With all the different problems everyone in the world faces, bringing attention to a lot of them all at once may seem to be impossible, but Netflix thought differently. On Oct. 16, 2020, Netflix released its new original show, Grand Army. Grand Army is based off of Katie Cappiello’s play, SLUT. The play is about a girl named Joanna “Joey” Del Marco, who was assaulted by three friends in a cab. The play addresses the impact of rape culture and slut-shaming, in an attempt to prove that these are ongoing issues that are overlooked. Grand Army follows Joey, and four other diverse students, through their school year at Grand Army High School, and the problems each of them face. Grand Army was filmed to bring light to the fact there are many prevalent issues in the world that may not directly impact you, but greatly impact others. After a brief mention of New Yorkers beginning to self-quarantine, we see Grand Army is set in early spring of 2020, which explains the currency of the presented problems. The show takes a deep dive into issues such as racial injustice and profiling, sexual assault, poverty, and homophobia.
Grand Army High School is a prestigious, predominately white public school located in New York City, and though it is fictional, many speculate that it’s loosely based on Brooklyn Technical High School, in relation to its size and qualities. The students at Grand Army are all very competitive with one another, similar to those at Brooklyn Tech. Though the school is located in the city, many students are from the surrounding areas, such as East New York, Jackson Heights, The Upper West Side, Spanish Harlem, and Stuyvesant Town. The background of each of these students is very different, yet throughout the show, we see how their problems begin to overlap.
Grand Army does not shy away from getting deep into many issues. There are multiple scenes throughout the episodes showing how one’s race impacts how they are treated. Between being scared to be labeled a terrorist, unfair punishment because of race, and even comparing how a white student was arrested to the arrest of a student of color, the show calls attention to how many are very privileged and take it for granted. Another prevalent issue seen throughout the show is poverty. There are multiple students in Grand Army that have families that struggle with money. The show highlights that when in a situation of need, people will do things they don’t necessarily want to do for money. Grand Army also addresses the fight for justice that many continue to argue for. Whether it be the sit-in led by the students of color to show all the aggressions they face at Grand Army High, or the struggle to get legal justice for those who’ve been sexually assaulted, the show highlights how people will not stop fighting until change is seen. Students throughout the show also deal with their sexuality, the impact of being outed when they aren’t ready, and the hopes for parents’ approval. We also see how the double standard affects people’s opinions. Throughout the show, men were praised, but women were degraded, for the same acts. Many were very quick to think poorly of the female, without considering what may have actually happened. Grand Army also goes deep into the impact rape can have on one, causing things like depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. While this may seem like a lot, this is only a fraction of what occurs throughout the season.
In the past, Netflix has released original shows that have created controversy. When creating a show surrounding very prominent and real issues, it’s easy for the problems to be glorified. Many shows tend to downplay the intensity of how real these issues are and how they actually affect someone. When Netflix released its original show, 13 Reasons Why, many were very disappointed with how the suicide of character, Hannah Baker, was handled. Initially, the graphic scene where Baker takes her life was in the show. As one could imagine, this sparked controversy after many criticized Netflix for unsafely portraying suicide. Medical professionals also advised removing the scene, and the scene was later cut from the show. While there was some sort of a positive impact from the show, and many felt that they could reach out for help after watching, a large majority of people felt that the show didn’t deal with these issues honestly. In my opinion, even though the intention of the show was to bring awareness to suicide, the poor presentment of these issues creates a false consensus around the sincerity of suicide. While many will argue if a show deals with serious issues accurately, inevitably everyone is entitled to their own opinion.
****SPOILERS FOR GRAND ARMY AHEAD****
In my opinion, Grand Army is a show that does truthfully depict serious issues and does not over glorify the reality of them, but of course, there is a limit of how deep into these issues a show can go. Grand Army displays what is physically visible to others, but does not include every detail. When creating a show surrounding such serious issues, expectedly there will be people who think they were handled completely wrong. It’s important to understand that everyone deals with their internal issues differently, as well as considering that these issues look different to everyone. Let’s take a deeper look into how Grand Army presented these controversial problems. After Joey Del Marco was raped by her friends in the cab, she began to spiral. Joey began taking drugs during school to try and minimize the pain she was facing while masking her true emotions. She began to lose her hair and sleep, all while intense flashbacks from the incident were constantly flooding her mind. Later on in the show, after trying to receive justice for the horrible things that were done to her, Joey was unable to get any legal justice against the boys because the DA said there wasn’t enough evidence to build a case. The impact sexual assault can have on one’s life, as well as the fight for legal justice in sexual assault cases, is an issue that is very prominent in today’s society. Many are fighting internally and don’t know who to reach out to for support. Grand Army also shows how speaking up can help others, after one of Joey’s fellow classmates felt that she could open up to her about her assault. Grand Army shows the real intensity of sexual assault barely blurring any detail.
