota," they added.
In the caption of the post, Mani said she hopes sharing this letter makes "things better for all."
GLOW tells the story of Ruth (Alison Brie), an out-of-work actress who gets her last chance at stardom through female professional wrestling in 1980s Los Angeles. It follows the trials and tribulations of the women who throw themselves into the ring — and into the spotlight.
To help combat systemic racism, consider learning from or donating to these organizations:
• Campaign Zero works to end police brutality in America through research-proven strategies.
• ColorofChange.org tries to make the government more responsive to racial disparities.
• National Cares Mentoring Movement provides social and academic support to help Black youth succeed in college and beyond.