Readers discuss representation in Hollywood and other realms of entertainment from the perspective of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, and political bent. Share your own thoughts via email@example.com.
In December, I wrote an Atlantic story about how the Internet led to the decline of female film critics at prominent media outlets. The piece noted a sad irony about women and film media in 2016: At a moment when checking up on the role of women in front of and behind the camera is a popular topic with news organizations and amongst film reviewers, women write just 18 percent of top reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and constitute less than a quarter of membership in the four top national critics’ associations. I called for news and media outlets to make a deliberate effort to hire women writers and editors, because the stakes are high: As one study showed, critics tend to write about films helmed by members of their own sex, and reviews have been shown to influence audience attendance and box-office totals. Even in the Internet age, critics matter.
At the time of my writing, I argued there was reason to hope. That BuzzFeed, Time, and The Village Voice had just hired women for prominent film-critic positions in the past two years seemed, to me, a solid reason to be optimistic that media organizations had made hiring women a top priority. But yesterday, the film blog Women and Hollywood put a damper on my assertion that prominent publications have “doubled down on their commitment to women writers.”
In a story called “The Dudeocracy of Film Writers,” the blog’s editors note “a bothersome trend” over the past month—many prominent film-critic jobs have recently gone to men. The new chief film critic at Variety and the Los Angeles Times, senior film critic and film reporter at Indiewire, the film staff writer at Rolling Stone, and editorial director and editor at Film Comment are all men. The editors at Women and Hollywood write they have received plaintive messages from women film writers who are “flabbergasted,” frustrated, and themselves struggling to land staff positions.
It’s important to take the Women and Hollywood story with a grain of salt. The editors did not reach out for comment from hiring editors, who may have told them they initially contacted women to fill those positions. Editors may have added that some hiring decisions have occurred in tandem with internal promotions of women (Kate Erbland, for instance, became film editor at Indiewire) or emphasized that at least one of those hired men—Justin Chang, now the chief film critic at the Los Angeles Times—fills other, gaping diversity holes in film criticism (in his case, Asian-American critics). And as one writer pointed out to me on Twitter, the article didn’t note two other major, recent hires: While the Village Voice has a new male film critic, MTV News recently brought a woman on to be its lead film critic.
But the Women and Hollywood story nevertheless provides a crucial check-in on the ongoing, disappointing conversation. I’m grateful to the blog for ending its own addition to this depressing dialogue on a high note—with a list of women critics to read. You can find those writers (follow them!) here.
Opening with the egregious example of Jared Leto playing The Joker in Suicide Squad, Angelica Jade Bastién takes aim at the ostentatious way Hollywood is using method acting in recent years. She observes:
[M]ethod acting of this sort couldn’t exist without the culture of permissiveness and indulgence Hollywood has fostered over the years. For the last few decades, particularly after Robert De Niro’s infamous body transformation for 1980’s Raging Bull, which netted him an Oscar, method acting has become a critical factor in the campaigns of actors seeking trophies. Actors like Daniel Day-Lewis, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Christian Bale, and particularly Leonardo DiCaprio have spoken about how they lose themselves in roles—gaining weight, whittling themselves down, never breaking character, taking on accents and hobbies that affect their personal life.
I love this observation from a reader:
The hilarious thing is that the more actors talk about their Method acting, the more attention it calls to their acting in the movie, thus breaking the suspension of disbelief. Of course, this assumes that their goal is actually to heighten their art, as opposed to win trophies or gain popularity.
I had a similar feeling about Leto’s overrated and not believable method performance as a trans woman in Dallas Buyer’s Club:
Another reader looks to a difference performance from a long-time method actor:
There’s a great story I heard once that happened on the set of Marathon Man. Upon being asked by Lawrence Olivier how a previous scene had gone, one in which Dustin Hoffman’s character had supposedly stayed up for three days, Hoffman claimed that he too had not slept for 72 hours to achieve emotional verisimilitude. “My dear boy,” replied Olivier, “why don’t you just try acting?”
It didn’t quite go down that way. Here’s a clip of Hoffman’s response to that apocryphal anecdote:
Another reader takes the opportunity to snipe at Hoffman:
Putting aside acting methods, Hoffman is one of the worst actors. It’s a blessing that he rarely works. He is constantly drawing attention to himself, letting you know how hard he is acting. There is no sincerity in Hoffman’s acting; it’s all a front. (Meryl Streep suffers from the same self-absorption; one is always extremely aware that one is watching Meryl Streep act, not a character on the screen.) The English conservatory approach has trained many more exceptional actors than the self-indulgent method, in my opinion.
