A Deeper Look into Unbelievable, A Netflix Series

The new enthralling NETFLIX series Unbelievable was based on the true story, “An Unbelievable Story of Rape” by ProPublica and the Marshall project in 2015. I was honored to have interviewed writer, director, and showrunner Susannah Grant, showrunner Sarah Timberman, and director, Lisa Cholodenko to get a glimpse on their perspective of the series and what they hoped to see as a result of the film. 

If you have not seen the series Unbelievable yet, after you read this article, you’ll have it on your must watch list. The story follows Marie Adler, 18, who called 911 to report her rape in Washington State in 2009. Upon arrival she explained to the cops how the rapist invaded her apartment through her window around 4 am and woke her up with a knife to her head telling her to cooperate or else. She detailed how he tied her up and blindfolded her as he violated her body, but not too long after two more detectives demand Marie to repeat her story again. 

 

Throughout the film the flashbacks were extremely intense. “Her (Marie Adler) disappearing into the beach during the assault was the most beautiful yet devastating parts of the film,” stated Susannah Grant. During the flight, fight, or freeze moment Marie froze. The show portrayed  the way her brain coped with the trauma going on in her life by finding a safe space for her mind to leave her body. As women, it’s important to understand that in situations like this, not everyone will think to fight or scream like they want.

 

 

As Unbelievable progresses through each episode, it dives into the compassion of the two female detectives, Grace Rasmussen and Karen Duvall. Not only did these women display their vulnerability while fighting for their survivors, but they showed their compassion through resiliency. Each woman was delicate with the victims, unlike their male counterparts. In Marie Adler’s case, she was badgered and treated like she was a suspect in questioning rather than a victim, while the other women were treated like their feelings mattered. They were told that they had time to process the traumatic event, asked permission to touch them/ get their body checked by the hospital, and told to not feel sorry for doing what they needed to do to feel safe. Sarah Timberman stated that “there was a vast difference in training in the background of the officers shown by there being an officer trained in narcotics pulled to handle a case on rape”. In our current reality that is the harsh truth. Not every officer is trained to manage every case correctly.

 

 

One of the most insensitive parts of rape is having your body manipulated without your consent. According to director Lisa Cholodenko, “there were three depictions of sexual assault, but we only have one shot of nudity. You don’t need to show people’s breast to show the most upsetting depictions from the victims perspective.” This allowed women to still hold their bodies with dignity while exemplifying the message. During each case of rape, the rapist degraded every woman. Towards the end of the series “the circle was closing”, Lisa stated. It was time the sides switched to where their rapist was dehumanized, stripped down naked and he went through the same things that the women did. 

In the end of our interview, Susannah Grant, Sarah Timberman, and Lisa Cholodenko were asked what they wanted to leave their viewers with while watching this film and what impact they hoped to leave on society. Lisa, being the first to reply, said “Lock your doors”. Although it sounds cliché, it doesn’t fall anywhere short of accurate. Unbelievable reveals the harsh reality that there are people who prey on women who are by themselves. Susannah reminds us that rape doesn’t fit any demographic. The article “An Unbelievable Story of Rape” made it clear that there was a gap in age range and the myth that “every rapist has a type” is simply that – a myth. Sarah stated she wanted to continue the awareness of this phenomenon. You’re not alone.

For all victims of rape or sexual assault reading this, we hope that you see this film and know that your truth is honored. Even though this experience may have made you feel weak, made you want to shrink into the world, made you commit self-harm, no matter how traumatic it may be – you are not alone. We wanted viewers and readers to understand that it’s very easy for women to equivocate in their own minds and not see something as rape. Sometimes we even convince ourselves that it was our fault and go into a place of our own cognitive dissonance. 

“If the truth isn’t convenient, they won’t believe it”. Whether you were able to report your rapist or not, know that your truth matters in the path of finding your peace. We hope this series continues to raise awareness on the complacency of our society.