Even in 2021, the arts still have not fully changed and adapted to representing women onscreen in nuanced ways. However, times are slowly changing and here are three recommendations of different must-see television series written by women, and with female-led casts.
I May Destroy You
Tigger warning: this show deals with themes of sexual assualt and sexual violence.
Easily the greatest show of 2020, if not in all of television history, I May Destroy You, streaming on BBC iPlayer in the UK, epitomises why the arts are so important. Written by the genius storyteller that is Michaela Coel who also stars in the show as the lead, the series, with a predominantly Black British cast, follows Arabella, a bestselling author. While struggling to finish a draft of her new novel, she goes on a night out, only for the next day to be left with fragmented memories of a sexual assault — a male stranger’s figure looming over her in the toilet of a club. We follow the character as she tries to piece together memory flashes of the assault. Arabella is broken, fierce, lovable and confused, and she is supported by her friends. In I May Destroy You, Coel’s ability to balance such raw, distressing and taboo subject matters with humour is remarkable. But the show’s main concern is rooted in the theme of consent, and importantly not just in a heterosexual sense. While exploring notions of sex and sexual assault, the series also grapples with race, gender, contemporary London life, among many other themes. I watched this show nearly six months ago, and I still can’t get it out of my mind. I still search for answers, I still question parts of the narrative and I still find it unforgettable. My praises here are not adequate enough to convey just how incredible this show is, but what I can come to conclude is that art and representation are such powerful tools.
Girls from Ipanema (Portuguese: Coisa Mais Linda)
Trigger warning: this show contains some scenes of a sexually violent nature.
Female power, Bossa Nova, Samba, Rio de Janeiro in the 60s—what more could lure you into this marvellous Brazilian Netflix original series? The show primarily centres around Malu, a wealthy woman from São Paulo, played by Maria Casadevall, who moves to Rio de Janeiro to join her husband in the coastal city but finds that he has left with all of their money. New to the city, Malu befriends a group of women and together they set up a Bossa Nova music club, each searching for and tasting freedom in a socially conservative environment. This is a female-driven narrative, centred around multi-faceted empowering female characters. But, the writers highlight their vulnerabilities too—they make mistakes just like any woman, and this makes the show so relatable. Nonetheless, given the historical setting, the show, of course, deals with notions of the patriarchy, societal prejudice towards women, racism, and also especially regarding Adélia’s character, played by Pathy Dejesus, prejudice towards Afro-Brazilian women. It is refreshing, though, to see male characters that are built around the female characters, which contrasts with many other Latin American, telenovela-esque shows. I finally must mention that Girls from Ipanema is absolutely gorgeous on an aesthetic level, from its colour grading to the costumes, and the soft bossa nova music that accompanies the scenes transports you across time and the Atlantic. Particularly in a time when sentiments of misogyny are rife in Brazil’s current political climate, this show possesses a real sense of importance.
Crash Landing On You
Crash Landing on You is a Korean Netflix drama that has taken the world by storm. Yoon Se-ri, a wealthy South Korean businesswoman, played by Son Ye-jin, goes paragliding and is thrown off course when caught in a storm, and finds that she has landed on the North Korean side of the DMZ. There she meets North Korean soldier Ri Jeong-hyeok, played by Hyun Bin, who decides to help her return to the South and they eventually fall in love. While some may not be completely persuaded by the story’s premise (I know I wasn’t initially), the show is truly so enjoyable, and filled with a range of female characters, representative of women from across the Korean peninsula, who really anchor the show. The wonderfully romantic love story drives the narrative but throughout the show, the audience sees how much Yoon Se-ri is a fighter in all that confronts her throughout the course of events. Although there are North Korean villains, Yoon Se-ri’s family in South Korea are equally, if not more, as villainous, and here we discover a fractured relationship between the protagonist and her stepmother, which offers a real sense of character development that can often lack in shows with such big ensemble casts. My favourite characters are the group of North Korean village women who provide so much of the show’s humour. Filled with so much emotion and providing so much escapism, this is a must-watch show.