Another reader quips about Hoffman, “But he did give his all to portray a tomato in Tootsie; he Became that tomato.” This next reader goes into great depth over the English conservatory approach (and I’ve embedded clips throughout):
British actors of Olivier’s generation certainly didn’t use The Method, and it’s true that recorded performances by John Gielgud, Olivier et al appear “hammy” and unnatural, even by theatrical standards.
But as Ian McKellen has remarked: What modern audiences think of Olivier’s acting now is irrelevant. The important thing is that the audiences who saw him live cried when he died, laughed when he did something amusing, and empathised with his characters; they believed him. And that is the actor’s goal.
Of course what audiences want from theatre and film changes over the years and, as a consequence, so do tastes in acting styles. Hence why Olivier’s performances are now unpalatable, even laughable, to many.
Contemporary British actors now receive a comprehensive training (usually over a full-time, three-year study period) in a variety of approaches to acting.
The most reputed drama schools will train their students in Strasberg’s Method, Sanford Meisner’s techniques, Stella Adler’s techniques, Stanislavski’s System (with the most weight being given to Stanislavski, as his system is the most complete, and the root of the works of the other practitioners), with additional training in the work of Le Coq, Michael Chekhov, and Uta Hagen (to name a few).
These approaches to acting are complemented with classes in movement, dance, body conditioning, voice, singing, clowning, and improvisation. British drama schools offer the most comprehensive and in-depth actor training in the Western hemisphere and remain the most in-demand from international students who are serious about pursuing a career in acting.
The problem with restricting yourself to Strasberg’s Method alone is that it’s incomplete. Strasberg’s aim in developing The Method was to take the work of Stanislavski and to adapt it for contemporary performers. The trouble was Strasberg had only ever read Stanislavski’s first book, An Actor Prepares, which details such staples of Strasberg’s Method as emotional memory.
Not long after publishing that book, Stanislavski witnessed first hand the physical, emotional, and mental toll that his system took on a young Michael Chekhov (who would later go on to become a significant theatre practitioner in his own right). This experience led Stanislavski to develop his work to be more holistic, and complete, with a great emphasis on what he called the psychophysical.
He wrote two subsequent books on acting in which he did not precisely disown his earlier writings, but refined them within the context of his new ideas. Strasberg does not appear to have had access to these later writings (at least when he was developing his Method). Sanford Meisner and Stella Adler are two American practitioners who felt that Stanislavski’s later writings were of equal importance, and worked them into their own working practices and teachings, which are far more complete than Strasberg's.
Couple of little corrections to the article …
Daniel Day Lewis has expressed discomfort at being labelled a Method Actor. He’s gained a reputation for being “the actor who stays in character all the time on set,” but as he has said, he only does this as he feels it’s a better use of his time than sitting around having a drink and a chat with the other actors. If he stays in character between takes and scenes he might discover something new about the character that he hadn’t thought of before and that he could bring into the next take or scene.
Here’s a brilliant scene in There Will Be Blood of that actor playing a character who’s acting:
Back to our reader:
Other stories about Daniel Day Lewis’s immersion in the parts he plays tend to be exaggerated, and the truth behind them seems more to do with his personality than any strict adherence to The Method. He’s a naturally curious man, so his research often becomes in-depth (he learnt how to build a canoe for The Last of the Mohicans, for example). But it’s not restricted to his work as an actor; he learnt how to make shoes just because it intrigued him.
Marlon Brando has also always rejected the (what he saw as) accusation that he was a Method Actor. In fact he seemed to take quite a dim view of Strasberg and his work, describing him as “an ambitious, selfish man who exploited the people who attended the Actors Studio and tried to project himself as an acting oracle and guru. Some people worshipped him, but I never knew why.” Brando credits Stella Adler and Elia Kazan as being the people who taught him to act.
Here’s a compelling clip of Brando blurring the lines between professional acting and everyday acting by ordinary people:
On that note, here’s another passage from Angelica Jade Bastién—and an especially adept one in an overall compelling piece—touching on the macho insecurity that compels many actors to go method:
Brando never went to the extremes of those who came after him, but his career and outlook provide the template for those who see themselves as his successors. Beyond his obsessive dedication to the form, Brando was self-deprecating about his choice of career. He saw acting as inferior to the kind of work a “real” man would do.
