When I first interacted with Renee, or, as she goes by on Twitter, @bloodmanor8, the Netflix series Warrior Nun, a wild yet sensitive thriller about nuns trained to fight demons with a fervent fanbase, had recently got axed.
In the leadup to Warrior Nun‘s cancellation (not shocking considering the fate of many lesbian series — season 2 delivered a praised gay romance), a tense buzz grew around the fantasy series‘ season 3 chances. Popular YouTuber Ashley Ippolito published a reaction video after being asked to pitch into the #RenewWarriorNun cause, every Netflix tweet’s top response was a fan cam with amazing engagement, and seemingly random stars dug their heels in.
Not new in a post-Snyder-cut world, but there was something different about this, and more strategic. No, we’re not just talking about Ippolito’s deft choice to refer to star Alba Baptista’s relationship with Chris Evans in her video’s thumbnail to clickbait uninitiated viewers. We’re referring to the data scientists who were pulling Twitter metrics, digging into one of the best Netflix series‘ marketing, and working in a Discord channel that would occupy them for months.
Renee, a fan heavily involved with the Discord community ‘Sapphics in Pain’, whose comforting tree Twitter avatar is seared into many an entertainment journalist’s brain, initiated a rapport. Presumably because my professional life involves TV series, and definitely because she was a head of an ‘Outreach Department’.
She responded the way she did to other writers, public figures, and strangely entangled celebrities (Jersey Shore’s Snooki, who Renee admits was the “highlight”, is a prominent figure in this story): a thankful note for amplifying the voices of, at the time, unmoored fans, and referring me to other posts designed to firefight Netflix’s decision from December 14, 2022; this was no coincidence.
The efforts before the cancellation, and the swift reaction to it, signaled the coordinated and savvy efforts poured into Save Warrior Nun — the organizational framework of everything here.
I spoke to Renee, Save Warrior Nun representatives Laura (a participant who works in data analysis who asked to be credited using her first name), and Christopher Penn, the co-founder and chief data scientist of Trust Insights.ai., about how they succeeded when everyone told them they couldn’t, established relationships with journalists, ran events with cast and crew, and troubling insights on the series’ release.
Following the cancellation, a call for certain skill sets was put out. Penn, who had never seen the show, was roped into helping another Discord channel (The Order) by a friend, and Laura, who volunteered her services when the members of the server realized they needed expert advice, answered. After that, Laura says, “It was every day.”
The crux of the campaign was involving as many people with reach as possible. Celebrities who mentioned the show were uplifted, and journalists who reviewed the series had their work reposted, creating a mutually beneficial arrangement that Renee said was a PR “crash course”.
“One of the things we did early on was extracting the raw Twitter data and running what’s called network analysis: this is where you take every time someone mentions someone else [and] you create a network graph, and it turns into this convoluted chart,” Penn says.
“But there are algorithms you apply to say, ‘Here are the people who are talked about the most’. Certain journalists, platforms, personalities, and then that got handed off into spreadsheets to the outreach teams (Renee), to say, ‘We should make sure we’re tagging these people.’”
“There was a separate group whose job was to use monitoring software packages to identify people mentioning the hashtags. They would get posted internally, and people would find appropriate ways to engage.” Appropriate is a critical word: kindness towards others and themselves was a tenet. Renee tells me they “checked in on each other’s mental health, made sure everyone is eating and hydrating, and even had sleep competitions.”
She learned her tricks from another fan who works in PR, which meant, “thanking as many journalists as I could, [keeping them] informed of the events and activities the fandom was having,” which created a “cycle” of content.
Laura backs the sentiment, “It was a strategy: click the articles and engage with the writer. We wanted to show support for anyone willing to show support for us.” When I bring up Snooki, one of the most amusing personalities in this symbiotic relationship, she says matter-of-factly, “We made sure to encourage any media we saw.”
Another part of their approach, which was democratically determined in the Discord server, was cast and crew. Kristina Tonteri-Young (Sister Beatrice in Warrior Nun) and many others took part in online virtual conventions, complete with activity schedules and language rooms for international fans, ran not by Netflix — although they were sent gift baskets with “balloons and snacks” — or a PR firm, but by Sapphics in Pain and The Order.
The latter’s website features a press page and ‘How can I help?’ documentation detailing the most efficient methods of spreading the gospel, including an invitation to complete a survey that reads, “We are testing how well all the campaign highlights and fan dedication translates into profit for the company willing to renew/pick up the show in order to strengthen our case,”.
With regards to social media strategy, Penn revealed how they fuelled the fire: “the fact that Netflix ignored their data about the criteria for canceling shows, and [us] using industry-standard tools like Parrot Analytics to show apples-to-apples comparisons [between Netflix releases] created the content.”
“We would coordinate when to publish data to get as much engagement as we could,” Laura recalls, “there are so many people who wanted to be loud, but if it wasn’t coordinated, it wasn’t going to be heard.”
Season 2 performed moderately, with three weeks in Netflix’s Top 10 for English-language series, and garnered ~66 million viewing hours by November 27, 2022 — 17 days post-release. Heartstopper, another gay romance series, earned ~38.4 million in 2 weeks.
