Around the World on Netflix

International TV and film content is where it’s at these days. Although the US does continue to produce some fairly good (and addictive content), many countries outside of the West have equally as good content which tends to (frustratingly) often fly under the radar outside of their own borders. This seems to be, in my opinion, because if it’s not critically acclaimed (i.e. the winner of a BAFTA or a film festival of some sort), then there is a lack of incentive to give it a exposure by the media in the West. Films like Oscar winning South Korean movie, Parasite for example have done a great job of gaining Western exposure – but the Academy Award win does play a significant part in why that has been possible.

In this post I’ve decided to celebrate some international content which I’ve watched on Netflix and would highly recommend you do too (if you fancy, of course).

He Even Has Your Eyes – France

A black French family find themselves in an uphill battle when they decide adopt a white baby. I honestly loved this film, it was comedic but knew when to take itself seriously too. The adoption process is not one that is free from institutional racism and this film does a good job of showing that. Similarly, although I’m sure it definitely happens, we hardly hear of cases where black families adopt white children, so for me, the film has strong premise alone that made it really interesting to watch. The couple at the heart of the film were adorable and I rooted for them at every step. Ultimately, it’s not just about race though but about love, family and perseverance.

Ajeeb Daastaans – India

These series of short films, compiled together in a two-hour ish film are simply amazing. They are able to draw you in, get you emotionally invested in the characters of the story and then – in some cases – leave you hanging. The first story is about a poor man who falls in love with the wealthy but suffering wife of his employer; seems like your typical love story at first but there is more to it then meets the eye. My favourite story is the last one which is predominately done in sign language and explores two parents trying to adapt to life with their daughter who is slowly losing her hearing. I could continue but an easier option is probably just watching for yourself! 😉

You’ve Got This – Mexico

What happens when as a woman your star is rising (you’re smoothly sailing to the top in your career) and your partner decides now is the time he wants to have a child? This is exactly the situation protagonist, Ceci finds herself in with her husband, Alex. Interestingly, she has never wanted children and so her husband sets out to prove one is a good idea – something that seems destined for failure. I enjoyed this film and the themes it tackled; also can we take a moment to appreciate just how stunning the lead actress (Esmeralda Pimentel) is?? Anyway, I’ve always been intrigued in media portrayal of women that don’t want children since growing to love Cristina Yang in Grey’s Anatomy whose storylines predominately centred around this fact. It’s still a counter cultural in the media but actually more common then we think, so I’m interested to see how representation increases around this stance.

Diamond City – South Africa

When I say this series had me GRIPPED throughout you can believe me! After becoming entangled in a conspiracy involving government officials, her superiors at work and the human trafficking of women, lawyer Lendiwe finds herself falsely accused of a crime and thrown into prison. The way this series ended had me on tenderhooks – it will definitely be a great injustice if a second season is not produced.

It’s Okay to Not be Okay – South Korea

This recent watch of mine really melted my heart. It has been on my radar for a while and has come highly recommended by friends, and I can now see why. It’s gentle and nuanced portrayal of mental health makes it a realistic, encouraging and I’m sure even relatable watch for many. I love how each episode is themed around a different children’s story and the significant investment this show makes in each character’s personal development. At its heart it’s about the power and meaning of family but it is also intertwined in a complicated love story between the two protagonists – renowned children’s book author Ko Mun-yeong and a carer on a psychiatric ward – Moon Gang-tae (played by Kim Soo-hyun, who is apparently currently the highest paid actor in South Korea!)

Betty en NY – Mexico/US

This heartwarming telenovela was one of the best things I watched over a lockdown. Based on the original telenovela the popular US TV show Ugly Betty was based on, this series follows Betty as she takes a job as an EA in a fashion house – finds herself and finds love and fights for it! There are so many hilarious moments and the production of this show is so intricate – from the gowns to the sets themselves – everything is to be admired. Do bear in mind though that as a telenovela it’s quite a lengthy show, spanning over 100 episodes I believe. But even with that in mind I was so disappointed when it finished!