By going method, a performer can signal that he works for his art; he can make his labor visible. This attitude has lived on today, and comes through in how [Christian] Bale once framed his career for Esquire: “I have a very sissy job, where I go to work and get my hair done, and people do my makeup, and I go and say lines and people spoil me rotten. This is just not something to be quite as proud of as many people would have you believe.”
Bastién goes on to press the case that double standards over method acting are “sidelining the transformative work of actresses.” Do you have any favorite method performances by women, or thoughts about the topic more generally? Drop us a note and we’ll post: firstname.lastname@example.org. For my part, here’s Ellen Burstyn in Requiem For a Dream—an Oscar-nominated performance that outshines all her costars, especially Jared Leto:
Angelica Jade Bastién’s popular essay about how Hollywood has ruined method acting culminates in a theory that “the gendered nature of modern method acting has had the unfortunate consequence of sidelining the transformative work of actresses who found authenticity without billing themselves as somehow ‘above’ their art form.” A reader, Kelly, isn’t persuaded:
I’m all for gender equality, but this seems like a stretch. At the very least, it certainly doesn’t get to the root of the problem. (Hint: It has nothing to do with method acting.) If Leo [DiCaprio] wants to eat a bison heart because he thinks it’s going to improve his performance, by all means. I don’t think that necessarily makes this the new standard for acting, as referenced by Jared Leto taking a similar approach and failing.
Another reader disagrees with Kelly and reiterates several points made in the piece:
Yes, but the exaltation of this particular brand of method acting that has so closely been associated with showy, masculine feats of endurance is a part of stigmas around gender differences. Men can engage in this brand of method acting and often be praised whereas women largely cannot, and when they are praised it’s because of the bravery in not being beautiful.
In this way, what we consider to be great acting has benefited one gender disproportionately, and more specifically it helps obscure brilliant performances by actresses (and actors) who either don’t practice this brand of method acting or simply engage in another method.
I get what you’re saying, but again, I don’t think it gets down to the root of the problem. It’s societal stigma (what’s acceptable for men vs. women) and doesn’t have much to do with method acting specifically. Not to mention, I don’t think many would classify the Joker or what Leto did to get into character [gifting the cast a dead pig, a live rat, used condoms] as “masculine.” The Joker is not a masculine character and neither are his actions. The point is he’s supposed to be crazy and maniacal, not muscular, valiant, strapping, or brave. Quite the opposite actually.
I agree that method acting antics are disproportionately accepted more with male actors than with female actors, but if the end product is the same, is it really a problem?
I guess the best example I can use is the one bright spot of Suicide Squad: Margot Robbie. She’s thus far gained critical acclaim in the role of Harley Quinn.
No, Robbie didn’t use method acting, but she gave a performance that was just as, if not more, eccentric than Leto’s, and people seem to appreciate it despite the fact that she’s not portraying a stereotypical cutesy female character (though she is in a somewhat skimpy outfit).
Bottom line: Gender biases certainly exist in Hollywood, but it’s much farther reaching than the ways in which actors choose to prepare for a role.
The following clip illustrates very well the narcissistic, look-at-me showboating of method actors like Jared Leto, who interrupts Robbie when she’s telling a story of how the movie’s director cut off parts of her hair:
(Side note regarding Kelly’s point about Robbie’s “somewhat skimpy outfit”: In the above clip, a publicity shot of Leto in character is also very skimpy, and it elicits a lot of hollers from women in the audience. Both genders are sexified these days when it comes to superheroes and villains.)
Another reader, Christopher, joins Kelly in skepticism:
The main thesis of the essay is how women and men cannot engage in the same sort of preparation because of gendered expectations, and the male avenue is more highly regarded and so it forms a sort of oppressive force against actresses. It’s an interesting point, because it is very closely connected to the Hollywood appropriation of the life of the actor/actress in the marketing material.
I’m not sure if the thesis as argued holds very well, though. I say this not because I think the central point is incorrect, but because I think “extreme method acting” makes people scoff as much as it makes people interested in seeing it.
For example, if no one knew what Leo did for The Revenant, I don’t think fewer people would have seen it, but even if they did, I think it’s fair to mention how so much of the criticism against that movie and his performance was specifically about how he prepared. (But I guess Hollywood doesn’t necessarily care what people are saying about a movie just as long as they’re talking about it.)
