The True Heroes of Elite
Elite Review 1 – Sabera Ahsan: Writer, Children’s author
Elite – the Spanish teen drama, like La Casa de Papel, is one of the most-watched non-English language streamed Netflix series.
That is the magic and the wonderful phenomenon of Netflix; It has brought the world and its diversity into our living rooms. The online streaming platform has bred a generation of new writers. It brings stories, characters and their struggles to our screen. These are stories that typically would never have entered our lives across the ocean and particularly to the English-speaking world. Spain is a fascinating country who has suddenly found this incredibly rich international voice. Pedro Alonso AKA Berlin from La Casa de Papel received the best actor award in Turkey. He thanked the audience in Arabic and Turkish, acknowledging how much the series and its universal messages have united audiences from across the globe. It’s even influenced young people in Turkey to learn Spanish.
There is a divided view on how the writers portrayed Nadia, the Palestinian student who wins a scholarship study at the posh school Las Encinas. I see young people from across the globe, celebrating and rooting for her and the troubled rich bad boy Guzman like a modern-day Romeo and Juliet. Nadia’s critics focus too much on her representation of a Muslim rather than the vital function her character plays, the understated, heroine of the series.
Mina El Hammani is of Moroccan heritage born in Madrid. In an interview with YouTube influencer Saufeeya Bint Goodson, Mina explains that she didn’t have role models on Spanish TV to aspire to while growing up. The first time she saw a Muslim female character she could identify with, was on the Spanish TV series El Príncipe. She was inspired by Spanish actress Hiba Abouk (of Libyan and Tunisian heritage) who played the main female lead in the series and went on to play Nur in 15 episodes of season two. Nevertheless, Mina describes her experience as a third culture child as amazing and counts herself as blessed to be able to fuse the best from both her Spanish and Moroccan culture.
Élite is about teenagers and their inner demons and struggles, whether they are rich and privileged or poor and working class. Like its equally successful counterpart, La Casa de Papel, Elite makes a strong statement about Spain and its current calamitous socio-economic impact on society, especially young people. The class differences between the decadent, rich kids and the underprivileged local kids drive much of the narrative in Elite.
The series heroes consist of Nadia, focused and academic, with traditional, conservative parents and Samuel a sensitive poor boy who’s yet to experience true love and waits tables in a local restaurant.
Considering the love-hate relationship Spain has had with 700 years of Iberian Islamic history, the portrayal of a Muslim girl – the character we are all rooting for, is revolutionary.
Nadia follows a focused path in the safe but traditional culture of her parents. She believes it’s the cocoon of her family unit, traditions and faith that enables her to excel as one of the most promising students at the school and to one day become a UN diplomat. Nadia values her family unit and her love for her parents. Throw into the mix Nadia’s ever-growing first-time love for Guzman, and there you have her dilemma. Because without conflict, there is no drama.
Until Nadia joins the affluent, privileged students in Las Encinas, education and conformity is the tried and tested; route Nadia chooses to take. Criticism and comments about Nadia taking her headscarf off to experiment with “western” life are way too simplistic and mean that you don’t get this drama. If anything, whether Nadia is wearing hijab or not, she is consistently focused, moral and a persuasive muse and saviour to Guzman. I refuse to believe this storyline is about a rich white Christian boy rescues Muslim damsel in distress from her evil strict, unreasonable stuck in the 15th Century parents. Nadia without Guzman is still going places no matter what choices she makes in life.
But like many teenagers who come from traditional, conservative families where social codes and etiquette impact on life decisions, Nadia takes the opportunity to deviate from following her tried and tested rule book by allowing herself to fall in love without restriction. Nadia’s journey from virtuous, academic, occasionally judgy, ice queen; to experimenting with, love, sex and alcohol is just one of many teen stories in this incredibly binge-worthy drama relating to teen angst.