Citation – Nigeria

At the start of this film, we see that the protagonist student, Moremi (Temi Otedola) has filed a complaint against one of her university lecturers for attempted sexual assault. What follows is a battle of he said/she said accompanied by flashbacks which reveal the truth to us watching of what really happened. Moremi is a smart, determined female character, I like that she wouldn’t take the injustice she experienced lying down. I did find the constant jumping in between the present and the past a bit confusing at times but there is good commentary to be taken from this film on the many obstacles victims of assault and harassment face when trying to ensure their perpetrators are punished.

The Fishermen’s Diary – Cameroon

This remarkable film chronicles a young girl called Ekah who lives in a fishing village with her dad and longs for an education. She often sees all the young school kids running through the village and longs to be amongst them. However, he dad – one amongst many in the village who don’t see educating girls as a necessary investment – refuses to let her go to school. However, this doesn’t stop Ekah and she decides to take her education into her own hands; – the question is, will she succeed? The sombre realism of this film, was saddening and made it a hard, but yet inspiring watch as you witness this resilient little girl overcome so many obstacles to obtain something many of us take for granted.

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That’s all from me! Let me know if you have watched any of these or have some international film/drama recommendations for me to add to my list.

Don’t forget to follow me on IG @TheArtofChatter 🙂

The Evil within: A review of Girl From Nowhere

‘Underneath it all we’re just savages, hidden behind shirts, ties and marriages’ – Savages by Marina and the Diamonds

Many theories have argued throughout time that without the laws, social conventions and norms society has created, humans would truly not function properly. The result? Think Lord of the Flies/ The Purge type anarchy. Of course, we’ve never been in the conditions to truly test the validity of this line of thought but if many true crime cases, past and present, have taught us anything is that in the right circumstances humans will naturally care about nothing but themselves.

Recently I’ve been watching the Thai drama on Netflix, Girl from Nowhere. The series centres around a seemingly innocent girl named Nanno who joins a school and starts causing havoc by bringing out the inner demons in those around her. In each episode she operates in a new school and deals with different characters who battle with different individual vices. For the most part she acts as their tempter, the snake to their Eve, honing in on their deepest desires and dangling in front of them something that will unlock them if only they take the bait.

What distinguishes this drama from many others is that not much is revealed about its mysterious protagonist at all – all we do know is that she is devious – borderline genius, borderline maniac. She also doesn’t appear to human meaning the lengths she goes to to teach people the error of their ways will undoubtedly shock you. A Thai audience may perhaps see Nanno has an executor of karmic justice, avenging those who have been wronged and punishing wrongdoers for acts that may have otherwise gone unpunished.

However – and bafflingly so – in some episodes she does seem to torment people that don’t necessarily seem to deserve it. (TK from season one (ep8) and Jenny X from season 2 (ep7)) come to mind.) Yes, they have their issues but then again who doesn’t? Does makes you wonder a bit about how exactly Nanno goes about choosing her targets…

Lots of questions are raised and I enjoy the subtle social commentary found in each episode. Ultimately at the heart of each episode is the question, can this person change? It seems like the assumption to this question in most of the dramas episodes is ‘no’, although we can never say for sure with certainty.

Season two was recently released (which I have now finished 😅) and definitely ups the ante whilst, interestingly, revealing a possible more ‘human’ side to Nanno.

Note that although I would recommend the drama, I would do so cautiously since it has very dark themes (it is rated an 18 on Netflix). A few twitter users have circulated guide with trigger warnings for each episode of season one, which may prove useful. For those who liked the popular drama Black Mirror (also on Netflix) then this drama is definitely for you.

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Have you watched Girl from Nowhere or do you perhaps have it on your Netflix list? Share below and we can discuss! 😊

Some films I’ve recently watched on Netflix include: The Woman in the Window, Run (Netflix film featuring Sarah Paulson), Love Squared, Rich in Love and Atlantics.

*Featured image belongs to Netlfix.

