It's the circle of life: cartoons of our youth become live action teen dramas of our adulthood (see: Riverdale and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina). But live-action reboots rarely live up to fans' standards, and, as the casting controversy of Fate: Winx Saga shows, Netflix's newest series is not exempt.
Based on Winx Club, an Italian cartoon that aired on Nickelodeon in the early aughts, Fate: Winx Saga follows the adventures of five fairies in training as they attend magical boarding school. There's Bloom (Abigail Cowen), a fairy who grew up in the human world, Stella (Hannah van der Westhuysen), who has the ability to manipulate light, Aisha (Precious Mustapha), a water fairy, Terra (Eliot Salt), who has power over plants, and Musa (Elisha Applebaum), an empath. For the most part, this is pretty true to the cartoon, with the exception of two characters: Terra and Musa.
After the first trailer for Fate: The Winx Saga was released on Dec. 10, 2020, fans of the original Winx Club quickly took to social media to accuse Fate of whitewashing key characters, Terra and Musa. In the original cartoon, Musa is depicted as East Asian, but Applebaum appears to be white. (Applebaum has not spoken publicly about her ethnic identity, though ScreenRant reported that she was one fourth Singaporean). Meanwhile, Terra, played by white actor Salt, actually isn't in the original Winx Club, but her inclusion has seemingly translated into the apparent exclusion of Flora, the Fairy of Nature, who was originally Latina. In a recent Netflix featurette, showrunner Brian Young confirmed that Terra is Flora's cousin, which means Flora is still technically part of the Fate: Winx Saga universe, though she is not present in season 1.
Netflix has not directly addressed the whitewashing claims. However, Cowen did respond to the backlash, noting in an interview with The Wrap that, while she cannot speak for those involved in casting decisions, "it's important that we are having these conversations." The actor also praised Applebaum's performance in the show, and teased that fans could still see a Latina Flora in season 2. "I'm not part of the casting process, but I do think, if the series does go to a second season, I think hopefully these concerns are something that will be addressed," she added. "I do think diversity both in front of and behind the camera is vital and much-needed throughout the industry and internationally."
It really isn't Cowen's job to defend the show's casting. But the closest showrunner Young has come to talking about the Fate: The Winx Saga casting liberties was when he espoused on the decision to expand beyond the model-like figures of the cartoons. "I'm a massive manga anime fan, and a fan of the cartoon itself, but, of course, those are cartoons," he told The Guardian. "Nobody looks like that. It was the most important thing to me that every kid can feel like they see themselves in it."
Giving the show the benefit of the doubt, it's possible Fate has plans on increasing diversity in season 2. But the powers that be will have to speak on it sooner or later. It's what the Winx fans demand.
Refinery29 has reached out to Netflix for comment.