Sense8: The Show No One is Talking About, But Everyone Needs to Watch by Anjeanette LeBoeuf


AnjeanetteNetflix 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 map

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.

Anjeanette LeBoeuf is currently studying for her qualifying exams in Women Studies in Religion at Claremont Graduate University. Her focuses are divided between South Asian religions and religion and popular culture. She has become focused on exploring the representations of women in all forms of popular culture and how religion plays into them. Recently she drove across country to learn Sanskrit at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She is an avid supporter of both soccer and hockey. She is also a television and movie buff which probably takes way too much of her time, but she enjoys every minute of it.

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Categories: Fiction, Film, Gender, Gender and Sexuality, Media

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9 replies

  1. Are there any lesbians in this movie? From what you say here the ‘lesbians’ look like they might not be what I consider to be lesbians ie two women born women. If that’s the case then there is a continuing non-diverse misrepresentation and invisibilisation of lesbians taking place.

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    • Gongyla,

      To answer your question regarding representation, there are lesbians, who were born women, present in the supporting cast. Nomi’s partner Amanita is a ‘born’ woman of color. Nomi and Amanita live in San Francisco and there are multiple scenes depicted gay culture within the city. Episode 2 have portions filmed during Gay Pride and had the support of the group Dykes on Bikes.

      I think your comment also brings up a great point about the visibility of lesbians within Hollywood itself. While it is still difficult to come out and live openly in our society, statistics have shown that it is more acceptable for men to come out of the closet in Hollywood then for women. As of today, there are over 282 openly gay actors compared to 51 open lesbians and even fewer transgendered actors. Hollywood is slowly realizing the power of representation and visibility of diverse groups.

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  2. Anjeanette, what connection does your topic address directly as regards feminism and religion? I don’t see it.

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    • Thank you for your comment Meg, this post deals more with feminism in popular culture and more specifically representation of diverse groups of women and the queer community. I always strive to find connections between feminism, popular culture, and religion but this show is very complex so I had to start somewhere.

      I am working on a larger piece which dives more indepth into the show. Sense8 does carry multiple scenes depicting religion. There are three layers which Sense8 deals with religion:
      1. Devotion – One of the main characters, Kala is an active Hindu who has multiple scenes where she is praying to Ganesha at a Temple. As well as scenes showing religious festivals.
      2. Modernity vs Tradition – there is an interesting dialogue between Kala and her future in-laws due to her future father-in-law trying to ban religious institutions and expressions.
      3. Religion vs. Science – Kala has an indepth conversation between fellow Sensate Wolfgang about the connection and relationship that religion and science have. Wolfgang questions Kala’s faith due to her being a scientist. “My love for science doesn’t preclude my faith. For me, science is another language we use to talk about the same miracles that faith talks about.” (Episode 7)

      I hope that helps to clarify.

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      • I really loved the way the show dealt with religion. No one was shamed for being religious, OR for not being religious. It’s still an open discussion between Kala and Wolfgang, even as they become closer as a (quasi) couple. The is something Straczynski has always been great at: letting his characters have differing beliefs, and talk about them, without making it preachy or have anyone convert to any particular view.

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  3. Joi,

    I totally agree with you on how religion is presented on the show and how complex people’s relationships are with it, from Kala’s devotion, the overzealous nature of Nomi’s mother, and all the inbetween. I am exciting to see what will be done in Season 2

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    • I think one of the best pieces is the way they are connected to this mother figure who gives birth to them all; they experience the world through new eyes afterwards and their senses are all opened to new ideals, sexuality, and realities, including different religious experiences (I’m referring to the character and story-line of Kala particularly with her soon to be father-in-law wanting to pass that legislation).

      In regards to the “true lesbianism” comment I’m only going to state that however people choose to identify and live their authentic selves is between them and their sexual partner (and/or god/goddess/deity/etc.); I think we’ve seen the serious ramifications of what happens when society dictates or mandates what is true or not.

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      • John,

        Thanks for your comments. The connection between the Sensates is a great way to explore new ways at which we communicate and learn from each other. I especially love how with the sensate cluster there is no apparent gender hierarchy. Sun is clearly the number one protector/enforcer in the group and the male cop is not at all bothered by her being born a natural woman and being able to kick some serious butt.

        I also struggle with labeling anything as ‘true’ because who defines truth? And can we reject that truth for a different one especially when it is damaging and hurtful to so many people

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