Image description: Protagonist Nanno stands leaning on a wall within a corridor, wearing a school uniform whilst looking into the distance.

The Mystery of Love 2.0 – when love and tech collide: A Review of The One and Love Alarm (Season 2)

I’m sure if you surveyed the average person, they would tell you that they wanted to find love (if they haven’t already.) However, that journey is a tough, steep one that holds many challenges for several reasons. Social media, and much later, dating apps have already transformed the dating process massively in a relatively short space of time. The two most recent dramas I’ve watch watched on Netflix explore how technology (and science) could further impact dating and relationships in the future and what the effects on individuals lives could look like. Worth a watch or not? Have a read and decide.

The One

The One, Netflix review - the downside of scientific matchmaking
Rebecca Webb (right) with co-founder of The One and close friend from university days, James (left).

This is a new British sci-fi drama and Netflix original consisting of 8 episodes, based on a book of the same by John Marrs. I watched it recently after seeing it in my upcoming list of shows and being intrigued by the blurb (the apps good ol’ algorithm never seems to fail, eh?) In the drama ‘The One’ is the name of the company which provides a matching service based on DNA. It’s as simple as you think – people take swabs, send them to the company and find out who their biologically destined match is! The series follows Rebecca Webb, co-creator and CEO of The One as she goes through desperate lengths to find happiness herself and maintain her position of power at the top of the company. Yet, as the series goes on we find out Rebecca is a woman with a lot to hide and this begins to look less and less possible as secrets are revealed and lives are lost. Definitely worth a watch.

Although, a slightly deterministic approach to love upon initial reading, the interesting thing about this matching approach is that choice does play a huge role in the success of matches. This is contrary to what many of the users of the service seem to think in the drama. Their mentality is ‘we’ve been ‘matched’ so you must be my soulmate, we’re meant to be!’ Which, as you watch the drama, will find to not necessarily be the case. DNA alone cannot be a sole indicator of a good partner, several other factors have to come together to create a successful relationship. As many of the characters discover – secrets, selfishness and lies can easily put an end to any potential happiness you may have or think you serve with your match.

Love Alarm (season 2)

This K-drama is based on a popular web-toon (online comic) of the same name. In the drama, relationships are largely dictated or guided by a widely used app called Love Alarm, which is able to notify you if anyone within a certain radius from you has feelings for you. It was originally created by the protagonist’s (Kim JoJo) former classmate, Chon Duk-gu – an illusive and shy character, who admits he created the app because of his difficulty deciphering the feelings of people around him. To simply the app, it helps users answer the question ‘does my crush (or partner) like me back?’

Is Love Alarm season 2 getting renewed? Here is everything you need to  know!!
Promotional poster for the show – from L to R – Sun-Oh, Kim JoJo and Hye-yeong

For those that have battled with frustration caused by mixed signals from someone they liked, this app sounds quite dreamy. Yet – since there’s always a yet – it doesn’t take long to discover it, like the DNA matching service in The One, has its problems. We don’t necessarily see how widespread usage of the app is working, but rather we see a microcosm of its effects through the drama’s main characters. One obvious effect it provides a very awkward and public display of unrequited ‘love’. If two individuals are in close proximity of each other the app will notify one of those people that ‘someone who loves you is within close distance’. However, for the other person…it won’t which can be both scary and heart-breaking.

The app starts to act as an obstacle for characters who are in relationships on the show. For example, Sun-oh’s girlfriend reveals that she dreams about him ringing her love alarm – something he is not able to do when they’re dating. Similarly, due to events from the previous season, Kim JoJo is not able to ring the ‘alarm’ of anyone she likes because she has a feature called a ‘shield’ installed on her app. In her relationship with Hye-yeong, this slowly starts to torture her as she begins to suspect that maybe this is saddening her boyfriend and causing him to doubt her feelings for him.

