Hey there, Netflix Lifers, I’m coming at you this week with a heavier topic for our teen beat but this has been weighing on my heart since I brought y’all teen rom-coms to watch in celebration of Valentine’s Day. If you perused that list then you know there’s a glaring lack of Black teen romances, a grand total of three Black teen romantic heroes in interracial love stories, and no Black teen romantic heroines. Mind, that’s not an oversight. It’s an example of an area of teen content Netflix needs to improve on.
Think about it. In the grand pantheon of Netflix titles how many Black teen romances have you seen? What was the genre you were watching? Were the Black characters leads, side characters, or in the background? Was it a Netflix original or a show/movie streaming on the platform? Was the show or movie created in this century or was it from the ’90s?
I’m asking because Netflix is clearly interested in investing in content marketed toward young adults. I wouldn’t consider them the king of teen programming if it weren’t clear that they’re determined to corner the market on the 13-18-year-old demographic. But with that title comes a responsibility to live up to the diversity and inclusion they claim to believe in.
If Netflix is a champion of the Strong Black Lead, then where are our Black teen leads in romances? And I don’t just mean Black leads in interracial romances or mixed race Black romantic heroines or heroes paired with non-Black love interests. I mean Black teen romances across genres. To my knowledge, there’s not a single Black teen love story in the romance category. Though, if I overlooked any, please let me know.
Netflix needs to cater to more than white teens
To be fair, Netflix is actually failing on including non-white teen love stories in general in their original content. They’re good for the occasional non-white romantic teen lead which is where their interracial romances come in (see: To All the Boys and Let it Snow), but you’d be hard press to find a Netflix original teen romance where both leads are non-white. To do so, you’d have to watch a movie or series not based in the U.S. and, typically, not in English.
If we’re to compare Netflix to big-name TV networks, the film industry as a whole, and other streaming platforms then, yes, they’re doing better with teens across races than anyone else. But, that’s still a low bar. While I’m aware the streamer can’t be everything to everybody, that doesn’t mean they’re exempt from criticism or calls for them to do better.
Netflix is acquiring YA book content to adapt at a rate faster than its competition. Obviously, I’m not privy to the behind-the-scenes workings of the streamer, and perhaps they have or plan to reach out to more Black YA authors considering they recently adapted Tiny Pretty Things by Dhonielle Clayton and Sona Charaipotra, but they could stand to invest in Black teen stories, especially romances.
In fact, here are three popular Black YA contemporary romances that were published in 2020:
Charming as a Verb by Ben Philippe
Henri “Halti” Haltiwinger is as charming as they come. He’s also ambitious and intent on attending Columbia University. It’s why he’s the debate team’s star member and maintains popularity and good standing at the elite Fate Academy. Halti, however, is not above a side hustle that’s not entirely honest. See, his wealthy New York neighbors trust him implicitly when it comes to walking their dogs, but it’s his classmate Corinne Troy that gets wise to his scheme.
Corinne promises not to say anything as long as Halti helps her reform her image at school. She’s admittedly intense and also the one person immune to his charm, but that doesn’t mean she won’t use it to her advantage. Despite the blackmail, Halti does see a potential benefit for himself and agrees to Corinne’s terms, setting the two on a path toward an unexpected bond and a surprising turn of events.
Now That I’ve Found You by Kristina Forest
18-year old Evie Jones planned on following in her famous grandmother’s footsteps to become a Hollywood starlet. Too bad she’s been blacklisted thanks to a supposed friend’s betrayal. Now to fix her image, she needs to make an appearance with her Gigi–the famous Evelyn Conway–but her grandmother’s nowhere to be found.
The last person to see her was a musician by the name of Milo Williams, but Evie doesn’t know if she can trust him. Time is running out, however, so she can either put her reservations aside and enlist Milo’s help in what’s sure to be a wild New York adventure or resign herself to a dead career.
The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert
Marva Sheridan has been waiting to vote in her first election for what seems like forever. She’s always seen the importance in doing her part to make the world better. Her relationship with her boyfriend may be falling apart, and her parents might be concerned about how much time she’s been spending on her own lately, but the prospect of voting has been her one bright spot other than her Instagram famous cat.
In contrast, Duke Crenshaw is fulfilling his civic duty because it’s important, but his mind is more focused on his upcoming gig with his band. He thought he’d be in and out of his poll center before his first class, but when problems arise, Duke ends up running back and forth across town to straighten things out. Thank goodness for Marva, who makes helping him vote her mission for the day.
The two are strangers but their daylong adventure brings them closer as they fight a system designed to make voting difficult and inadvertently find someone who understands their heart in more ways than one.
And that’s just three Black YA romances from 2020. There are, of course, more. Not to mention, Netflix could create their own Black teen romances with Black storytellers. This is not an issue of lack of demand or talent. It’s a lack of due attention and investment. Netflix can, and should, do better, and it’s my hope that they do.