Netflix’s Daybreak: Diversity Doesn’t Guarantee Heart or Equality


Netflix’s series Daybreak is a post-apocalyptic story of tribalism, cannibalism and misogyny wrapped up in a pop culture bow. The tribalism and cannabalism are intended. I’m honestly never sure at this point how much of the vast ocean of misogyny coming from the entertainment industry is intended to keep us in our place and how much is subconscious. I do know that this level of stereotyping in today’s world can’t all be accidental.

In the Daybreak universe of Glendale, CA, following atomic and biological warfare, it’s made clear that white alphas rule and others are there to be sacrificed or serve. The white alpha males prefer consorts who are attractive, blonde women. The one gay male alpha has a secret, black, male consort.

White alpha males = Burr, Turbo Bro Jock, Just Josh, and Jaden Hoyles.

Women/men who serve as consorts = Sam Dean, Wesley, the blonde girl Hoyles has sex with in the bathroom. Mavis is set up as the dream girl who may or may not be real. Angelica is denigrated but allowed to stick around to grow into a real consort.

All of the acceptable consorts for the alphas are blonde white women, except for Wesley, black male football star, which is probably equal to a blonde girl in the trophy lover category. Analyzing Turbo’s reasons for initially keeping Wesley secret isn’t why we’re here, but they amount to wanting to have someone who he doesn’t have to share with the entire world, not fear of homophobia or racism.

Ms Crumble and KJ, who are both women of color (Latina and Asian, respectively) are 2nd tier consorts at best. Crumble, who is a partial Ghoulie/sentient zombie, is dehumanized to the point where we never learn her true name. She doesn’t even remember it herself. KJ purposely hides her true name and identity in order to stop Josh from using and hurting her the way he ultimately does anyway. Both are quite literally used and thrown away when Burr and Josh are done with them. They are shown as intelligent and talented, but less attractive and desirable than the blonde white women of the world.

Sam Dean is Burr’s actual partner throughout the season, even though their relationship isn’t sexual. He uses her as well, but he treats her with much more respect than he does Ms. Crumble. Josh, who wants to be Sam’s boyfriend, doesn’t ever see the real Sam, as she eventually points out. All he sees is a pretty girl who he can slot into his fantasies. He punishes her without a second thought when she doesn’t live up to his preconceived notions of the ideal girlfriend. Since he doesn’t have any other friends, he goes back to her after each fight, expecting she’ll forgive him.

According to the patriarchy of the creators, Angelica and Ms Crumble, the two women who are scientists and very intelligent, have to admit they’re monsters rather than women, even though they felt oh so fulfilled for a moment when they thought they were physically beautiful. Then they still have to leave the safety of the mall where the good guy characters are holed up, because even self-loathing but intelligent women don’t live up to alpha Josh’s standards.

The Cheermazons, an all female group made up of many types of women, take them in after a ridiculous hazing competition. But the group excludes most women who ask for asylum, promoting the stereotype that women would rather compete with each other than cooperate, the exact opposite of reality and of the group’s stated goal of being woman-friendly. The patriarchy’s tentacles creep into the tribe’s self-image. They are an elitist group who sentence their sisters to death out in the world based on absurd standards, much like the absurd standards set for women in the real world.

This cat-fighting attitude was brought to its ultimate symbolic conclusion by having Ms Crumble try to eat Angelica when the young woman got her first period. Though Ms Crumble was able to control herself around Josh’s amputated finger for days, and even find an ingenious solution involving maggots to both heal Josh and feed herself, a little menstrual blood from her symbolic daughter was enough to send her off the deep end.

Never mind that menstrual blood is not fresh blood and shouldn’t have set her off any more than a gangrenous wound.

Ms Crumble went from a good witch to an evil stepmother in moments, as all mothers must do in the patriarchy. Mothers and adult daughters teaming up to work together is way too scary a thought, even for most horror stories and fairy tales. Imagine what we could accomplish together. Look at what fathers and sons have accomplished with their dynasties.

Crumble and Angelica are together at the end of the season, but Daybreak conquers its fear of mothers and daughters by threatening Crumble’s continuing physical and mental health in multiple ways. She should be the most powerful character on the show, just as Burr was powerful and hard to beat. Crumble has Burr’s Ghoulie powers and authority, her own scientific knowledge, plus allies who like her. But the writers gave her an ineffective personality, while they made Burr a megalomaniac who almost wins through his own cunning and force of will.

Angelica should also be powerful, but she is younger than the others, so in the frat boy thinking of these writers the teenagers would reject her rather than taking her in, because she’s somehow unlikeable for speaking her mind in the same way that every other character does. Oh, that’s right. Little girls are supposed to be full of sugar and spice and everything nice, not making fireballs and drug-filled slime.

Sam Dean is attractive, sophisticated, nice, popular- everything a girl is supposed to be- except she’s not a virgin. She’s even slept with the resident bad boy. And at the end, she uses her popularity to make a power grab. The kids who follow the popular kids, which is most of them, happily decide to follow her. The narrative immediately changes her category from heroine to evil slut. Another monster.

Another woman who realized she doesn’t need a man. That, in fact, she’s better than the male alphas.

Daybreak also imposes patriarchal expectations on women to stop them from having dreams of their own. The creators have written these interesting women, but they won’t set the female characters free to live their own lives. Sam Dean is bad enough. They don’t want anyone else to get ideas. The best example of this is Mona Lisa, Turbo Bro Jock’s mouthpiece and righthand woman, whose real name is Mary. She gets screen time and lines, but she never gets a backstory or a plot of her own.

The head of the Cheermazons, Demi, is another example. She’s tough and exacting, but takes care of her tribe. She gets no backstory and is missing at the end of the season. Both are black women whose characters are written as hard shells. You sense there’s a fascinating person inside, but we need to go watch another member of the football or golf team die a redundant death, so we can’t spend a minute with them.

I felt sick when Angelica suddenly wanted to be a girly girl. I felt sick when she had to describe herself as a monster. Then she found a home with the Cheermazons, only to give it up because somehow only Josh can lead everyone in the fight against Burr. The capable, organized women suddenly didn’t know how to do anything but cry.

This is the ultimate misogynist fantasy. And, not coincidentally, Josh’s fantasy. In Daybreak’s version of the patriarchal fantasy, women are all just waiting around inside our cloisters for men to break down the walls and rescue us. And we’re continuously grooming ourselves so we’ll be ready when they stop by.

If we’re not, we’re eeevil monsters. Maybe even voracious cannibals who eat maggots. What could be worse?

Image courtesy of Netflix.