To Conclude…

Overall, I would say that both dramas show how technology – as we undoubtedly already know – can do more harm then good, even if created with the sincerest intentions. We already use much tech at work and in the home successfully. But with widespread and frequent usage in many circumstances we run the risk of using tech as a crutch, much to our own disadvantage. It tends to happen gradually and then – next thing you know, you can’t remember the birthdays or phones numbers of your friends with your phone, for example! (Based on a true story.) In both shows, we see technology has altered the process of dating and its requirements for many people. The agency seems to shift from self to tech so instead the characters fall into the trap of not thinking for themselves enough. Don’t get me wrong, love is an amazing thing but I think it needs a bit of mystery and effort; surely then the product is more rewarding?

All is Fair in Love, War and death

Cast of the show: in the middle hugging – Dong-baek (right) and her son, Pil-gu (left)

Can someone be your miracle?

This is what the Netflix original K-drama When the Camellia Blooms (2019) tries to answer. Dong-baek is a 30-something year old single mum who runs a bar in the small Korean town of Busan. Although she is super nice and meek, she’s an outcast in the town, stigmatised by her single motherhood and the fact her bar has become a popular hangout spot for all the local women’s husbands. Out of jealousy their assumption is that she must be selling much more than drinks to them to attract them there. Of course, the reality is much simpler than that – the men have looked all around for a viable refuge free from prying female eyes and Camellia – Dong-baek’s bar has slowly become just that.

Her son Pil-gu on the other hand, is anything but meek – he has a vicious bite and has become a very avid protector of his mum who is often not only teased by adults but sometimes gossiped about by his age mates at school. In one amusing scene he shouts at some kids for using his mum’s first name – an indicator that to them she isn’t worthy of respect. However, Pil-gu is slowly getting tired of being his mum’s defender, he’s aware the other kids don’t have to be as protective of their mothers and that he’s perhaps doing too much for what is expected of a child his age. He had his annoying moments (like being insistent on his mum not dating) but if I truly tried to see things from his perspective I could understand the fear behind his behaviour. His mum and him against the world is all he has ever known, so he was understandably worried about a disruption to this dynamic.

When it comes to miracles Dong-baek is very sceptical, after all life has been very hard to her. No matter how hard she works she can’t seem to catch a break or make enough to make ends meet. We learn that she suffers from abandonment and trust issues- these stem from the childhood trauma she has around her mum abandoning her. The drama digs more into this set of events later on towards the end, so the drama is worth a watch until the end.

To make matters worse, Dong-baek is being targeted by a serial killer, nicknamed in the town ‘The Joker’ who has stumped the local police force for several years. There is no common thread between the victims except for notes left at every scene with the same words –  ‘stop being a joke’. She has a few close run-ins with him which mess with her confidence and make her fear for her safety. I think the murder plot line helps to sustain the dramas pace and entertainment. We get to play a mental whodunnit as we try to figure out which character we knew had the most motive and means. All I knew was that it had to be someone local that we’ve been introduced to already as an audience. 

Dong-baek reconnecting with her estranged mum.

Overall, this is a heart-warming story of family, love, friendship and redemption. I cried and I laughed. Although Dong-baek seemed annoyingly coy at first, you do grow to love her; every time you put her in a box she defies expectation and surprises you which is something I really liked. Not only does she toughen up as the program progresses, she learns the true meaning of love and friendship through her relationships with Pil-gu, her mum and her boyfriend, Yong-sik. Dong-baek is played by the actress Kong Hyo-jin who starred in one of my favourite dramas, It’s Okay, That’s Love. To some extent the drama is self aware of k-drama romance cliches – at one point Yong-sik askes Dong-baek if they want travel to an island and she refuses, replying that its likely to lead to the cliche of them missing the last boat and having to share a room together at a random inn. And there is no doubt she is very right – that cliche is all too common.

Other dramas that may be of interest that look more at parenthood; Hi,bye mum, Love and Marriage, Was it Love? and One Spring Day. They’re all available on Netflix.

Trailer for When the Camellia Blooms.

For more Netflix reviews from me you can find some here and here.