Christopher’s point about scoffing is a strong one, especially in the case of DiCaprio. The conventional wisdom during this past Oscar season was that DiCaprio—with five Oscar nominations but no wins before The Revenant—was so desperate to finally get a gold statue that he sought the role of an emotionally brutalized and physically tortured frontiersman (punctuated by a graphic mauling from a momma grizzly) and then prepared for the role by battling hypothermia, eating raw liver as a vegetarian, and sleeping in animal carcasses. It smelled desperate. And that desperation was widely mocked in memes:
Personally I thought Tom Hardy’s performance in The Revenant was much better than DiCaprio’s, and I suspect the latter was given an Oscar because he had come so close so many times. I genuinely laughed out loud at the film’s final shot, when DiCaprio breaks the fourth wall with a direct-to-camera gaze—as if to say, “Pleeeeease can I have an Oscar now … ” Imagine this scene with a gold statue standing in for the woman:
Back to Christopher, who wonders:
Is it true that an actress would not be praised for engaging in the same faux-method acting as her male counterparts?
I understand why it would be assumed to be the case, as the article points out, but I am legitimately unsure if a movie comes out and touts, say, Jennifer Lawrence, as being so committed to her role that she lived in the woods by herself for three months with nothing but a compass and a blanket to prepare for her character, that there would be a negative reaction. I mean, Charlize Theron did win an Oscar for Monster, and it’s fairly offensive to say it’s just because she chose not to be pretty.
Speaking of method performances from actresses who won critical and popular praise, I asked readers in a previous note for more examples, and many of them delivered.
One reader points to Hilary Swank’s Oscar-winning performance in Million Dollar Baby. Swank is one of the most famous method actors of the past 20 years, and here’s how she prepared—and suffered—for that role:
[G]oing method was the only way for her to truly get to grips with her character. So “acting like a boxer” becomes “actually being a boxer” in this case, which—as you probably guessed—lead poor Miss Swank on the path towards death. As a result of having to “pivot” excessively whilst training for the movie’s now famous boxing scenes, Swank picked up … a Staph infection, which—left untreated—is usually fatal. “I got a blister, the size of my palm, on my right foot, and it was really swollen, and I couldn’t train and walk on it,” she said in an interview afterwards. “So I popped it myself, and it got infected.” What’s more, Swank didn’t bother to tell director Clint Eastwood about her injury as she didn’t want to slow down production ...
Swank’s early experience in method acting would pay dividends when she was cast in Kimberly Peirce’s devastating drama about Brandon Teena, a real-life transgendered man who was brutally raped and murdered in a Nebraska hate crime. “I walked around trying to pass as a boy for five weeks before filming that movie,” she says. “Seeing what worked and what didn’t work, and losing a bunch of body fat so that my face would be thinner. My neighbors thought that I was my cousin Billy from Iowa.”
Another reader points to, well, The Reader—specifically Kate Winslet’s Oscar-winning performance. Her suffering for that film was psychological:
Kate Winslet was so focused on accurately portraying her character in THE READER she struggled to return to day-to-day life after filming wrapped. The actress plays a former Nazi concentration camp guard in the post-war drama, and put all her emotions into the intense role. And Winslet … admits it took months for her to bid farewell to the character. She says, “It’s like I’ve escaped from a serious car accident and need to understand what has just happened.”
The next example of method acting comes from a reader who points to Anne Hathaway losing 25 pounds and cutting off all her hair for an Oscar-winning performance in Les Miserables. She masterfully plays Fantine, an ill-fated impoverished mother who is forced into prostitution to provide for her young daughter. The most heartrending scene:
Another reader notes Natalie Portman’s Oscar-winning performance in Black Swan. To prepare for that disturbing role of descending into madness, Portman lost 20 pounds, did a year of intensive ballet training, and performed much of her own dancing. For example:
Yet another reader points to Oscar-winner Halle Berry for being a well-known purveyor of method acting. Here’s a look at some of her roles:
When Berry first came on the scene in her first motion picture, Jungle Fever, she did not bathe for more than a week, in order to bring realness to her character.
In her 2003 film, Gothika, Berry was so dedicated to the role, that she ended up breaking her arm in one of her scenes, with Robert Downey, Jr. Needless to say the production was down for at least eight weeks, while the actress healed.
In The Call, Berry did her own stunts. To prepare for the emotional demands of her character, Berry worked with real life dispatchers, listening to their phone calls and observing their behavior, mannerisms, and protocol.
