The best types of entertainment hold a mirror up to society. Ava DuVernay’s When They See Us and Susannah Grant’s Unbelievable, both on streaming at Neflix, are so good, so entertaining, so shocking and illuminating and sobering, as to move viewers to tears. Both limited series take the old idea of setting yourself an appointment to watch great TV and spin it on its head in this era of streaming everything. No, you don’t just binge watch these…you make the time to sit down (hopefully with a loved one you can then later discuss and unpack each episode with) and give these powerful true stories your undivided attention.
In When They See Us, the lives of the Central Park Five (innocent teenagers unjustly convicted of raping a jogger in Central Park) unfold before our eyes, and the tradgedy of a racist system that railroads innocent children is laid bare. In Unbelievable, we see firsthand the ripple effects of what happens (to both the victim and society at large) when young women who are raped are not believed. The fact that both series are also acting (holy hell those kids in When They See Us), writing (ohhhhh that character development in Unbelievable), and directing (damn, Ava DuVernay, my wife and I became full on fangirl and fanboy for that artistry you displayed!) tour-de-forces is just icing on the cake.
As tragic as both stories are, they give us glimmers of hope. In When They See Us, it’s the love of the boys’ family and community that help see them through…while in Unbelievable, it’s the dedicated work of passionate female detectives who eventually bring a serial rapist to justice. Yes, even in a criminal justice institution systematically rigged against the marginalized, justice can still eek its way through the unfathomably deep and dark muck…but only if good people take action…and in the case of When They See Us…bad people take responsibility for their actions.
If you have not watched these series yet, you need to make an appointment to do so. Make the popcorn, and bring a therapist. Watch. Discuss. Get Angry. Be Inspired. Take Action.