#Netflix Redefines Appointment Television with #WhenTheySeeUs and #Unbelievable

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.

Written by D. H. Schleicher

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Going Back to the Bridge in Selma

Selma

Like two of the other most ballyhooed films from 2014 (Boyhood and Birdman), Selma is a really good film that has been a bit oversold.  I suppose if one is going to overrate a film, it might as well be one as noble as this, but in the slightly paraphrased words of my girlfriend, “I just wish they would’ve gotten the facts straight and given this girl a little more gospel.”  There’s something curiously missing from Ava DuVernay’s intelligently directed and reverent biopic of our nation’s most celebrated reverend and Civil Rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr., despite many convenient current parallels reminding informed viewers there is still so much work to be done.  That missing piece is the call to action.

Standing tall in the film are DuVernay’s depiction of the most harrowing events (from the bombing of the four little girls in the church and the violent police suppression of the first attempt to march across the bridge out of Selma towards Montgomery, to the quieter but equally disturbing moments showing the casually institutionalized hate-fueled suppression of the right to vote in court houses across the Deep South) and, naturally, David Oyelowo’s commanding performance as MLK.

DuVernay, taking a cue from Spielberg’s Lincoln, does a commendable job showing the slow tension-building behind-the-scenes process of what it takes to organize a meaningful march against injustice and how that can be used as a tool to raise public sentiment for the passing of legislation (in this case, the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965).  The tenants of nonviolent protest are on glorious display here, showing how powerfully effective yet dangerous it can be, as it coaxes the irrational radicals out into the open light of day where those watching on the sidelines are suddenly spurred to stand up because they are left with no other option once violence erupts against the peaceful marchers.

Sadly, Paul Webb’s uneven screenplay betrays both DuVernay’s skills and Oyelowo’s passionate portrayal as the writer plays loose with some key facts and insists on fitting King into the archetypal mold of a leader riddled with self-doubt.  Continue reading