Searching: Layers of identity in the Digital Age

One of my most recent watches on Netflix was a film called Searching (2018). The film follows protagonist David Kim (John Cho) as he experiences every parent’s worst fear – their child going missing. Throughout the film he plays detective and partners with the police in order to find the truth and try and bring his daughter home. I remember wanting to watch this when it first came out but (annoyingly) it wasn’t showing at as many cinemas near me as I would have liked. And when it did it would be showing at weird times like 10pm and who is honestly going to the cinema at that time?!

Do we ever truly know someone?

This is a question I found hanging in the air as many thoughts passed through my mind as I watched Searching. Although I myself am not a parent I could imagine it is something many parents themselves wonder about their children, particularly in the day and age we live in. Social media means many people can carefully select the side of themselves they want exposed to their followers/ those that admire them. If you have watched the Netflix series One Day at a Time the mother of the family it chronicles in one episode discovers that her son has what is known as a ‘Finsta’ – a fake Instagram account specifically created to cater to the prying eyes of parents who love to monitor their child(ren)’s social media. This is not the case in Searching but it is a demonstration of in-authenticity that social media enables and how users can manipulate how they’re seen in followers’ eyes at will.

One thing that is the case for David though is that he discovers – devastatingly so – that he never really knew Margot, his only child. I can only imagine that such a discovery would be a shock to the system of a parent; it brings into question trust, arouses fear and often threatens the very foundation of a maternal or paternal relationship. David’s daughter, Margot is a loner who often eats lunch alone and fails to associate with a group of friends. This unfortunately creates much difficulty in David’s investigation since he is unable to find any close friends that would know details about Margot’s whereabouts. Many dead ends occur and as a viewer you can feel David’s bubbling frustration as well as the thought lurking somewhere in the back of his mind – that she may no longer be alive. It is evident that part of the reason for the disconnect between David and Margot is maybe generational. David, as a parent from a previous generation is slightly in the dark about the availability of social media forums. At one point he’s led to his daughter’s tumbler and reacts in a way that shows he’s never heard the platform’s name in his life. This gap in knowledge may be frustrating for parents once they know it’s there but many children actually find it beneficial.

David desperately looking through Margot’s Facebook friend’s to find a lead on where she is.

Keeping to the theme of truly knowing someone, no one is who they seem in this theme which leaves room for several plot twists at the end of this film. Since Margot is a loner it means that the film cleverly avoids the solid formula of a whodunit. This is simply because the pool of people to suspect is so small that the possibility of stranger being involved almost makes more sense. It also means we see David reach several dead ends in his self-fuelled investigation to find her.

Interestingly, a significant proportion of the film takes place online. We are given all round access as David, for example attempts to log into his daughter’s social media, FaceTimes various contacts and uses google maps to access a location he wants to visit. I’m personally a low-key fan of tech interactions being shown on screen – i.e. seeing texts on screen between characters. It creates a transparency that I appreciate and helps to avoid any confusion or misunderstandings within the storyline. Of course, I can understand the devil’s advocate position may be that it doesn’t leave room perhaps for interpretation. Nevertheless, it means we’re learning information in real time along with David himself as he discovers information. The only thing I found slightly unrealistic was that David was able to access somehow to his daughter’s social media. Something tells me that most parents wouldn’t find it that easy or even succeed at all if the situation required for them to access their child’s social media accounts. Especially if they’re as close to their child as David is to Margot (which is not at all.)

I’m not too sure about the ending since I think I saw part of it coming. I wouldn’t outright call it ‘bad’ but there is definitely room for improvement. Overall, I enjoyed the film; there’s enough going on for you to stay gripped and guessing – just not till the end since you’ll likely see that coming before you reach it.

Ambition and its many friends – a Netflix review of The Politician and Sky Castle

How far would you go to get what you want?

That seemed to be the main underlying theme in the two most recent shows I have been watching on Netflix. South Korean drama Sky Castle and the camp American drama The Politician, produced by the makers of Glee.