Here’s Berry in Jungle Fever:
Lastly, one more reader notes Rooney Mara’s Oscar-nominated performance in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, a disturbing thriller that includes a horrifying rape scene that Mara had to endure. Here’s how she partly prepared for the role of Lisbeth, a tough and fiercely independent hacker:
[Mara] didn’t even have ear piercings. She felt that to truly inhabit the character, multiple piercings all over her body were necessary. Mara had her lip, brow, nose, nipples and ears pierced. She said, “because of all the tattoos and the makeup and the piercings, and the physical transformations my body has to go through, it would always feel sort of like I was in costume, even if I was naked.
Do you have an example to include? Have any thoughts about this discussion in general? Drop us a note: email@example.com.
A lot rides on how parents present the activity to their kids.
They can be identified by their independent-bookstore tote bags, their “Book Lover” mugs, or—most reliably—by the bound, printed stacks of paper they flip through on their lap. They are, for lack of a more specific term, readers.
Joining their tribe seems simple enough: Get a book, read it, and voilà! You’re a reader—no tote bag necessary. But behind that simple process is a question of motivation—of why some people grow up to derive great pleasure from reading, while others don’t. That why is consequential—leisure reading has been linked to a range of good academic and professional outcomes—as well as difficult to fully explain. But a chief factor seems to be the household one is born into, and the culture of reading that parents create within it.
A whistle-blower complaint raises the possibility that President Trump has betrayed the duties of his office.
On the 20th of July 1787, Gouverneur Morris rose inside the stiflingly hot Independence Hall, in Philadelphia, to explain why he had changed his mind and now favored including a power of impeachment in the constitutional text.
Until that point, he and others had feared that an impeachment power would leave the president too dependent on Congress. He had thought that the prospect of reelection defeat would offer a sufficient control on presidential wrongdoing.
But the arguments of other delegates had convinced him—and particularly an example from then-recent British history. A century earlier, Great Britain had been ruled by a king named Charles II. King Charles was the son of Charles I, the king whose head was cut off during the English Civil War. Restored to the throne, Charles II learned to tiptoe carefully around his dangerous subjects. But there was a problem: Charles wanted more money than Parliament willingly offered him. His solution? He reached out to an old friend and patron: the king of France, Louis XIV.
Republicans have tolerated plenty of foreign-policy moves by Trump that they would never have let his predecessor get away with. Will that continue with Iran?
For a man who once characterized Donald Trump as a “race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot” worthy of being ISIS’s “man of the year,” Lindsey Graham took a rather tame jab at the president recently. The Republican senator, now one of Trump’s top allies in Congress, argued on Tuesday that the Iranian government had detected “weakness” in the president’s “measured” decision in June to call off retaliatory military strikes against Iran, which emboldened the Iranians to execute “an act of war” by attacking oil facilities in Saudi Arabia.
But it was just enough to stir up @realDonaldTrump. Fast and furious came the counter-tweet: “No Lindsey, it was a sign of strength that some people just don’t understand!”
Caught between a brutal meritocracy and a radical new progressivism, a parent tries to do right by his children while navigating New York City’s schools.
To be a parent is to be compromised.You pledge allegiance to justice for all, you swear that private attachments can rhyme with the public good, but when the choice comes down to your child or an abstraction—even the well-being of children you don’t know—you’ll betray your principles to the fierce unfairness of love. Then life takes revenge on the conceit that your child’s fate lies in your hands at all. The organized pathologies of adults, including yours—sometimes known as politics—find a way to infect the world of children. Only they can save themselves.
Our son underwent his first school interview soon after turning 2. He’d been using words for about a year. An admissions officer at a private school with brand-new, beautifully and sustainably constructed art and dance studios gave him a piece of paper and crayons. While she questioned my wife and me about our work, our son drew a yellow circle over a green squiggle.
The second known visitor to our cosmic neighborhood from another star is making quite an entrance.
No one knows where it came from, but it’s here now. And the chase is on.
Astronomers around the world are monitoring an interstellar comet hurtling through the solar system, known for the moment as C/2019 Q4. It’s the second time in less than two years that they’ve seen an object from another star swing through our cosmic neighborhood. The first time around, the discovery kicked off a worldwide sprint to inspect the object before it got away. It was mysterious enough that some astronomers even began to consider whether it was dispatched by an advanced alien civilization.
This second interstellar object was spotted in late August by Gennady Borisov, an amateur astronomer in Crimea. Borisov has a reputation for catching never-before-seen comets with his telescopes, but they’re from around here; like everything else in the solar system—the planets, the moons, a sea of asteroids—they trace an orbit around the sun. And over the past few weeks, it’s become very clear that this comet does not.
