Mon. Jul 6th, 2020

Emmys: ‘Unbelievable’ and its importance in the Emmy race

The year 2020 is an unusual one. We were faced with changes that nobody expected. Suddenly, television shows are thriving more than ever, which has already impacted this year’s Emmy race. The Primetime Emmy Awards are still scheduled for September 2020, while others, like the Academy Awards, were moved further into 2021. But what makes a series “nominate-able”? What are the factors? Is it the cast, or maybe the story that has a chance to influence society we live in.

What possesses both of those factors is Unbelievable. The Netflix limited series is on AwardsWatch’s Emmy Predictions in the Limited Series categories and although Mrs. America has a grand chance to reap this year’s harvest of awards, I still think it’s significant that Unbelievable is amongst the possibilities in the Outstanding Limited Series category as well as acting nominations for its high caliber cast including Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie (Kaitlyn Dever and Emmy winner Merritt Wever and Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie (Academy Award nominee Toni Collette and Danielle Macdonald). 

Unbelievable premiered in September 2019 and was created by Susannah Grant, Michael Chabon, and Ayelet Waldman. This tragic drama tells the true story of a young woman, Marie (Dever), who was betrayed by the system and charged with lying about being raped. It’s based on a tragic true story that resulted in the 2015 article by T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong. This extensive report detailed the brutal rape of Marie step by step with dates and places. While Dever’s character struggles with the aftermath of the attack and the atrocity of her peers, there is another timeline. Two female detectives, Detective Grace Rasmussen (Collette) and Karen Duvall (Wever) work on a case of a serial rapist. Unbelievable showcases a chain of events happening from the day of rape and explicates severe issues in the police as well as the foster system.

The outstanding casting of the series makes the story even more emotional and heartbreaking. Colette and Wever are two female detectives who are paired together in a serial rapist case. Both characters are complete opposites. Rasmussen is a loner, a true fearless anti-heroine. She curses a lot, she’s short with people and never beats around the bush, yet she’s the legend amongst her collegues. Duvall, on the other hand, is a considerate woman who becomes very invested in the case. She’s the one out of two who talks to the victims. What comes to the foreground in those scenes is her gentle, very warm tone, full of compassion. The characters break the stereotype of “lonely, strong woman” – more so Grace than Karen. Colette’s role is a fierce female who doesn’t like to play by the rules. She’s often grouchy and closed off – even from Karen. Previously, many female characters in a similar position were always between two choices – you’re either a “mean bitch” without any life beyond work or a housewife. Colette breaks this stereotype with Grace’s character, and both her and Karen are incredible, smart detectives with loving partners. They are very multidimensional, full-fledged, and complex. That’s why they deserve to be nominated in this year’s Emmy race. 

Interview: Kaitlyn Dever on ‘Unbelievable,’ being Toni Collette-adjacent and Beulahbelle

When it comes to Dever, the actress goes above and beyond in Marie Adler’s role. We could see her comedic side in highly acclaimed Booksmart by Olivia Wilde. As Marie, Kaitlyn Dever is poignant, emotional, and heart-gripping. The actress studied the case and the real person that the character is based on. After Unbelievable premiered, the real Marie even contacted Ken Armstrong and called the show “excellent.” The praise of real Marie is definite proof of Dever’s outstanding talent.

Of course, the story is not whole without other components. Cinematography by Xavier Grobet, Quyen Tran, and John Lindley with the film editing by Jeffrey M. Werner and Keith Henderson form a whole picture that showcases the audience a narrative that’s emotional and heartbreaking.

Unbelievable plays around one very inconsiderate, ignorant question that we often hear in the society: “Why didn’t she go to the police?” The creators take the question and systematically demolish it, highlighting all the reasons for which the victims decide not to report rape. Although each person holds different struggles and impulses unknown to us, especially after the tragedy as such, the series showcases one of the scenarios with possible outcomes – from the systematic bureaucracy of the police to ignorant people in power that can destroy someone’s life. And that’s what happens to Marie. She repeats what happens to her step by step: the perpetrator broke in, gagged and bound her, then brutally rape her. Dever’s character has to repeat it over and over. Lisa Cholodenko’s direction of the first episode and specifically the scene where Marie reconstructs events over and again correctly and relentlessly displays the hell of rape victims. The male detectives then deliberately confuse her and coerce her to make false testimonies. Next, in turn, they charge her with lying. She not only struggles with the brutal attack but, on top of it all, the atrocity from her friends and foster parents. That one scene should single-handedly give Dever a nomination and possible win. 

We have two timelines in Unbelievable: One is Marie’s from 2009, full of obscurity and ignorance. The other one is of Karen and Grace from 2011 – but the latter possess compassion, skills, and, most importantly, understanding towards the victims they work with. Amongst the women they talk to are Amber Stevenson (Danielle Macdonald), Lilly Darrow (Annaleigh Ashford), and others. All of them receive diverse experiences when reporting crime. The fact that both situations differ so much from one another says a lot about the system and people working in it. In the end, thankfully, Marie receives a long-deserved justice – however, for what cost?

Television shows as such with a well-crafted, emotional story and skilled cast hold power to influence the society and make a change. Unbelievable is frustrating to watch, especially if you’re a female part of the audience. It’s uncomfortable, tragic yet so needed in our discourse – this particular series informs and tells the story that makes us aware of our words and actions. That is why I genuinely believe in the great power of this series and its elevated importance in the Emmy race.

Unbelievable is submitted and eligible for:

  • Outstanding Limited Series
  • Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie (Kaitlyn Dever, Merritt Wever)
  • Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie (Toni Collette, Danielle Macdonald)
  • Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie (Eric Lange)
  • Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series, Movie or Dramatic Special (Lisa Cholodenko, “Episode 1;” Michael Dinner, “Episode 6;” Susannah Grant, “Episode 7”)
  • Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series, Movie or Dramatic Special (Lisa Cholodenko, Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman – “Episode 1”)
  • Outstanding Casting for a Limited Series, Movie or Special
  • And many more
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