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In the immortal words of "Mean Girls"' Karen Smith, “Why are you white?” Whitewashing, unlikeable characters and the uninspired inclusion of every teen trope under the moon make Netflix’s new “Fate: The Winx Saga” an insult to the cartoon so many grew up on.
Even before airing, the show faced heavy criticism for its unnecessary changes to the source material. The 2004 “Winx Club” cartoon followed protagonist Bloom and her five friends Stella, Flora, Musa, Tecna, and Aisha (known in some dubs as Layla) as they studied at Alfea College for Fairies and fought threats against the world of Magix. In the cartoon, Musa and Flora are coded as East Asian and Hispanic/Latina, respectively, yet Netflix cast two white women to play them in the live action adaptation Although, in Flora’s case, the [show claims she isn’t whitewashed, there’s simply a new character named Terra (Eliot Salt) — who just so happens to have the same powers and personality as Flora. Ostensibly, her inclusion is to incorporate better body diversity — an important and worthwhile change as this is a prominent failing of the cartoon — but someone really should tell Netflix that plus size Latina women exist. While Precious Mustapha was a great casting choice for Aisha, the erasure of the other women of color tokenizes her character, and Mustapha isn’t given enough to work with as Aisha is the only Winx girl who does not get a proper subplot. Netflix can say what they like about valuing diversity, but it’s clear where they put their time and money — in this case, into a bland project that goes out of its way to be less inclusive and compelling than the source material was.
In addition to these terrible changes, “Fate” either doesn’t know or doesn’t care what friendship is. The cartoon was strong because the fabric of the show was the members of the Winx Club: their personal challenges, teamwork and support for one another. In “Fate,” they occasionally stand for a line-up sho, as if that’s equivalent to meaningful female friendships. When they talk about their problems, they talk at each other — the other girl in the conversation could be replaced with a brick wall and nothing would change. They argue without resolution and almost invariably rebuff the few overtures of friendship we see.
This is most clear during episode four, when all of the main girls minus Stella (Hannah van der Westhuysen) go out of their way to try to eat lunch with Bloom (Abigail Cowen) while the rest of the school is ostracizing her — finally, a chance for some positive interaction! However, Bloom responds by getting up and leaving.
Beyond their (lack of) friendships, all five of the main girls are difficult to root for even as individuals. Bloom is selfish and actively dislikes other human beings (or wingless fairies, apparently), Terra irritates everyone with her inability to read a room, Stella oscillates between being cruel and pathetically needy, Aisha is overbearing and judgemental, and Musa (Elisha Applebaum) flat out doesn’t want to be there. Their supposed character arcs are disjointed and slapdash, and there is not one genuine redeeming quality in sight.
The same lack of focus and poor execution persists with the show’s conflicts. The members of the Winx Club get annoyed at each other for cheap attempts at comedy, but these disagreements are never addressed again or resolved. All but one of their romantic interests are flaky and toxic, which is certainly not helped by the inclusion of a contrived love triangle. In the same vein, the highest stakes conflicts are boring. In “Winx Club,” the initial primary antagonists were the Trix, a trio of evil witches who were a foil to the Winx Club’s friendships and out for blood. They were dynamic and dramatic, and they even sometimes won.
In the show, we have… fire zombies.
The Burned Ones are purportedly impossible to kill — so of course Bloom manages it on her first try. They’re as effective as the screenwriter says they are and devastatingly dull. The analogue for the Trix in “Fate” is one girl — oh-so-cleverly named Beatrix (Sadie Soverall) — who is actually one of the show’s stronger elements. She’s a great example of grey morality in a character, as she does bad things that could possibly be justified. Unfortunately, she’s the only show-invented character to be interesting in this way — much of the narrative energy is expended on new Specialists and teachers, and the core of the show suffers for it. Bloom stumbles along on her quest for answers by herself, while none of the main characters care about the main plot and the threat that the Burned Ones and those who sent them pose to Alfea. And since the main characters don’t care, the viewers certainly can’t be expected to either.
Moreover, “Fate” won’t go two scenes without reminding the viewer just which demographic they’re rebooting “Winx Club” for. Despite none of the characters actually being from Earth, they make sure you know just how hip they are by name-dropping everything from Harry Potter to James Bond to Huda Beauty. And, remember, they’re teens, so random f-bombs and crude sex references are a must.
Similarly, the teen angst has been pushed to the extreme. It’s not enough that, in the cartoon, Bloom was adopted after being the sole survivor of a genocide of her home planet: “Fate” had to invent extra trauma for her. If any parent is mentioned, they’re abusive, dead, or simply untrustworthy, and the teachers are all equally unreliable. The teens have to “solve” their problems by themselves, always with a phone in their hand — because of course they are always carrying phones. Despite these many gestures towards a TV-MA rating, no one really looks like a teenager. Most of the actors are obviously too old for their character’s age, and no one is dressed like a teenager — their fashion is equal parts ridiculous and disappointing when the source material was so fashion-forward. Similarly, despite the show’s attempts at mature, gritty themes, the main characters have the same ages as their cartoon counterparts: They’re all sixteen. Just like with “Riverdale” and the “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina,” Netflix can’t resist continuing to sexualize minors in “Fate.”
Despite the many, many complaints lodged, “Fate: The Winx Saga” could have been adequate — if it was an independent property. As a story about a group of teenagers in another dimension navigating learning magic, high school drama and intermittent danger it would be on par with Netflix’s other abominations aimed at teen girls. But as a “Winx Club” live action? It’s a damn shame.
— Staff writer Millie Mae Healy can be reached at email@example.com
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