Exploited or Empowered? A Review of Netflix’s Glow

There are two series I have managed to finish this year: Dear White People (seriously, watch it!) and Glow.

By Ruby Martin

I hadn’t intended to watch Jenji Kohan’s most recent project Glow, as I was struggling to wade through a plethora of Netflix series’ (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Master of None, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend). At this point, I believed I had physically lost the ability to binge (gasp!). However, there are two series I have managed to finish this year: Dear White People (seriously, watch it!) and Glow.

For me, DWP was a great series that blended multiple narratives on socially conscious issues with seriousness and humour to get the tone just right. However, Glow shifts slightly in genre in contrast to Kohan’s previous work (Orange is the New Black). Glow is a comedy with dramatic moments, as opposed to OITNB’S drama with moments of comedy. Whilst the two shows have similar success in employing a diverse cast and passing Bechdel test with flying colours, Glow’s strengths are let down by some fatal flaws.

One of the most uncomfortable and confusing points in the series is when the diverse cast of women are shown to embrace the racist and misogynist stereotypes they have to play in their roles as female wrestlers. Their moments of protest are overcome far too easily, for example, the Indian character Arthie readily accepts the role of ‘Beirut’ the terrorist. Interestingly, the creators of the show discussed how they wanted to examine the aftermath of the 1970s Woman’s Liberation movement, and to explore the ambiguity of whether it was in fact, a success. This supposedly explains the aforementioned problems with the portrayal of archetypes in the show, as perhaps the writers intended to play with the blurred lines between accepted exploitation and political empowerment.

While this does serve as a commentary on this movement in the time, this can only be presented as a successful critique on society if you can access the intention, and it isn’t necessarily obvious from first viewing this was the aim. Also, this leads to significant plot-holes where characters seem to react with surprise when their racist stereotypes embolden racist attitudes. There is a clumsy attempt to rectify this when Cherry and Tammé, the two black characters, change up their opponents to fight against the Ku Klux Klan instead, but this is swiftly dismissed by their male director Sam.

Also, whilst the cast themselves are all excellent (especially Alison Brie, who plays melodramatic actor Ruth in a beautifully subtle and human fashion), it feels that the other characters’ storylines such as Cherry and Carmen are skimmed over. It is a shame that they are afforded less time in order for Gilpin and Brie’s characters to have an enduring (and in my opinion, detracting) conflict. This ‘conflict’ is over Gilpin’s husband no less, whom, to be honest, I did not give a hoot about and frankly wished he didn’t exist.

This is not to say all is lost in this series, as I found the core plotline of the show to be enjoyable and more-ish in classic Netflix style. Perhaps we can forgive this programme for simply trying to achieve too much in very little time. It is also wonderfully shot with a gritty realness to contrast the tacky sheen of the television shows the characters all seek to create. Despite its flaws, I am in fact looking forward to watching the second season, and I hope it will allow more time for the characters to develop and to watch their stories unfold.


About the Author

Ruby is a writer and comedian based in London who when not taking on too many projects at the same time, likes to spend her time watching videos of animals being friends and carefully curating her Twitter.  She also has a Bachelor’s degree in Linguistics from UCL and spent a year living in Venice, which has only fuelled her addiction to pizza and ice cream.


Author: Gender + the City

Intersectional Feminist digital magazine

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