Netflix released a new Sci-Fi drama series called Sense8 in June. This original series was created, written, and produced by Andy and Lana Wachowski (The Matrix) partnered with J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5) to bring to life a world where certain humans were born with the ability to communicate and share through a mental link with other humans. They wanted to attempt to do something that had never been done before in TV, to change the “vocabulary for television production”* , the same way The Matrix became a major influence for action movies.** One of the main goals decided on was exploring the relationship between empathy and evolution in the human race.
The way Sense8 explores empathy and evolution is in the eight main characters, or sensates. All eight span the globe: culturally, religiously, and economically: Sun, Nomi, Riley, Kala, Will, Wolfgang, Lito, and Capheus.
Interestingly the power of Sense8’s diverse cast is what has endeared it to its audience. The initial response for the public was mild but one could say it is merely because of the format of Netflix’s viewership. The real draw of Sense8 has come from social media. Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook not only carry official accounts for Sense8 but have seen thousands of viewers sharing quotes, pictures, and memes highlighting the show. Sun, an intelligent Korean business woman/underground mixed martial artist, is one of the group’s go to enforcers and fan favorite. Social media and its followers are spreading the word about the power of diversity, the strength of showing different narratives, and that all genders can be strong and compassionate.
Sense8 uses each of the main characters to explore emotions, humanity, knowledge, violence, identity, and justice. Through each character’s understanding of one another, the viewer also explores what it means to be human. Due to its diversity it also allows for different narratives to become represented. One of the strongest relationships in the show is between Nomi, a transwoman, hacktivist turned blogger, and her partner Amanita. The other powerful relationship is between Lito, a closeted Mexican action star coming to terms with his identity, sexuality, and realizing his encompassing love for his boyfriend Hernando.
Sense8 highlights the two levels of violence done to each other – the violence against another person and the violence against oneself. Sense8 has scenes highlighting the violence that humans commit on one other. Yet, one of the most crucial scenes is when Nomi shares with Lito her painful memories of growing up a boy, uncomfortable in the body and gender imposed on her, and what she realized when she fully accepted herself. Nomi tells Lito that, “The real violence, the violence I realized was unforgivable, is the violence that we do to ourselves, when we’re too afraid to be who we really are.”*** Thus, violence is perpetual, violence towards others and also the violence in denying ourselves and others the opportunity to be our ‘true selves.’
The sensate cluster’s connections permit each character to grow, to explore, and to experience. The show is edgy, it is racy, and it is chalk full of drama, explosions, relationships, and sex. Due to being produced on a ‘premium’ medium, Sense8 carries episodes with explicit sex scenes. Yet these sex scenes do ring different, the majority of the sex scenes are of the non-heterosexual persuasion. They also are scenes between two people seeking deeper connections, expressions of love, and maybe escapism; unlike scenes found in Game of Thrones, Fifty Shades of Grey, or Mr. and Mrs. Smith, which all have shown forms of violent sex scenes. Episode 6 carries an epic six person orgy scene where straight and queer bodies are involved.
Sense8 is not just revolutionary in its sex scenes but in the representations and diversity of its cast and its characters.
Maybe it is because of Lana Wachowski’s very intimate relationship with the transgender community–insofar as she ‘officially’ transitioned in 2008–that Sense8 is very aware and diligent in its representation of minorities, genders, and sexualities. Of the eight sensates, four are people of color and two are queer. In her Human Rights Visibility Awards Speech in 2012 Lana states, “Invisibility is indivisible from visibility; for the transgendered this is not simply a philosophical conundrum — it can be the difference between life and death.”**** The visibility of Nomi, one of the few transgendered main cast and characters in a television series is a different model for the Trans community, as her transition is in the past. She is played by Jamie Clayton, a Trans woman. Lito struggles with the cultural pressure of maintaining the façade of a being a heterosexual male in Mexico and ultimately decides on honesty, with himself and others. Sense8 is also clever, written exceptionally well, and visually stunning. It highlights a world where human connection, empathy, and growth are possible. It also provides a diverse, expansive collection of characters that everyone can have access to. It is what television has been missing for years – a reflection of the diversity and complexity that takes place every day in our world. And maybe, just maybe, by watching a few episodes of a make believe world, we can start to create a better world for us all.
“I are not just a me but I am also a we.” Nomi Marks*****
*Gilly, Casey. “J. Michael Straczynski Calls “Dream Police” Back into Action, Updates on “Sense8″ – Comic Book Resources.” J. Michael Straczynski Calls “Dream Police” Back into Action, Updates on “Sense8” – Comic Book Resources. Comic Book Resources, 6 May 2014. Web. 12 Aug. 2015.
**Crum, Chris. “Netflix’s ‘Sense8′ Hopes To Do For TV What ‘The Matrix’ Did For Film – WebProNews.” WebProNews. IEntry Network, 17 Sept. 2013. Web. 12 Aug. 2015.
***The Wachowskis, and J. Michael Straczynski. “Death Doesn’t Let You Say Goodbye.” Sense8. Netflix. 5 June 2015. Television.
****Lana Wachowski’s HRC Visibility Award Acceptance Speech (Transcript). The Hollywood Reporter, 24 Oct. 2012. Web. 12 Aug. 2015.
*****The Wachowskis, and J. Michael Straczynski. “I Am Also a We.” Sense8. Netflix. 5 June 2015. Television.
This blog was originally posted at feminismandreligion.com
Update: Netflix has cancelled Sense8 after its second season. We feel it is a loss to so many who saw it as a diverse and transgressive show unlike any other on TV.