Anne Shirley, the fearless Canadian literary heroine, always speaks her mind.
The outspoken orphan who first appeared in Lucy Maud Montgomery’s 1908 novel, Anne of Green Gables, has since appeared in countless movies and television spinoffs – and built a loyal global following.
It should probably come as a little surprise that fans of the show’s latest remake – the TV series Anne With an E – are fiercely protective of their heroine. And like Anne, they’re willing to fight for what they believe in.
The shows coproducers, Netflix and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), announced in November that the drama would be cancelled after three seasons.
But CBC’s statement that the final season would bring a “satisfying conclusion to Anne’s journey” did little to placate fans.
“People were outraged. The cast and the crew were also blindsided by it,” said Lisa E, a Toronto-based organizer with AWAE Fan Projects. “Everyone loves the show obviously. They just couldn’t believe it.”
The day after the announcement, the group took to Twitter with rallying cry: renew the show.
The group, whose organizers live in Canada, the United States and throughout Europe, quickly raised thousands of dollars to amplify their message, placing five billboards in downtown Toronto and New York’s Times Square.
Nearly 300,000 fans signed a petition on Change.Org demanding the series be renewed for another season.
But group’s most successful – and most controversial – campaign has been a digital, guerilla-style battle against the two companies.
Members of the group have swarmed the comments section of CBC news stories to demand the show’s revival, and posted more than 13m tweets directed at CBC and Netflix. This week, the group arrived en masse in the comments section of Netflix’s quarterly earnings’ call on Youtube.
Matters came to a head on Sunday, when the CBC said it would begin block any “Anne-related comments” from news stories.
“My sense is that CBC has not dealt with a sustained siege like this before,” said one of the group’s organizers, Rachel G, who lives in New York City.
She argued that the public broadcaster – in using social media to increase user engagement – has opened itself up to these broadsides.
“A lot of times, CBC’s engagement questions on Twitter are things like ‘What’s your favourite charcuterie?,” said Rachel. “And I’m happy to go in there and say ‘Hey, in this episode of Anne With an E, Gilbert ate meat – and also renew Anne With an E!”
In November, CBC Kids published an article suggesting the group was using bots to artificially inflate its influence.
“Many of the accounts were created this month, they don’t have profile pics, their usernames are generic names followed by strings of numbers and they don’t have any followers,” the piece said.
“Of course they were just created that day,” responded Rachel . “I’m not going to go on my personal Twitter and start tweeting about Anne With an E hundreds of times in one day.”
The show has been praised for its unflinching portrayal of, slavery, Indigenous experiences, sexual assault and feminism.
“As a woman of colour, there’s always been this tension for me watching period dramas – I don’t really see the point of adapting 19th or 18th century work if you’re not going to move forward in some way,” said Rachel. “I feel like Anne With an E really tackled stories of people who have always existed but were ignored by television dramas. And it did so in such a beautiful and sensitive way.”
To see the show cancelled with no reason given makes little sense, she said. “I’m an analytical person and with the metrics we have about how successful it is… I just don’t get it.”
Both Lisa and Rachel admit the odds are low that the show will ever return to offer closure.
“At the end of the day it’s television, right? It’s not changing the world,” said Rachel. “But there are just so few shows today that so joyfully optimistic, inclusive and representative. And that’s worth fighting for.”