Deaf U, 2020
Co-produced by deaf activist, model, and actor Nyle DiMarco, Deaf U is a fantastic series following students attending Gallaudet University in Washington DC. Gallaudet is a private university established ‘for the education of the deaf and hard of hearing’. The show primarily follows 7 students who share their stories of childhood, school, societal pressures, family life and future plans. It is eye-opening in so many ways as it showcases the challenges and nuances within the community that many people who are not deaf or hard of hearing may never have thought about. As well as introducing what university is like for Gallaudet students, storylines also focus on reality show must-haves: friendships, love and sex. Behind the scenes, 50% of the crew are deaf, the first time that this has been done in tv history. It’s so important to me that the media reflects the lives of all communities, particularly those that are marginalised, so that everyone can respectfully learn, understand and better accommodate others. Embracing diversity and inclusivity is more important than ever right now and shows like Deaf U really help to create a space for people that are underrepresented and break down prejudices that others may have.
Directed by the phenomenal Ava DuVernay, 13th is a documentary film which explores race, justice, inequality and incarceration in the United States of America. The film’s title is in reference to the Thirteenth Amendment of the Constitution which refers to the apparent abolition of slavery in the US. But, DuVernay sets out to showcase that slavery and servitude is still upheld in the States within the racist incarceration system. The film starts with a clip of Barack Obama stating that the “US has 5 percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of the world’s prisoners” – a fact that frankly seems inconceivable. Throughout the documentary, figures such as Angela Davies, Van Jones and Corey Booker provide insight into historical events, civil rights movements and epic failings within the justice system in terms of racial injustice. Although this film is based on issues in the USA, but it’s important to remember that the UK prison system is also not perfect. In 2019, David Lammy MP vocalised his concerns that 51% of male prisoners in young offenders’ institutions are from a BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) background despite BAME communities making up around 14% of the population. And so, while it is important to educate ourselves through films such as 13th, we also need to look into our own shortcomings regarding race and criminal punishment.
The Last Dance, 2020
Sports fans rejoice! I can’t begin the tell you how great this miniseries is. Documenting the life of world-famous basketball player Michael Jordan from his early NBA days to his final season with Chicago Bulls, The Last Dance has everything you could want from a binge-worthy series. From the major highs of winning NBA Finals and Olympic golds to the lows of injuries and scrutiny from the world’s media, each episode is filled with emotion and unrelenting passion. The personal stories told throughout show a compassionate and human side to Jordan who has often been heralded as ‘untouchable’. Emotional footage of Jordan talking about his father’s murder and his subsequent decision to retire (for the first time) in 1993, showcases a human side to the god-like athlete. Interviews with other athletes including Scottie Pippen, Larry Bird and Dennis Rodman also give an insight into Jordan’s commitment, drive and intense focus on success, all of which wrought both positives and negatives to those around him. One of my favourite parts of the documentary was the throwback footage of iconic basketball moments, media coverage and intimate behind-the-scenes clips of Jordan and the Bull’s team. Even if you’re not a big sports fan, this series is great if you need a push to get out of your jammies and do that thing you’ve always wanted to do!
Love on the Spectrum, 2019
This reality show is one of my absolute highlights of 2020. Created in Australia, Love on the Spectrum is a dating show following the lives of people on the autism spectrum and their journeys to love. Throughout the five-part series, viewers are introduced to a number of single individuals including aspiring actor, Olivia, budding palaeontologist, Mark and Michael, 25 whose dream is to “become a husband”. The show also features couples who have been together for years and expose beautiful stories of support, acceptance and fun. I loved the fact that the scenes didn’t seem as contrived as other reality shows; the interviews and dates seem organic and honest – and there was no sense of creating drama or pitting cast members against one another like on Love Island for example. I am aware that the show isn’t truly representative of the community – most of the participants are white, young and heterosexual which I hope will be rectified in the second series. Each episode had me both laughing and crying, and I cannot wait for the next series to launch onto Netflix (hopefully soon!)
Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich, 2020
By now, I’m sure we have all heard of Jeffrey Epstein. And not for good reasons. As well as being one of America’s best-known financiers and richest socialites, he was also a convicted sex offender. In 2019, he was under investigation for sex trafficking crimes when he was found dead his prison cell. This hard hitting docu-series, released in May 2020, is based on James Patterson’s 2016 book of the same name and includes testimonies from courageous survivors of the disgraced financier. Describing himself as a “high-level bounty hunter”, Epstein not only provided financial consultancy to some of the world’s elite but was also personally acquainted with people like Donald Trump, Rupert Murdoch, Harvey Weinstein and Prince Andrew – make what you will of that circle of friends… The brave women give emotional and gut-wrenching insights into Epstein’s grossly inappropriate and illegal behaviours which include allegations of sexual assault, sex trafficking and running a sexual abuse ring among his ‘famous friends’. The series also highlights how Epstein utilised his power, wealth and contacts to commit, and hide, his awful crimes. A tough but necessary watch.
Time: The Khalief Browder Story, 2017
Definitely not a happy or easy watch, this series is probably the one that has haunted me the most since I watched it. Time follows the journey of Khalief Browder, a young black American man accused of stealing a backpack in 2010. Now, I know from that description the series might not sound that interesting but what comes after his arrest is some of the hardest film I’ve ever watched. The docuseries recounts Khalief’s time spent at Rikers Island; one of the world’s largest jail complex’s which is notorious for violence, abuse and neglect of inmates. During the series we hear Browder’s recollection of alleged abuse by prison guards and inmates, see surveillance footage of guards allegedly encouraging him to commit suicide and hear how being subjected to solitary confinement for 2 years (the UN considers solitary confinement exceeding 15 days to be torture) affected his mental health. The devastating effects of the racial injustice Khalief suffers during his incarceration is heart-breaking to watch, particularly as the attempts to get back to normality after his long-awaited release. The world that he once trusted and felt part of now feels alien and unsafe, ultimately leading to suffering and hurt that is truly unimaginable. After the tragic murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor this past summer and the rise of the Black Lives Matter Movement, many friends asked me for content to help them better understand racial injustice. This, alongside 13th, is always one of my first suggestions as it covers so much in terms of race, class, mental health and politics in the United States and how these injustices dramatically impact the justice system.
Happy binge-watching and wishing you well during lockdown 2.0!