The cast of Sky Castle

Sky Castle revolves around a neighbourhood of rich families based in Seoul who are obsessed with their children’s academic success – often resorting to immoral means to ensure it. The drama’s main focus revolves around mother and housewife Han Seo-jin. She has an incredibly bright older daughter- Yeo-seo, who she is determined to get into medical school at all costs. The other mums are an extension of this cross generational desire to live their greed and ambitions through their children; often at the expense of the children’s own dreams and ambitions. For example, take lecturer of law, Professor Cha who puts his teenage sons through misery in order to make sure they climb the political ladder – a dream of his he himself never got to fulfil. His is the typical case of a parent living their unachieved ambitions through their children, and unapologetically so. But we also see, as with all the families, that their children’s good grades not only increase their personal fulfilment, its also a social currency; something they can brag about to friends and increase their social status with. And in a neighbourhood like Sky Castle, where appearances are important, this is everything.

Fancy celebration dinner at the start of the drama

The drama starts of with a suicide of one of the housewives in the neighboured which reveals to the other families that the pristine nature of her family was not all it appeared to be. However, it takes another tragedy and a case of injustice later on in the series for characters to properly re-evaluate their ways and change.

The stand out character for me by far was Kim Seo Hyung. A college tutor who works with students to get them into Korea’s top medical school. Seo Hyung sometimes resorts to questionable means, something foreshadowed in the scene when she is hired by Seo-jin and asks her if she’s willing for bad events to befall upon her family at the expense of her dream of her daughter getting into medical school being achieved. She proved to be a character I wasn’t initially sure how to place – was she good or bad? You originally only get your main information about her through hearsay but as more is revealed later, a more complex character is painted. Although the truth wasn’t pretty it definitely made her more of an intriguing character; I’m happy she was a fully fleshed character as opposed to a shallow supporting character as I first expected.

Overall, this drama is a straight 10/10 – I am often hesitant to give such a high rating but the outstanding acting, plot twists and complex characters easily make this one of the most striking K-dramas I have watched in a while.

Payton standing where he shines best – on stage

Ambition takes centre stage in season two of The Politician too. Cue Payton Hobart, a charismatic and driven individual who in the first season invests his all into trying to win the election for president of the student body in his high school. In season 2 that desire has now transferred to running a campaign for the New York state senate seat. He is running against current senator, 60 something year old Dede Standish who for her entire time in the seat has run unopposed. Lots of questions are raised during the course of the season; the genuinity of politicians for the causes they support is a massive one. Payton is running a campaign focused on climate change and making a difference. However, does he passionately care about it or is he just using the topic because he knows it will win him the audience of young voters?

There is evidence that he has matured in this season but when he faces a moral dilemma with legal consequences near the end of the season he wonders; should I listen to my ambition (which says win at all costs) or my principles (which say follow the rules and don’t play dirty.) For most people principles would eventually win but, and as you’ll find out if you watch the show, Payton is not most people so its interesting to watch the moral struggle. It’s also worth adding that Dede Standish and her political advisor, Hadassah Gold (Judith Light and Bette Midler) are refreshing portrayals of independent, ambition older women – something you rarely see in modern dramas (minus Grace and Frankie) since most women in this age category are sadly designated to be cast as mothers and grandmas.

Payton’s campaign team; James, Alice (also his girlfriend) and McAfee

I would give this season 8/10 it was juicy and satisfying – especially the ending. However, the show doesn’t offer anyone for you to love to root for – pretty much all the characters are various degrees of unlikable. Luckily, this doesn’t stop the show itself being likeable so I would still recommend it.

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My other recent watches:

Films – Booksmart, I am Not Your Negro, Room and Fruitvale Station

Shows – Medical Police (Netflix), Parks & Recreation (which I am falling in love with) and Married to Medicine (Prime).

Have you watched any of the shows mentioned or do you have any recommendations of your own? Comment below and let me know 🙂

Monthly Netflix Overview: May

Control Z

Trailer

Sofia Control z
Sofia in a favourite place to be alone – the school’s glass roof.