Another serious issue Grand Army highlighted was how race and religion impacted how one was treated. After the terrorist attack in the first episode, Siddartha “Sid” Pakam was scared to be profiled as a threat because he is Indian. When walking past K9 dogs in the subway, Sid became on edge and tense. While already traumatized from the original attack, Sid was additionally worried about being framed as a potential threat, simply because of his ethnicity. Many tend to look past how serious racial profiling can be, but Grand Army brought attention to how often it occurs. Grand Army also showed the brutality that people of color face compared to those who are white. In one scene, white students were arrested in a civil manner, and in a later scene, black students were arrested in the complete opposite way. The white students were removed from class and calmly arrested, but the black students were slammed to the ground without given a chance to speak or even be informed on what was happening. Grand Army accurately displayed the brutality people of color face and the unfortunate yet disturbing reality of it.
Many characters throughout the show struggled with finding themselves and expressing their true feelings, due to their parents’ standards. Chinese American, Leila Kwan Zimmer, was criticized throughout the show for not being “Chinese enough.” Because Leila was adopted by a white Jewish couple, she was not very in touch with the Chinese religion and was raised mostly Jewish. This led to other Chinese students at Grand Army High to bash Leila, but in Chinese, so she wouldn’t be able to understand what they were saying. Leila began going through an identity crisis wondering who she really is, and her situation exemplifies how parents can impact a child’s journey to explore who they are as a person.
Sid Pakam’s struggle of expressing his sexuality also is an example of this. In an attempt to get accepted into the prestigious ivy league school, Harvard, Sid wrote his admission essay about his sexual orientation. Everyone around Sid assumed he was straight, mainly because he was dating a girl, but he internally knew otherwise. After finishing and submitting his essay, it was leaked to the school, outing Sid without his knowledge or consent. While he was worried about what the other students at Grand Army High would think of him, he was also terrified of his religious father finding out; or even reading the essay. For all of Sid’s life, he hadn’t been able to express himself how he wanted to because of his father’s strict views, and many people in today’s world are going through a similar struggle. The LGBTQ+ community is extremely powerful and uplifting and is a safe space for people to come out, but not everyone gets the chance to do so. The unfortunate reality of society is that not everyone is accepting of others. The struggle of one and their sexuality can be extremely difficult, and many are scared to truly express themselves in worries of what criticism they will receive from others.
Grand Army also shows the depths one will go to in order to support their family. Dominique “Dom” Pierre and her family were struggling with money. Between all of her siblings, her family, and future college costs, Dom’s family was in a place of need. Dom’s mother proposed that she married a man who wanted a green card, in exchange for ten thousand dollars. Dom was considering marrying the man, even though she genuinely didn’t want to and had feelings for another boy, just to keep her family afloat. In the end, Dom’s mother realized that though the money would significantly help, Dom’s happiness was more important. The last few minutes of the last episode were also very significant, leaving a strong message with the viewers. As the audience prepared to hear him play in the All-State performance, African American, Jayson Jackson, made a powerful move instead. He stood in silence with black tape over his mouth and his fist in the air, to show that the fight for equality will never be silenced. Jayson’s bravery left the audience speechless, as well as myself when I finished the show.
After taking a deeper look into how Netflix chose to portray a portion of the tough issues, I believe these events have been accurately depicted and were presented appropriately, based on their characters and the situations they were in. While it is not my place to speak on how certain topics were approached, and if those were done so correctly, Grand Army made me further realize my privilege, as well as learn additional things I can be doing as an ally to be more supportive. With that being said, I would argue that Netflix did a good job to display topics that can be considered controversial, because of how critical the TV industry is today. Grand Army breaks down large issues and shows the brutal reality of them without creating the idea that these problems should be glorified or normalized.
Sometimes, TV shows surrounding kids in high school can be cheesy, but Grand Army is the complete opposite. Watching other students my age go through issues, made me think about how many are alone in their own struggles. Overall, Grand Army is an eye-opening show that speaks volumes about the significant problems in today’s world. Although the events were made up and the show is completely scripted, there is a deeper meaning behind each episode. The issues presented are things that the people surrounding us go through in their day-to-day lives. The prevalence of all the issues throughout the show makes the viewer feel as if it was filmed just last week. Grand Army brings attention to serious problems to show that you are not alone in your struggles, and I feel as if more shows similar to this should be created.
With the massive amount of negativity widespread all over the internet, at times it can be difficult to bring attention to the serious issues in the world, instead of the superficial ones. If you choose to watch Grand Army, it’s important to keep in mind that just because your problems may not be as intense as those in the show, they are still valid. The show is intended to bring awareness to the sincerity of mental health and social problems, and to prove there’s always light at the end of each tunnel. Grand Army encourages others to speak out about things they are passionate about. This show may be triggering for some to watch and is quite raw and intense at times, but is most definitely a show I would recommend to others. While Netflix originals can be argued to be a hit or miss, this was definitely a hit.
If you or anyone you know is struggling, do not be afraid to speak up. Please visit wannatalkaboutit.com or call one of the hotlines listed below. You are not alone.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673
TrevorLifeline (support for LGBTQ+ youth): 1-866-488-7386
Or text HOME to 741741 if in need of a crisis counselor.