Netflix is under fire once again for “race swapping” following the release of their new series Painkilller, a dramatized retelling of massive lawsuit filed against Purdue Pharma over opioid manufacturing. In the series, the investigators who took down the company are erased and instead depicted by a fictional Black woman.
Tudum, the companion website to Netflix, describes the plot of the suspenseful drama as being “inspired by true events and people,” following “the victims and perpetrators whose lives have been altered by Purdue Pharma, the business behind OxyContin.”
In the series, actress Uza Aduba plays Edie Fllowers, an investigator determined to bring a case against Purdue and hold those responsible for the opioid epidemic accountable.
Audience response to the series has been lackluster with a Rotten Tomato rating score of 61% and an even lower official Tomatometer score of 51% stating the show “honors the victims of the opioid crisis with effective dramatic beats but is undermined by its stale satirical flourishes, resulting in a tonally confused bit of muckraking.”
One social media user made a point to highlight that although the show is based on real events surrounding the conspiracies of Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family, the creators failed to represent some of the investigators who were at the heart of the case, instead replacing the real figures with a singular Black female character.
“Saw a preview for the [Netflix] show Painkiller about Purdue Pharma and noticed the story’s intrepid, wily hero Edie Flowers is a black girlboss Fed prosecutor who single-handedly takes down the Sackler family, and thought it was weird that I’d never heard of this person and that she’s not a more prominent public figure since she perfectly ticks every lib fantasy box–strutting, cunning, courageous, sassy, and who outsmarts her evil Big Pharma antagonists–but of course, when I looked up, it turns out Edie Flowers isn’t real. They just made her up.”
Another user writes, “It’s contrived, predictable and boring at this stage. Almost every new American TV series or movie with a character that is a judge, mayor, chief of police, head of the FBI will have a black women in that role. It’s doesn’t reflect the diversity of real life in any way.”
Others describe Edie Flowers’ character as, “The most unlikable character that I’ve seen on a TV show in a while. She’s unpleasant to every person she interacts with.”
According to Screenrant, the decision to erase the real investigators and substitute in a fictional character was “..for the sake of their story,” and that the creators of the show “…needed to ensure that the hero of the television series had one singular face, and that is where Aduba as Edie came in.”
In an interview with Tudum, Aduba said: “The world of Edie Flowers, who is a fictitious person — but is a composite of a number of investigators, runs alongside the very real Richard Sackler. Having those points of intersection where the two worlds come together was incredibly impactful and powerful.”
The investigators Aduba’s character represents, who played a groundbreaking role in the case against Purdue Pharma, include Assistant U.S. Attorneys Owen Foster and Michael Drescher in addition to other staff members at the Vermont U.S. Attorney’s office.
U.S. Attorney Christina Nolan, who also played an integral part in the case against Purdue, credited Foster and Drescher for their work stating: “They worked with no models, there’s no playbook for how to investigate these cases.” She also emphasized the two men “broke new ground in healthcare law and sent a message to big pharma and big tech.”
Despite their hard work and the incredible team effort in the fight against Purdue Pharma, the creators of this show did not include Descher, Nolan, or Foster in the story.
Audiences have become increasingly frustrated with entertainment companies and outlets that continue to race-swap and gender-swap characters, with many lamenting these characters are empty, vapid, and lack proper character development making them completely unrelatable.
In 2022, the streaming service lost almost one million subscribers, the largest decline since 2011. They’ve since gained back subscribers following a crackdown on password sharing, but they reported an $18 billion loss in value last July.