There’s something ironic about #SaveTheOA. For those who need a primer, the hashtag—and the movement around it—sprung up a few weeks ago when Netflix announced it was canceling the beloved but little-watched sci-fi drama The OA. It’s not strange that fans would rally online to save a show; such methods have saved everything from Community to Veronica Mars. What’s peculiar is that the most impactful results of #SaveTheOA have manifested IRL, somewhere far from the Netflix queues and web forums where the show found its home.
The latest manifestation happened in New York City’s Times Square earlier this week. As flash mobs descended, a massive billboard—paid for by a GoFundMe—projected #SaveTheOA throughout the main hub of Midtown. The flash mobs performed the show’s “movements,” odd-looking dances meant to transcend time and space and also foster community. The billboard, which raised more than $5,000 in 24 hours, was made using fan art and was animated by a team that spanned the globe. Last week, on the other side of the country, fans picketed outside Netflix’s Los Angeles headquarters with signs reading “Algorithms don’t tell stories. Human hearts do.” One fan even went on a hunger strike to bring back the show. There may be a hashtag, but the efforts to bring back The OA go far beyond the usual internet slacktivism.
To be clear, there is also a Change.org petition. Nearly 80,000 people have signed it since Netflix canceled the show on August 5. But at a time when Twitter can save a show like Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which got scooped up by NBC almost as soon as Fox dropped it, The OA’s fans are going to far greater lengths than most do to save their favorite programs. This shows a deep understanding of how TV works now. The OA devout, as evidenced by their promotional campaigns and protest signage, know that a company like Netflix is primarily driven by viewership numbers. They believe the streaming giant didn’t do enough to promote their show, so they’re doing it themselves.
“Many people haven’t seen this show,” organizer Mandy Paris told the Los Angeles Times. “But rather than run a hostile campaign, we want to bring the attention to The OA and demonstrate to Netflix that the show could have a much wider reach if people knew about it. We’re running a multifaceted campaign, organized through a Discord chat with watchtheoa.com as our hub, focusing on fans who want to help campaign for the show’s renewal.”
In ye olden days, fans would write letters to save Star Trek or mail lightbulbs to NBC to renew Friday Night Lights. More recently, online boosterism brought back Community and raised the funding for a Veronica Mars movie. But Netflix isn’t short on cash, and its highly unlikely they company would let the show go to another outlet, so fans have to speak in the language the streamer understands: viewership numbers. The best shot they have is convincing so many people to watch The OA that Netflix has to take notice and make more of it. It might be a long shot, but the fandom of Sense8 was able to persuade Netflix to make a two-hour finale for the Wachowski siblings’ quirky sci-fi drama. They may not get the five seasons Netflix once said it had planned, but they might get something.