This Mexican eight-episode long drama was pure Netflix gold for me. It is set in a high school and follows quirky student Sofia as she tries to track down a mysterious hacker who is revealing student secrets. Sofia is in a perfect position to this since she is a loner – although comfortably so. Contributing to this loner status is the fact she had a stint in a psych ward after having a mental breakdown following the passing of her dad, but she has recovered by at the time the drama starts. One thing you notice about her is that she is very observant – in a Sherlock Holmes type way – able to make deductions from small clues often not noticed by the average person.

No person in this drama is as they seem – even Sofia is a complex character with a fair share of secrets, so it was really interesting to see these secrets explored and unpacked with each episode. The last episode was explosive, to say the least, and spared no punches. Control Z has some predictable moments but overall I finished it feeling satisfied and am now in deep anticipation for the next season.

Blood and Water

Trailer

Blood and water poster

I was excited to watch this since when it comes to Netflix originals the continent of Africa is noticeably underrepresented. Surprisingly, this South African drama is only six episodes long though so given the short amount of time in which to tell a story and develop characters, this drama did pretty well!

Puleng is a sibling of two; well technically two; although her second, older sibling and mother’s first child was kidnapped at birth from the hospital. Every year afterwards her family has celebrated her birthday in remembrance. Puleng moves schools and decides to launch an amateur investigation into someone – a fellow student- she thinks could be her sister.

Puleng was a here and there character; I’m not too sure I felt any type of attachment to her but I was intrigued about the growing conspiracy that was emerging towards the end of the drama.  I loved the interweaving of native languages such as Shona and Xhosa into the script. A 3.5/5 would be my final rating although I would say it’s worth watching and judging for yourself.

Trial by Media

trial by media poster

Trailer

This Netflix docuseries follows six unique crimes and how the court cases that followed were influenced by the media. In the first episode, for instance, we see how in the case of the ‘Jenny Jones killer’ in 1995 cameras were introduced into the courtroom for the first time.

Not all episodes interested me equally but I would highly recommend this overall if you’re into true crime and current affairs. One thing I would give props to this series for is that they involved the commentary of many people that were actually involved with these cases; from lawyers who worked the case to actual perpetrators and relatives of victims. This made is more raw and interesting; because of the time we’re in I would recommend in particular episode 3 – ’41 shots’ which chronicles the case of Amadou Diallo; a black man shot to death on his doorstep in New York by the NYPD. It’s a heartbreaking but necessary watch.

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If you would like to read more about what I’m reading currently or have done so far this year; you can read my previous post here .

You can also read my newly published review for the novel An American Marriage here; would love your comments, thoughts and feedback!

An Honest Review: The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez

 

Trials of Gabriel Fernandez poster

TW: References to child abuse, neglect, physical abuse and domestic violence

I write this review with a heavy heart. In all honesty, I haven’t even finished this docu-series – I started today and am on episode 5 out of 6 – but I feel so strongly about the content that I will write a review of my thoughts so far anyway.

I myself wasn’t aware of the case of Gabriel Fernandez before this series. However, the UK is not a stranger to such cases, with the case being reminiscent of the ‘Baby P’ case in London that received heavy media coverage and exposed numerous flaws in our social system services which helped to enable the abuse. In summary, Gabriel died at 8 years old in 2018 after several months of abuse at the hands of his mother and her boyfriend. The case covers the trial of the perpetrators but also looks more widely at systematic flaws that prevented the abuse from being stopped. The series covers so many themes I could not possibly do it justice or unveil all my thoughts; however – I will try and do my best!

One thing that was different about the reaction to this case was that the District Attorney of LA decided to prosecute the social workers who were aware of or working on the case. Initially, when I heard about this I applauded in my head – the logic behind it seemed straight forward; they were made aware of the chain of incidences which clearly indicated removing Gabriel from his home was necessary but yet they failed to act accordingly. However, as the series progresses it seems that prosecuting the social workers seem insufficient in comparison to the size of the problem. One of the colleagues of the tried co-workers states she thinks they are scapegoats in this case and I suspect she might be right. After all, several members from the sheriff’s department also visited Gabriel’s house – the site of the abuse – and failed to intervene or detect such abuse was happening. So why weren’t the visiting police officers arrested? If you’re going to use that same logic to arrest certain parties then use it consistently and arrest them ALL. It does indeed seem suspicious that law enforcement received such immunity.

