I Like to Watch | Unbelievable (Netflix)
Based upon all the statistics available, it is highly likely that everyone of us knows a rape victim. For that matter, based on all of the available statistics, we probably know more than one. What we don’t know is how it feels, what the consequences are, and how the system of justice handles these crimes. Not really. Not at all.
I don’t know how it feels to be a black woman but thanks to books, plays, podcasts, television and film I can at least get a window into that specific experience. It’s what good stories do — they build up our empathy bank account and provide each of us a sliver of understanding of what someone living a different life might be going through.
While I understand the argument that no one can genuinely empathize with someone else’s journey — the most recent of these is that white people can’t possibly understand the trials of being black in America — I believe we have to at least try or eventually faction off into castes and tribes with no attempt at finding anything resembling common interest. Stories give us that chance.
I also believe that it is the grey areas between heroes and villains, survivors and victims, where the full complexity of humanity is exposed, turned over, and examined, that are more interesting, more revealing, and more true. Black and white, Good and Evil stories are great when you’re seven years old but adults gain more from more complicated tales (which is why, in part, most seven year olds aren’t into The Wire, Deadwood, or the canon of Terrence Malick).
That said, there are actual villains in the world doing actual villainy. In the Age of Hashtag Activism, the line gets blurrier and blurrier.
It’s pretty easy to dislike #MeToo. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that it’s easy to dislike the loudest, most strident proponents of it rather than the movement itself. After all, #MeToo was started as a cry for help from black women in abusive domestic situations and who the fuck disputes that? Once the Rage Profiteers caught hold of it and decided that “abuse” had a broad definition covering everything from forcing women to have sex to manspreading, the thing became less corrective and more vindictive.
Unbelievable was described by someone as a #MeToo limited series and my first reaction was to roll my eyes. More? I get it already! It does have the ridiculously talented Toni Collette, though, so I figured I catch the first episode and see if it took.
Holy Shit, it took, grabbed me and made me think and feel and think some more. By the end, the whole eight episodes earned the angry, sad and relieved tears of an older white guy at the horrors and injustices suffered by all of the victims in this story.
No spoilers. The gist is a twofold storyline following Marie (Kaitlyn Dever), a foster kid trying to break free of that world who claims to have been raped while sleeping by a guy who ties her up with her own shoelaces and takes pictures of her after. The police do not believe her story and manipulate her into recanting. This admission of lying about being raped causes her to be ostracized by everyone in her tiny world. The second arc follows two detectives (Merrit Wever and Toni Collette) pursuing a serial rapist who ties his victims up with their own items, rapes them for hours, then takes pictures of them.
That’s all I’ll reveal about the narrative. You must watch this.
Unbelievable is based on the 2015 ProPublica article "An Unbelievable Story of Rape," by Ken Armstrong and T. Christian Miller and stays close to the specifics and timelines established in the article. Created and written for Netflix by Susannah Grant, Michael Chabon, and Ayelet Waldman, the series is riveting, tragic, horrifying, and ultimately cathartic. It is also an opportunity for men (and more importantly, police) to experience at least a taste of the real life awfulness and trauma suffered by women who have been raped.
There are cases of women lying about being raped but the statistics on this indicate that those circumstances only represent about 2% of reported rape cases (a statistic that mirrors the number of cases when police shoot unarmed citizens) which is to say it is statistically negligible to rally behind the ‘false rape charge’ narrative with any merit. It’s simple math, then, to understand and accept that the vast majority of women reporting they have been raped are truthful.
In the landscape of expanding grievances and the umbrella for what constitutes sexual harassment, these women tend to be victimized twice: both by their rapist and those around them who refuse to accept their claim.
For the same reason I’d recommend that everyone in America be required to watch 12 Years a Slave, I recommend everyone (and certainly every man) watch Unbelievable. It isn’t a lecture, it isn’t a misandrist fantasy, it is an amazingly well told true story of the system of justice we currently have and provides examples of how men can be less suspicious, parents can be more supportive, and cops can authentically protect and serve us all.