Violence, sex, drugs, nudity, sexual violence, and inappropriate language…
All of these words describe and alert Netflix viewers to what they will see in Sky Rojo, a Spanish series which contains an amazing cast we’ve seen before. But the truth is that there’s so much more inside this show, and with only eight episodes, you can explore it in less than four hours.
The show is set in Tenerife, a beautiful island which is part of the Canary Islands in the north coast of Africa. There’s this brothel named Las Novias Club, owned by Romeo, an unscrupulous and nasty pimp (portrayed by Axer Exteandía) who, ironically, has two daughters and a wife, who has cancer and hates his ‘job’. But Romeo is not alone. Beside him, there’s also Moisés and Christian—played by Miguel Ángel Silvestre and Eric Auquer, respectively—two brothers ‘abandoned’ by their father, with a miserable life that they apparently want to let go of, and a mother that does not remember them.
And then we have the girls: Coral (Verónica Sánchez), Gina (Yany Prado), and Wendy (Lali Espósito). They are prostitutes at Las Novias, but not by choice.
Coral escapes after killing someone in the past, and throughout the series, she displays her vast knowledge and abilities in biology, the program she majored in. Gina has a Cuban warmth and genuine attitude that conquers anyone, with which she protects her family and intends to give her son a real future. Wendy, on the other side, sacrifices the relationship with her girlfriend, which took her a lot of work considering how hard it was for her to accept her sexuality, and now she feels like she has lost everything.
Although the three of them have incredible stories about their past, the dreams they have at night and how they ended up at Las Novias, one thing is completely certain: they really do not want to be there and desperately desire to regain their freedom, and the feeling of being human, a woman, is farther along than they think. They feel lonely, helpless, and humiliated, but they still have to smile and have sex with 10 to 15 men per night to pay off huge debts to their captors, or their life savers, according to Romeo.
The story of how they were about to make the best out of their lives starts when Gina pays Romeo her debt, but then the debt is doubled. Tired and disappointed, together with Coral and Wendy, Gina attacks Romeo and they escape to the most dangerous path to freedom, which is obviously not going to be easy.
The whole series is a continuous attempt from the perpetrators to catch the women, make them suffer more than what they already have, and kill them. This is portrayed through a combination of many flashback scenes.
Action, fight, and nostalgic scenes make up the bulk of the show, but what I found most important is that this is not a series to enjoy, if not to make ourselves aware about the world we live in.
This is a cycle
The main problem, as presented, is that the women in the club did not decide to be prostitutes. The pimps cheat them with the promise of a better life and then pull them into a world from which they aren’t able to escape: sexual assault, drugs, alcohol, fake smiles…
But the truth is, as you can see throughout the series, that many women stay as prostitutes as a way to escape from poverty. They are looking for a better life for themselves, for their families and children, to live in peace. And they accept (or their families accept) without knowing, in reality, what they were going to do ‘in that job’, as with Gina, who accepted a job as a waitress, but her mother knew what she was really going to do. How do you deal with that reality? Is there a possibility when even your mother sells you out? Once you’re in, you don’t have the strength: you are already immersed in a cycle you can’t escape from, your family is threatened, and you accumulate a debt you will never be able to pay off.
This leads me to a problem you may have heard of before: should prostitution be legal?
There is this part of society that really believes in legalizing it, while the other part stays firm that it shouldn’t be permitted. There is a reality: the violence and injustice could end because as in any job, there would be norms and rules to follow because the State needs to respond. But on the other hand, could this really happen within a practice where machismo, sexism and misogyny are so profoundly entrenched that there could be a space to see women as human beings at least? I’m doubtful. Romeo is obsessed with dominating women and how they are just accessories in men's fantasies. He is obsessed with women who stop being themselves and just function as sex machines. He is obsessed with sexual pleasure, but only when it is for men, while for women, this just represents oppression.
So again, is legalization the solution or not? Is there a space inside prostitution where women can feel empowered?
On another note, why do so many people end in up prostitution, drug consumption, and within other illegal yet lucrative practices? It is clear there is a necessity, but why?
Our society is not well-constructed. Millions of people suffer from hunger, disabilities, inaccessibility to essential services such as health, transportation, clothing, free time and much more, and also suffer inside the relationships they have with others, including family, friends, partners, and so on. A person’s needs forces them to do things they probably never dreamed about. In Sky Rojo, Moisés started helping Romeo because the latter helped him when Moisés killed his own father, who abused his mom. Coral also wanted to kill her husband because he mistreated her psychologically, letting her drown in a dark mental hole which she could not escape, so she ‘escaped’ to Las Novias.
What I want to say is that we need to reflect on where we are and why we are here. If we are satisfied with the answers, that’s awesome, but the story of a friend may be different. Our present will define our future—it will make us more mature and prepare us for important decisions, and nobody can change that but ourselves. When talking about the future, it’s also important to discuss how difficult it is for victims to reinsert themselves in society. Is there any future for these victims who only want to go back to their normal life? Is there going to be a day when they do not feel like less because of the past, and that they deserved to not be looked at merely as prostitutes?
Which leads me to my next question: have we judged others? Are we doing something to collaborate in creating a healthier society, or are we part of the problem? Is the society we’re living in comfortable?
What is clear at the end of Sky Rojo is that prostitution is an industry that mostly violates human rights, mostly those of women, and that does not recognize them as autonomous people. It is also a reminder of the importance of consent: when a woman says yes, it’s a yes, when she says no, it is a no, when she does not know it is also no, and when she is coerced or forced to say yes, it is still a no. The vindication of the trio at the end of the show states that women are not alone and that they deserve better. That they are capable of deciding what is best for them and pursuing it of their own free will.
Other problems we can perceive in Sky Rojo are abandonment, the psychology behind kidnapping, how these women are capable of loving again and experimenting their own sexuality and freedom, and how one can find moments of light in the middle of sadness and insecurity. Be warned that this is not something made to be joyful or for entertainment. The cast is exceptional at what they do, but I’d prefer to leave an open conversation about the show’s topics, and if you want to know a little bit more about it, listen to this episode from the National Public Radio (NPR) podcast Radio Ambulante. As I watched the series I felt as if I was listening to this episode again: En el fin del mundo. It’s a real story about a woman who was offered a job, but ended up as a prostitute against her will. The second season of Sky Rojo comes out on July 23rd so make sure you watch the first one to create awareness about what others have normalized.