‘Black Mirror’ Leads by Example with its New Season of Female Protagonists

Charlie Brooker continues to think outside the box.
Black Mirror Season
By  · Published on December 29th, 2017

Charlie Brooker continues to think outside the box.

Black Mirror’s propensity to predict the future has been documented before for more comical purposes (remember Piggate?). But the show’s ability to create alternate realities so eerily similar to real life is genuinely part of what makes the experience of watching it so thrilling. Black Mirror has long been socially conscious, and continues to push the envelope in that regard, according to a new interview from The Hollywood Reporter.

Initially mostly known to be a manifestation of our most nihilistic technological nightmares, Black Mirror’s first two seasons were steeped in shock factor. There was a ludicrous element to the show that seemed too wild; the ultimate, terrifying what-if scenario that results in all of us losing our identities to our smartphones and computers.

However, that all changed in Black Mirror‘s third season. “We wanted slightly more variety of tone across [Season 3],” series creator Charlie Brooker had then said during the show’s promotional campaign last year. That commitment to experimentation led Black Mirror to some of Brooker’s most ambitious storytelling, including a more high-concept, but overall happily resolved episode, “San Junipero.” Even if Brooker conceded that the “shards of light” in “San Junipero” led to him writing the show’s typical “grungy horrible stuff,” that was simply the tip of the iceberg.

Black Mirror prepares to evolve yet again in the wake of its fourth season, this time with six brand new episodes entirely led by women. THR breaks down this seemingly unconscious choice with Black Mirror executive producer Annabel Jones.

“Charlie and I don’t tend to think about the stories that way. Sometimes, it just comes out,” Jones tells THR. “But it’s great — great! — that they’re all strong female protagonists. I think what’s lovely about the show is that it’s not a strident statement. It’s more: Why not? We don’t even think about it from a gender perspective and I hope that’s progress. It’s more that we explore the best story and the best way to tell it.”

Brooker and Jones evidently just thought of each episode in terms of what made sense to their individual overarching narratives. Most of them were written with women in mind due to wild intuition, according to Jones. When speaking of “Arkangel,” the Brooker-touted mini-indie movie directed by Jodie Foster, Jones said, “‘Arkangel’ just felt right that it was a single mother with a daughter. It could have been a single father, but because of the way the plot turned out, we felt stronger that it should be a female parent.”

Meanwhile, “Metalhead” features a specific bond with a woman’s nephew and sister. Without so much rhyme or reason behind these narrative choices, less conventional shows could be accused of pushing women into gendered roles. If only Black Mirror could even be that simple. Each female protagonist is the true focus of her own story, and whether there’s triumph or turmoil at the end of the tunnel doesn’t really matter. Black Mirror has always allowed characters the room to become real and relatable due to episode length and the contained nature of the anthology format. That being said, Season 4 reportedly also features the shortest episode in the show’s history; “Metalhead” clocks in at just 38 minutes.

Brooker also rewrote the protagonist role in one of the episodes to accommodate Andrea Riseborough‘s involvement. “Andrea read for one of the other parts and she really liked the journey of the protagonist and she challenged us and said, ‘Do you think it could be a woman?'” said Jones.

“We hadn’t quite thought about that. We questioned it and worked it. Apart from the physicality element of it — a requirement that plays out in the episode’s first few minutes — we thought, ‘How often do you see a mother reduced to this level of desperation?’ Then we thought that was actually quite interesting, and that’s the result of Andrea’s role.”

It’s easy enough to think that people know by now that the idea of a “strong woman” doesn’t automatically equate to something two-dimensional; a direct embodiment of masculine traits. But shows like Black Mirror puts the concept into practice, and actually incorporate those complicated characterizations into relevant, impactful stories, and apparently without giving it too much of a second thought. Past seasons of Black Mirror showcased a stance that champions the validity of human consciousness, prioritizing it over technological savvy or even finding a discomfiting balance between the two in some cases. Starring the likes of Rosemarie DeWitt (La La Land), Letitia Wright (Black Panther) and Georgina Campbell (Broadchurch) among others, Black Mirror‘s fourth season is immediately made more powerful in its multitude of new perspectives.

Black Mirror Season 4 is now available for streaming on Netflix.

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Sheryl Oh often finds herself fascinated (and let's be real, a little obsessed) with actors and their onscreen accomplishments, developing Film School Rejects' Filmographies column as a passion project. She's not very good at Twitter but find her at @sherhorowitz anyway. (She/Her)