However, the relationship between viewing hours and renewal is not simple, and elements such as critical reception, longevity, and budget come into play.
When asked about what I described as an “out-there” tactic — a billboard next to the Netflix headquarters — Laura giggles and confesses it wasn’t the most out-there thing they did. Penn lets me know, “We had the drone fly right by Netflix’s office, buzz their office, and then go down to the billboard.”
It sounds like a lot, but Laura maintains this intensity was for a simple reason: Netflix wasn’t doing enough. “YouTube, we found, was a huge engine for Netflix to do promotion, and we just went through and compared the shows that had been released around the same time and found that Warrior Nun [season 2] had three videos, and these others had so many.”
A search on the platform returns a season 1 recap, a teaser, and a trailer for season 2 on the main Netflix channel. Heartstopper season 1 yields blooper videos, three trailers, an unaired scene, and cast promotional content with outlets like GQ.
“Simon [Barry, showrunner] confirmed it [marketing] was a $0 budget. That wasn’t an assumption on our part. They didn’t promote it, buried it under shows, and then were shocked when it didn’t meet their metrics.”
Adding to the plot, Penn remarks, “When people reached out for press packets [screeners], they refused them.” The reviews contributing to season 2’s 100% Rotten Tomatoes score were published on or after its November 10, 2022 release date — fans had to encourage critics to review it on social media.
The side-eye doesn’t end there. Penn namedrops screenwriter David Hayter, who worked on multiple episodes, “They were having to hide script decisions from certain executives at Netflix because there was homophobia,” he continued, “We suspect that played a role in the decision-making process about how much to invest in the second season.”
In an interview with OCS Conclave, Hayter stated, “Our executive at Netflix was uncomfortable with sex on any level and was like, ‘No… we’re not going to do this Avatrice [Ava and Beatrice] thing.’ And Simon Barry and I were like, ‘Yeah, we are!'”
“Sara Walker,” who directed on season 2, “said, ‘Oh, so we’re not gonna go with the Avatrice storyline?’ And we’re like, ‘No, we are. We just can’t put it in the script. So every time you see ‘she loves her like a friend,’ just understand that’s the story we’re telling.’ We didn’t tell Netflix what we were doing.”
“They didn’t set up cast interviews either. We talked to people from the media, and they were like, ‘they didn’t give any contact information to set one up with the cast’, but Kristina did a lot on her own.” states Laura. Tonteri-Young has lent herself to many live streams, podcasts, and YouTube appearances — most of the media presence came from one person and in an unofficial capacity.
Additionally, COVID-19 sandwiched seasons 1 and 2: the streaming landscape had changed considerably, and what worked for Netflix in 2020 may have no longer met their standards.
After a few months passed, the relentless approach of fans and their continued fundraising (over $30k at the time of writing) began to look like delusion. Netflix paid no mind, the 3rd party attention dried up, and most people considered the show dead. Renee wasn’t ignorant to the odds, “I knew it had a very small chance of coming back, but Simon Barry and Dean English [producer] were giving us little bits of hope. Every so often they would tweet something or give an interview,” she reminisces, “and it would uplift me. If they were still trying, then so would I.”
Realistically, it should have been done. Instead, Simon Barry tweeted on June 28, 2023, “Today I’m happy to officially report that because of your combined voices, passion, and amazing efforts — Warrior Nun will return and is going to be more EPIC than you could imagine.”
And on July 2, he posted a link to warriornunsaved.com, which opens to a cryptic countdown clock, alluding to a more concrete announcement to come. Some fans are skeptical, some are too awash with relief to worry.
For Laura, “It feels real, but at the same time, it doesn’t. We don’t have too much to go on yet, but it’s just a trust Simon exercise.” Penn is excited to share their methods, “The part that I find most rewarding is the stuff that was done with making a data-driven campaign intelligently is validated by the result that we got,” he continues, “there are now a lot of people who are asking, how did you do that?”
Renee is probably excited about the headspace to think about anything else, “my friends and family are at a crossroads between being intrigued and annoyed that I keep talking about it! Although, when you put all your free time, around 50-80 hours a week, into something, on top of a 40-hour night-shift retail job, you don’t really have anything else to talk about.”
Nerves are a little high for some folks, understandably, but one thing is concrete: the citizen detectives behind this are not limited to teenagers with lots of time on their hands. The people that executed Save Warrior Nun are smart, from diverse backgrounds, and passionate in ways that dispel stereotypes and attempts to undermine them.
The motivations behind the campaign make scoffs and judgments of its participants leave a bad taste in the mouth. This becomes apparent when Renee distills how she felt burned by something that initially brought joy.
“The breaking point was when this amazing show had no promotion, press release, or interviews, and was dropped so randomly that the Netflix app didn’t notify me it aired until two weeks after. Then, it was canceled 33 days later. It was the last show with a sapphic main character on Netflix in 2022.” The lack of fanfare left her dejected, “If that’s not a big corporation saying I don’t matter, I don’t know what does.”
We’ve got a guide to the Warrior Nun season 3 release date for halo-bearers who don’t want to miss a beat. And for more on the best TV series, we’ve got guides to the Arcane season 2 release date, everything new on Netflix, and the secret Netflix codes.