The fairies are homophobic.
No, really, homophobia exists in Fate: The Winx Saga. This reveal was when I began to think maybe Fate, a gritty, young adult remake of Italy’s beloved cartoon Winx Club, wasn’t going to work for me. Despite being a cliche, I’m not categorically against dark live action remakes. There’s a lot of camp to be found in these more self-serious adaptations. I’m a strong believer that everyone needs a low-stakes, long-running, slightly trashy teen show to keep them sane. For many years that was Teen Wolf for me, and then it was Marvel’s Runaways. Despite early apprehension, I was hopeful that Fate might fill the void that Riverdale never quite could.
Unfortunately, like I said, the fairies are homophobic. That isn’t the only problem, either. For those 30 and above, Winx might be an unfamiliar property. A staple of 4Kids Entertainment, Winx Club follows a group of fashionable, quirky fairies enrolled at the magical Alfea College. Though relatively under the radar, Winx Club remained a cult favorite for its similarities to Sailor Moon as well as its French contemporary W.I.T.C.H. The show remained popular throughout the 2000s, and eventually was revived by Nickelodeon and featured celebrity voice actors such as Ariana Grande and Keke Palmer.
The basic setup of Fate is the same—Bloom (Abigail Cowen), a regular girl living among humans, discovers she’s a fire fairy and is swept away to Alfea where she meets a cast of color-coded friends, each with their own unique powers.
Here’s where the show ventures into sticky territory. For one, a key element of Winx Club’s vibe lay in just how close the girls became right off the bat. Fate plays their relationships as a bit more strenuous off the jump, which gives the show a bit of a bitter tone at times. The girls take a while to start supporting each other, and it’s rare all the girls are on screen together. Fate is also woefully miscast. The retinue of fairies include Stella (Hannah van der Westhuysen), a light fairy and crown princess of Solaria, Aisha (Precious Mustapha), a water fairy and the team’s resident jock, Musa (Elisha Applebaum), a mind fairy with empathic powers, and Terra (Eliot Salt), an earth fairy who is occasionally overly chatty.
This means Fate omits Tecna, a Y2K technology fairy, which is an odd decision given the show can barely run a minute without referencing Instagram or Tiktok. Winx Club fans might also notice that Flora has instead been replaced with Terra, the show’s biggest departure in terms of characterization. Flora was a Latina fairy inspired by Jennifer Lopez, while Terra’s actress, Eliot Salt—while excellent—is a white woman. This is an explicit act of white-washing, so blatant and obvious that I was shocked they even tried it here. Terra’s arc also largely centers around being plus size, which, again, I find odd that fairies would hold prejudices such as these.
I’m always gungho for plus size actors and actresses being cast in live action adaptations, especially considering every character in Winx Club is even more rail thin than a Bratz Doll, but Terra’s storyline is often clumsily mishandled. After saving Dane (Theo Graham), a queer specialist (something of a magical warrior charged with protecting the school) from a bully, Terra becomes infatuated with him while Dane slowly becomes enamored with his bully, Riven (Freddie Thorp). Dane remains closeted until he is outed through an Instagram story in which he, Dane, and Beatrix (Sadie Soverall) poke fun at Terra’s weight.
And… that’s about as deep as this storyline goes. Terra is often the butt of jokes, whether it be for her clothes or her loquaciousness. Even her few moments of empowerment are weak, coming at the expense of other characters insulting her. Salt is one of the brightest young talents in the show—I just wish Terra’s character had more room to shine and the script did more for her, a problem across the board. Dane’s story similarly plays with tired gay tropes that might have been interesting back in the Degrassi days but now read as reductive, tired, and ultimately insulting. The world doesn’t need another story about a queer teen being threatened by his bully with a forceful outing.
But, you know, at least they got an arc! Characters like Aisha weren’t quite so lucky, which is especially disappointing given she is one of two POC characters alongside Dane. Though she occasionally gets moments to show off her powers, Aisha’s character mostly exists to be Bloom’s first real friend at Alfea, a sidekick type whose teacher’s pet tendencies cause her loyalties to sway when the threat of truancy becomes a recurring issue. Stella feels similarly mischaracterized; her parallel from Winx Club was occasionally self-absorbed, but mostly optimistic, stylish, and ambitious. Fate’s Stella is far more cruel, being a rich girl stereotype who condescends to the other girls, occasionally screws them over, and rarely feels like an actual friend.
There’s something bizarrely mean-spirited about the show, which may be thanks in part to the masculinized vision the showrunners have for Fate’s overall vibe. Winx Club’s original art director Simone Borselli once said his inspiration for the girls’ clothes came “from being gay.” The show is obviously a campy show for young girls with a spotty budget, but as a property, it continues to be important for LGBT folk, who make up the bulk of the franchise’s continued following. The original Winx Club reveled in sparkle and fun—the characters were inspired by glamorous women like Lucy Liu and Beyonce.
Conversely, there’s almost no glitz to Fate. In fact, the show goes out of its way to masculinize as much as they can, perhaps to widen the demographic to a general young adult audience. The show is careful not to portray male characters as anything but strong, military-esque warriors, complete with armored cars and all-black tactical gear. Meanwhile, Winx Club’s specialists were running around in gogo boots and capes. This is especially disappointing given how the show prides itself on being inclusive and updating some of the outdated elements of the original Winx Club, meaning the all-male specialists now include female warriors, and some of the fairies are male. Unfortunately, it does this at the expense of cutting out much of what made Winx Club resonant, while also playing into problematic tropes and only featuring heteronormative relationships.
As the show continues, it reveals even more of its malicious politics. It has questionable things to say about foster families, punitive justice, and even genocide, toying with tired both-sideisms that continue to plague TV to this day, and confuse even the show’s main cast with a lack of nuance. This may be a setup for interesting developments in a prospective second season, but unfortunately, I’m left feeling like Fate has little to offer beyond obvious pop culture references and crooning indie pop musical cues. Fate: The Winx Saga fails to dazzle at every juncture, and for that reason Alfea might be better off shuttering their doors.
Fate: The Winx Saga premieres Friday, January 22 on Netflix.
Austin Jones is a writer with eclectic media interests. You can chat with him about horror games, electronic music, Joanna Newsom and ‘80s-‘90s anime on Twitter @belfryfire
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