It is also quite annoying that systematic issues within large organisations are highlighted but never dealt with. By arresting and firing different staff within bureaucracies the problem doesn’t automatically disappear. If the system is inherently flawed then those staff will be replaced by people that will only continue to enforce the flawed system. Authorities need to put it in the leg work into changing work cultures, changing legislation and conducting appropriate reviews on their operations. Systematic change won’t happen overnight but if the failures aren’t properly addressed another tragedy could strike until it happens.

Something that struck me throughout was that not a single person – his teacher aside – thought to speak or interview the victim himself, Gabriel. If the police or members from social services wanted confirmation of details or verification of Gabriel’s welfare or state of mind – they asked the parents. This fact frustrated me because Gabriel was eight. Of course in some cases the children are too young to adequately express themselves but that wasn’t the case here. If Gabriel had just been given the chance to speak confidentially to someone things may have been different. Abuse typically thrives on secrecy. If the parents themselves are the perpetrators then, of course, they would say whatever’s necessary to ward people off the scent of their crimes. And that’s just what they did. The failure to consult Gabriel or actually listen to his cries – he was actually quite vocal about his abuse -indicates a wider problem. Where in the midst of everything the children are ironically forgotten; or the adults around them make the decisions affecting them but they themselves are never consulted. In this case, prioritising Gabriel’s mums right to custody of her child over Gabriel’s safety/welfare and right to live ultimately cost him his life. If predominately dealing with children such services need to adopt models with children and their rights at the centre.

Although I would recommend this docu-series, I would definitely warn that this is by no means an easy watch. It will make you feel uneasy, angry and frustrated. On the plus side, it does dig deep into the wider issues that Gabriel’s case highlighted. They also interview a wider range of experts and people involved or affected by the case – from a journalist that broke the story to one of Gabriel’s classmates who continues to mourn for him. Not many stones are left unturned and this is helped by the fact it a docuseries. If you feel it may be intense, simply take it one episode at a time but definitely do give it a watch.

The trailer for the Netflix docu-series can be found here.

 

An Honest Review: American Son

Hey Guys,

I decided to mix it up a bit and write a film review today.

American Son poster
Image source: https://uk.newonnetflix.info/info/81024100

Quick Synopsis: At the start of the film we meet a concerned mother (Kerry Washington, best known from the show Scandal) who is waiting at the police station to enquire about her child. Later on, the father (Steven Pasquale) joins the picture and together they wait to find out the mystery of where their child is. It’s worth noting before I start my review that race matters in this film. Kerry’s character is a black psychology lecturer married to a white FBI officer, and together they have a mixed-race child.

My Thoughts:

A lot of ground is covered- but beautifully so in this film. It’s easy at first to think of it as a 3D case study of police brutality. But more lurks beneath the surface; through the husband and wife interactions more is explored regarding the intricacies of interracial relationships, being mixed race/ black in America, discrimination and parenthood.

What makes this film quite unique is that it doesn’t have a big cast (only around 4 actors) and the location is the same throughout. So from a distance, it would be easy to assume not much is going on. However, we learn an awful lot about the characters as time goes on and it’s those revelations that shape the film and (fairly slow-moving) plotline. Ultimately, whilst distracting us from the hanging question ‘what happened to the son?!’.

I was in awe of the acting, you could feel Kerry’s character’s pain which helped to amplify the tension. It might sound dramatic but your heart does hurt several times throughout the film for her. Also, the push- and pull nature displayed between the spouses throughout the film, made an intriguing watch.

Overall, I would give this film an 8.5/10. A tense watch (not sure I would handle seeing it on the big screen) so perfect for Netflix, which it is available to watch on.