Grand Army is grounded in real modern-day issues, such as sexual assault, queer identity, racial inequality, poverty and more, while still managing to remain sincere.
The Gen Z drama premiered on Friday 16 October 2020 on Netflix and has since resonated and gained the attention of South Africa’s youth.
“My attention was glued to the series because of how well the script and the characters were written,” said Eden-Joy Tities (20).
From student opinions to behind-the-scenes racism allegations, here is everything you need to know.
‘Together we rise. Together we rage’
Loosely based on her 2013 Slut: The Play, Grand Army, creator Katie Cappiello provides us with an authentic view of the emotional teenage high school reality without hiding behind Hollywood tropes.
For Zinzi Carolissen (23) the lack of sugar-coated life experiences was what drew her to the show.
“The show is a realistic reflection of living in this world as youth right now. It is a reminder for young people that you are not alone in your struggles.”
In nine episodes, the show follows the lives of five students facing different trials and tribulations after collectively experiencing a suicide bombing close to the fictional Brooklyn high school Grand Army.
For Cleo Carelse (24) the show gave off “major 13 Reasons Why vibes”, while Ilhaam Trueboy (20) argues that it is “similar to Euphoria“.
But where Euphoria takes big swings with its surreal glittery and glossy imagery, Grand Army sticks to and strips down reality in every scene setting.
“When I look at the toxic masculinity that’s portrayed in the show, it’s hectic because one specific scene that drives the entire show has to do with rape and how being feminine is considered a weakness in society,” said Micaleb Lawrence (20).
Authentic representation matters
“Visual representation and inclusion are important because it’s about perspectives, challenging norms, and pushing boundaries,” said Maliq Johnson in an interview with Teen Vogue.
Adding to the show’s authenticity is a cast full of fresh faces.
The main characters are Joey Del Marco (Odessa A’zion), Dominique “Dom” Pierre (Odley Jean), Leila Kwan Zimmer (Amalia Yoo), Jayson Jackson (Maliq Johnson) and Siddhartha “Sid” Pakam (Amir Bageria).
When it comes to real issues being embodied by an authentically diverse range of characters, Trueboy comments:
“They go into detail of how black students have to work thrice as hard as their white counterparts to achieve their goals.
“My favourite quote is from Dom who says ‘My anger doesn’t count’ – explaining that in society for people of colour, anger is considered a privilege which is not provided.”
Queer inclusion in Grand Army
Aside from drawing attention to the #BLM and #MeToo movements, the show talks about queer inclusion – an often-ignored topic to mainstream television.
At Grand Army, enforcing gender norms is not only carried out by administrators and educators, but by other students too. No one knows this better than “Sid”.
“I feel like the writing brings a lot, especially with that queer aspect,” said Bageria in an interview with PRIDE.
After watching Sid’s character journey, Erin Sherry (20) commented:
“I did like the fact that the show had some Queer POC representation which is so rare to see, but I feel like its about time and we need more of it on TV.”
Songs of teen spirit
With the dramatic storyline comes a powerful soundtrack and Grand Army does not disappoint sonically.
Expect to experience everything from underground rap and sad anthems to old-school classics.
The music choices for this highly-strung drama flawlessly contain the youthful chaos from beginning to end. Get ready to dance, cry and experience sound like a “typical teenager”.
Showrunner racism allegations
If you are wondering why the show has not appeared on Netflix’s Top 10, the factor working against Grand Army is its controversy.
Before it aired, screenwriter Ming Peiffer and two other writers of colour quit and alleged that showrunner Katie Cappiello created a racist and toxic environment on set.
Peiffer’s Twitter thread made its rounds and numerous news outlets leaped at the chance to interview her. However, since the premiere of Grand Army no such interview has been publicly released.
Grand Army season 2
The show left several characters in quite the predicament at the end of the first season, which left fans with multiple questions.
While it has only been a few days since the release, it may be too soon to tell whether the show will be renewed for a second season.