Indian Country reels as Netflix cancels show with first Native female lead: 'Chambers'

Native starpower in 'Chambers' included actors Sivan Alyra Rose and Marcus LaVoi, director Sydney Freeland and writer Jason Gavin

Netflix has announced it will not be renewing the series, Chambers. But Indian Country isn’t taking it quietly.

Less than one day after Netflix has announced that their first season of Chambers would not be renewed, and one week after Netflix announced partnerships with Indigenous screen organizations in Canada, Indian Country has taken social media by storm criticizing the streaming giant for its decision. 

Sivan Alyra Rose told Indian Country Today in an email, "Chambers is not dead, this is not an end, this is the start of something bigger." 

Hashtags like#SaveChambers are springing up and Netflix is already receiving criticism for its lack of diversity efforts in the wake of troubles that came connected to Adam Sandler’s Ridiculous Six in 2015.

See Related: Native Actors Walk off Set of Adam Sandler Movie After Insults to Women, Elders

Netflix has given their reason for canceling the show in a public statement:

Chambers will not return for a second season ... We’re grateful to the creator and showrunner Leah Rachel for bringing this story to us and to her fellow executive producers Alfonso Gomez Rejon, Steve Gaghan from Super Emotional, Winnie Kemp and Wolfgang Hammer from Super Deluxe, and Jennifer Yale. We’re also thankful to the tireless crew, and to our incredible cast, especially Uma Thurman, Tony Goldwyn and talented newcomer Sivan Alyra Rose.”

In the 10-part series, Sasha Yazzie, played by Apache actress Sivan Alyra Rose, portrays a young Dine’ girl who nearly dies and is given a heart transplant operation courtesy of a young non-Native girl, who had died hours earlier thus was able to donate her heart.

Sasha Yazzie, and her young Dine’ boyfriend TJ (Griffin Powell-Arcand) at the beginning of "Chambers."
Courtesy Netflix

See related: First Native actress starring in a Netflix series, Sivan Alyra Rose talks about ‘Chambers

Sivan Alyra Rose attends the season one premiere of Netflix's "Chambers" at Metrograph on Monday, April 15, 2019, in New York. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP)
In the 10-part series, Sasha Yazzie, played by Apache actress Sivan Alyra Rose, portrays a young Dine’ girl who nearly dies and is given a heart transplant operation courtesy of a young non-Native girl.Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP

The series featured longtime actors such as Uma Thurman, Tony Goldwyn and others, while also employing Sivan Alyra Rose, Marcus LaVoi who played Sasha’s uncle Big Frank, her young Dine’ boyfriend TJ and Griffin Powell-Arcand. Episodes were directed by several indigenous directors to include Sydney Freeland, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon and Dana Gonzales, Native writer Jason Gavin contributed to 10 episodes.

Some on social media are calling the move questionable as Netflix had recently announced new partnerships in Canada with Indigenous organizations in an attempt to create more Indigenous-based programming.

See related: Netflix announces new partnerships with Canada's Indigenous screen organizations

Stéphane Cardin, Director of Public Policy, Netflix Canada stated “Indigenous communities in Canada are rich with unique stories, and organizations like imagineNATIVE, The Indigenous Screen Office and Wapikoni Mobile are vital to ensuring these voices are heard … Netflix is proud to help launch these three programs, which will reach Indigenous communities across the country.”

Johnnie Jae wrote on Twitter: “Just when Netflix announces a partnership with Canadian Indigenous media groups, they cancel the groundbreaking U.S. series, Chambers, that was the first series to feature an Indigenous lead and strong positive representation of contemporary Natives and communities.

Gracious parting words from the Native actors

Sivan Alyra Rose told Indian Country Today in an email, "Chambers is not dead, this is not an end, this is the start of something bigger." 

Native actors Marcus LaVoi and Sivan Alyra Rose posted their appreciation on Instagram yesterday for appearing on Chambers.

LaVoi posted an image of his character Big Frank along with the following words:

“Just received the official word, Netflix has canceled a second season for Chambers. I would like to humbly thank Netflix and ALL the executives for this amazing opportunity...Big Frank, signing out.”

Rose said in part of her post on Instagram — filled with gracious thanks to working with the likes of Tony Goldwyn, Uma Thurman and Marcus LaVoi — “We made history”

Responses to both Rose and LaVoi expressed anger, disbelief and frustration, but many also showed appreciation for the efforts of the cast and crew. 

Native actor Kalani Queypo commented to Rose on Instagram, "You killed it, and the show is GLORIOUS! Native people have opened doors for you in this business. And now, you have opened doors for future projects!! #WeAreStillHere."

Chambers poster
Sivan Alyra Rose told Indian Country Today in an email, "Chambers is not dead, this is not an end, this is the start of something bigger." 

Indian Country responds with tweets, IG posts and a petition

In less than twelve hours after the announcement, a slew of comments from angered and frustrated fans of the show have been hitting Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Mohawk actress Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs tweeted:

“My heart hurts to hear that #Chambers on @netflix is cancelled. It’s a trailblazing show for our community with incredible work by Onkwehón:we @sivanalyrarose - I know this sucks, but just know that we’ll be seeing SO much more from you #savechambers

Other tweets and social media shares expressed similar sentiments in support of Chambers, they also noted that Netflix had also supported Adam Sandler after insulting Native actors.

“Consider this @netflix canceled @ChambersNetflix, the first Indigenous female lead show at the same time they gave Adam Sandler (the guy who made Ridiculous 6 where Natives walked off the set) $250 million dollars for multiple film deal.”

Other posts shared the need for representation

One individual on Twitter Johnald, who says she/they thinks that “Chambers (2019) is the first ever show with a female Native American lead. It’s completely revolutionary and deserves a second season,” shared a petition on petition.org which has so far garnered over 400 signatures and counting.

The petition was created by Twitter account @SashaYazzie, an account name inspired by the character of the same name played by Sivan Alyra Rose on Chambers.

Reasons for cancellation

As reported in DEADLINE, "Netflix bases most of its renewal decisions on cost vs. viewership/acclaim analysis." Though Netflix has an 80% renewal rate for series' from season one to season two, some outlets are claiming lukewarm reviews. 

Variety cited their own writer Daniel D’Addario who did not like the series, and though Rotten Tomatoes gave it an approval rating of 41%, many reviewers cited otherwise. 

The popular site Black Girl Nerds gave the series and Native actress Sivan Alyra Rose an appreciative shout in their review titled Netflix’s ‘Chambers’ is a New Gold Standard for Indigenous Representation in American Visual Media.

The writer in the Black Girl Nerds article writes:

The fact that this is the year 2019 and it’s the first time a TV show has ever featured Native American leads is a fact by itself gobsmacking. What’s also notable about Chambers is that the entirety of the top-billed cast are people of color, with Uma Thurman as Nancy LeFevre and Tony Goldwyn appearing in credits as supporting stars even though they share equal screentime with everyone else.

It is through this Indigenist lens in particular that Chambers becomes much more than just a body horror, possession narrative, and trauma of the home story. Natives consistently receive sub-par healthcare, and it is perfectly fitting the American medical-industrial complex would lead to an Indigenous woman receiving a heart that nobody else in the vicinity wanted as much as they might have needed it.

Chambers season one is now airing on Netflix.

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Follow Indian Country Today’s associate editor Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter - @VinceSchilling and Instagram - @VinceSchilling

Email - vschilling@indiancountrytoday.com

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