Tiny Pretty Things reveals over and over that abuse of power runs rampant in ballet and boarding schools in general. But it’s difficult to reconcile the show’s commentary on the rampant problem of teachers and adults having sex and relationships with minors with its simultaneous romanticizing of such situations.

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

On December 14, 2020, Netflix released Tiny Pretty Things. The drama show about murder and ballet attracted many viewers. After an unknown perpetrator pushes Cassie Shore off a roof, a spot in the elite dance academy opens up for the black female lead, Neveah Stroyer.

Some of the cast members cuddling up.

Once there, Neveah learns about the student/teacher abuse, eating disorders, and sabotage that often comes with a competitive dance world. Not only that but the mystery of who tried to kill Cassie Shore, who is in a coma, begins to unravel. Despite negative reviews from critics, the teen drama was on the top ten list.

While not having a single straight, white male as the main character, Tiny Pretty Things‘ diverse characters are often stereotyped. This article explores the controversies of the show’s depiction of race, gender, and sexuality, ending with the question of why people keep supporting this kind of entertainment.

Race and religion determine everything

For a cast of extremely diverse actors, Tiny Pretty Things ultimately fails at the progressiveness it tries to represent. To illustrate, Cassie’s boyfriend Nabil Limyadi encounters Islamophobia wherever he goes. He never stops being reminded that he is Muslim, and thus, different from everyone else. What is even more concerning is that he is a prime suspect for Cassie’s attempted murder. Therefore, believing Nabil is responsible, the other characters perpetuate the harmful stereotype of Muslims being criminals and terrorists.

Nabil’s roommate Caleb, who is on the right, hates Nabil
because his father was killed by a Muslim man in action.

There is also Neveah’s roommate June Park, whose mother is Korean and a strict businesswoman. June attempts to emancipate from her mother because she refuses to support her dancing. June’s mom wants her daughter to have a real job, regardless of her objections. This is another perturbed stereotype that Asian parents are controlling and strict. Of course, this does not accurately reflect every single Asian family in existence. There are plenty of parents who support their children’s dreams regardless of what race they are.

The show criticized for its sex scenes

Upon Tiny Pretty Things release, the internet formed a consensus for why the drama show made them uncomfortable. Many viewers did not see the point of having the characters particularly naked. Students bathe in steamy saunas and have conversations with one another without covering up. The audience responded negatively to seeing underage characters frequently sexualized.

Characters Neveah and Oren together in the sauna
where students constantly expose themselves.

The issue lies not in the students’ sexualities but in the horrific way the writers depict them. While there are numerous gay sex scenes, Tiny Pretty Things still lacks ground-breaking LGBT+ stories. For instance, the show features a love triangle between Shane, Oren, and Bette. Oren and Bette are in a supposedly committed relationship with one another. Yet, Oren has been sleeping with his roommate, Shane.  

Rather than ever labeling himself, Oren continues to claim that he is only “blowing off some steam.” He claims his relationship with Shane means nothing more than that. With this in mind, Oren appears to have some form of internalized homophobia. Yet, after breaking things off with Shane, his sexuality is never explored again. LGBT+ members deserve better than that. But this never seems to be the case, as Shane often has traumatic experiences too.

Is there a feminist message?

Tiny Pretty Things was a book written by Dhonielle Clayton and Sona Charaipotra. Although the book focuses more on female characters Neveah, Bette, and June, this relationship is severely toxic in the show. These girls have done everything possible to tear one another down, such as giving each other injuries and drugs. That way, they can win their spot in the next ballet show. 

Neveah, Bette, and June sometimes have a friendship
that is unbreakable, other times they are at
each other’s throats.

Despite teaming up with each other once in a while, the female characters display “cattiness” towards other women. This vindictive nature is not something teenage girls should be learning. As, in reality, many women agree having other female friends is a great experience to have. By portraying female relationships as anything different, the writers only reinforce the idea that women are supposed to hate one another. Something patriarchy does to keep women from realizing their common goals. 

Why do people still watch it?

Nobody is immune to the feeling of “hate-watching.” A process where the viewer knows what they are watching is stupid or pointless, but they still keep watching. So why does the audience continue to watch it? Simply put, people love watching the drama unfold. Teen dramas, in particular, utilize this technique since it leads to ambivalence viewers love to hate.

However, those viewers eventually realize they should not be supporting a show that promotes negative stereotypes. So if Tiny Pretty Things wants to keep their audience, they need to respond to the messes they have made. The betterment of the series can be made possible with new and progressive storylines that the writers promised their fans.

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