Though the continent has lost 3 billion birds since 1970, those losses are hard to glean because it’s the commonest species that have been hit hardest.
In the early afternoon of September 1, 1914, Martha the passenger pigeon, the last of her kind in the world, passed away, and her entire species disappeared with her. But before that instant of extinction, there had been decades of decline, as hunters killed what was once the most common bird in the world. Billions of passenger pigeons became millions, thousands, and then hundreds, until eventually one became none. Few people took note of this decline as it happened: There still seemed to be a lot of pigeons, and their abundance obscured their downfall.
History is now repeating itself—across the entire avian world.
A new study, which analyzed decades of data on North American birds, estimates that the continent’s bird populations have fallen by 29 percent since 1970. That’s almost 3 billion fewer individuals than there used to be, five decades ago. “It’s a staggering result,” says Kenneth Rosenberg from Cornell University and the American Bird Conservancy, who led the analysis.
Long-hidden documents show the school’s blueprint for slowing integration during the civil-rights era.
In the summer of 1955, administrators at the University of Texas at Austin had a problem: The U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision, handed down the previous year, required educational institutions to integrate their classrooms. But the regents overseeing the state university system’s flagship campus, the old alumni who formed the donor base, and the segregationist political forces that pulled the purse strings were all determined to find ways to keep African Americans from stepping foot on campus.
UT had no conspicuous blocking-the-schoolhouse-door moment. A series of documents in the UT archives, many of them marked confidential, suggests that administration officials took a subtler approach: They adopted a selective admissions policy based around standardized testing, which they knew would suppress the number of African American students they were forced to admit.
The results yielded no clear path to a governing coalition, but represented a rejection of two dangerous ideas.
Israel’s second election of 2019 managed to produce both high drama and anticlimax. The top-line result: There is no clear winner. Neither the right-wing bloc led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, nor the center-left bloc led by former military Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, commanded a majority of the 120 seats in the 22nd Knesset. But there was still a loser of sorts: Netanyahu.
The one thing that was clear, following the election, was that the results signal a dramatic shift in policy. Israel had stepped all the way to the brink on two fundamental issues, and it has now taken a half step back. These results scuttle Netanyahu’s plans to officially apply Israeli law to parts of the West Bank, annexing the Jordan Valley, and to curtail the Israeli Supreme Court’s powers in order to secure himself immunity from prosecution on corruption charges. Both issues would have had serious ramifications, the former for the possibility of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the future, and the latter for the health of Israeli democracy. Tuesday’s results will not produce peace nor resolve Israel’s internal challenges, but they stave off those prospects, at least for the moment.
Many American students, myself included, never learn the human part of evolution.
Here’s what I remember from biology class at my public high school in Texas: We learned everything there is to know about the Krebs cycle. We collected bugs in the heat and suffocated them in jars of nail-polish remover. We did not, to my recollection, learn much of anything about how the human species originated.
Most scientists believe that the beings that would become humans branched off from the common ancestor we share with chimpanzees, our closest living relatives, about 6 million years ago. We did not learn this part—the monkey part. That is, our shared ancestry with other primates. Because this was nearly 20 years ago, and memories tend to fade with time, I checked with several friends who went to the same high school at the same time. None of them recalled learning anything about human evolution, either.
The Netflix series is a remarkable study of how sexual-assault investigations should be conducted, and how they shouldn’t.
This article contains spoilers through all eight episodes of Unbelievable.
In the first episode of Unbelievable, Marie (Kaitlyn Dever) is in her apartment, huddled in a comforter, clearly in shock, obviously traumatized. Her former foster mother, Judith (Elizabeth Marvel), hands her a cup of water and tries to get her to drink it. She hears footsteps in the hallway outside. “Here they come,” Judith says. “Here comes help.”
Unbelievable, which debuted on Netflix last week and is based on a true story reported in 2015 by ProPublica and the Marshall Project, folds two narratives into its eight episodes. One, which manages to feel bleakly familiar and dumbfoundingly enraging at the same time, is about what happens when the people investigating a rape do almost everything wrong. Not the procedural elements, although they mess those up too. The human elements: the part where a detective questions an 18-year-old woman who’s just survived the worst experience of her life, a woman he’s supposed to help, and fails her. He revictimizes her, making her go over the story of her attack again and again. A nurse pokes and prods at her without asking whether she needs a break. The foster mother raises suspicions that she’s lying. No one pays attention to the woman’s emotional state, or how it might be limiting her ability to efficiently convey what happened to her.