Unbelievable checks many of the boxes you would expect from a progressive outlet like Netflix. In one fell swoop, women are both the victims and the heroes. If you’re already a bit cynical about Netflix’s not-so-hidden agenda and if this was not a true story, you might be tempted to write it off as propaganda just in time for women’s victimhood and empowerment.
But you should check your cynicism at the door and watch with an open mind. The story is true. In fact, the story so closely resembles the actual events, I wouldn’t be offended if Netflix described the show as “A True Story” rather than “Based on True Events.” (You can compare the show with the article it is based on here.) That not only gives the show an incredible level of integrity as art; it has genuine potential to call into question our own preconceived notions of how well “the system” works.
Real Victims, Real Champions
The series tells two stories. The first story is that of a young rape victim. Marie, a teenager who has been in the foster care system for most of her life, is assaulted at knifepoint. That scene comes at the very beginning and will be enough to cause many to exit the show. (My wife would not watch the show, for example.) I understand that. Of course, the show wants to give voice to the voiceless and burying the event doesn’t do that. The details of the event are also tie it to other events. More on that later.
Things go from very bad to even worse for the Marie. In a dreadful series of scenes, she is essentially persuaded to give up her claim and even admit she had lied to the police, a crime for which she will soon be charged. She is, without giving anything away, made to be a victim twice. She is then ostracized in her community for scaring everyone into believing that a rapist had invaded their space.
If you can watch those scenes without anger and pity, you aren’t paying attention. The first episode is enough to demonstrate the many ways our social services—from the foster system to the police and beyond—fail, again and again. It will also cause you to think twice when a victim’s claims are made.
Of course, we find ourselves in many ways at a time of national conversation on victimization, given Trump’s crude language, college campuses being unsafe places, and the #metoo movement making its way through the workplace. Conservatives naturally are hesitant to jump on board with yet another issue of victimization. And yet, there is nothing conservative or Christian about dismissing victims. Indeed, the Bible teaches that rapists merit the death penalty. Unbelievable does a good job detailing true victimhood without overplaying any hand or working an agenda.
The second story is a thousand miles away and it follows two female detectives from different jurisdictions, who, by chance, realize they have a common criminal in their midst. If you like police procedurals, you will enjoy watching them work. The show highlights the very real work that was done in an attempt to catch a predator who leaves no trace behind.
Again, right on the heels of the equal pay hashtags making the rounds, here is a story that highlights two female detectives. More propaganda? I don’t think so. If my daughter is assaulted, I hope to God a detective like these two—based, again, on very real people—are assigned to her case. There is a great scene when one of the detectives swabs a victim’s face for DNA. Compare that to the nurses at the hospital collecting a rape kit and you will give thanks to God that there are people in the field caring for victims.
What's In It for Christians?
An interesting dynamic that was unexpectedly handled well is the Christian faith of one of the detectives, compared to the atheism of the other. In no way is her faith demeaned or belittled. It is respected and she is able to give it a good voice when questioned.
When I watch shows like this, one of my constant questions and frustrations is: “Where is the church in all of this?” The show was a reminder that it is a Christian value to listen and help, as well as to check my cynicism. Sometimes there are real victims and they need real people to help them rather than blame them for disrupting the status quo. Again, if this story were developed from whole cloth, it might really be unbelievable. But it is a true story, and as such, Christians would do well to consider what we might learn from it.