Critics have asked why there were no Muslim women writers on this series. Diversity, in dramas written by diverse storytellers, would be a dream come true. To accuse the series of not having any Muslim women writers is somewhat naive and shows the lack of knowledge about where Spain is in its diversity journey. Spain is a nation that has changed considerably over the last 20 years because of immigration and economic crisis. Nadia is a second-generation Muslim daughter of an immigrant. She’s living the culture clashes many of us in the UK faced in the 70s, 80s and 90s.
Expecting Spain to be in a place, where the UK should be, but where the UK shamefully still isn’t, is equivalent to placing British Asian second-generation values and beliefs on a different country and culture. If we address the diversity in Spain, then why not demand Latina women writers too. Mexican mean girl Lucrecia might also be viewed as a Latina cliché as she plays a ” mala de la telenovela” or the evil femme fatale. Diversity in Élite is not about Muslims; it’s about all diversity.
The magic of this Netflix drama is that it brings a fresh new voice from an underestimated, under-explored Spanish culture and society, and it’s a message that speaks to audiences across the world.
There have been comparisons of the quality and characterising of Muslim women like Nadiya in Elite to the Nadia in the Bodyguard. The character of Nadiya in the Bodyguard was shamefully the lowest British TV commissioners could ever fall in terms of portraying Muslim Asian BAME woman on British TV. Anjli Mohindra who played Nadiya, on the Bodyguard called the character empowering, most Muslim women who watched her character unfold on the TV were just frankly disheartened and disgusted. The BBC addresses the issue by commissioning more female writers, not because they want more diverse stories and dramas to reflect our lives and stories, but so that they can rival Netflix. The BBC has had three generations and fifty plus years to get its diversity right. There are still no notable BAME or Muslim female writers, and despite Riz Ahmed’s warning that others fill in the narrative for us, BBC and other story commissioners still refuse to address this.
Other comments include why does Nadia have to suffer the typical strict parental storyline why not show Nadia leading a happy life with liberal parents. Would we be rooting so passionately for her relationship with Guzman to succeed against the odds if there were no barriers in her way? Furthermore, Elite is about a diverse mix of conflicted teens, the social class divide, the impact of Spain’s economic crisis on the young and what happens when the greedy adult world fails them.
Nadia’s storyline in Elite unlike Nadiya in the Bodyguard is not a few lines caricature of the victim come, evil heartless terror commander, it’s a warm well-executed story about teen conflict. Nadia’s storyline happens to be about her struggle between her traditional family values and love for Guzman. That’s storyline is no cliché and it’s no secret that many second and third-generation British young people have had to fight their parents for their right to date, fall in love and choose their partners. At no point is Nadia conflicted about her faith, nor does she stop believing, she merely decides to follow her heart and experiment with being a teen.
Maybe Spanish TV should be in a better place when it comes to their diversity but what excuse do our UK TV channels have. No matter how much you challenge the BBC they do not get the case for diversity. They follow a business model that speaks to an ageing population and not the young. Worst of all our licence fee pays for that lack of representation. So, for me give me Nadia from Elite anytime, she’s my superhero. She’s the one who saves the falling, troubled, hero Guzman – not Lucrecia the glamourous mean girl. How the writers of presented Nadia and kept her integrity and her sexual emotional journey both compelling and passionate should be applauded not chastised. We’re talking about a country that’s only had one generation of experience in terms of immigration, different religions and cultures. What’s our excuse here in the UK?
My final testament to Nadia is that her character continues to be steadfast and influential even when she’s experimenting in the troubled world around her. Nadia connects with her polar opposite Valerio, the fictitious embodiment of immorality in Elite whose behaviour at the end of the day is driven by a profound sense of pain and abandonment.
The portrayal of Nadia’s parents has also been criticised, I agree the mother could do with a few more lines, nevertheless, I see so much of my own Muslim Asian heritage parents mirrored in these two characters. My own parents could be anything from traditional, controlling to liberal, wise and prophetic. As the actress Mina El Hammani explains, the mother and father in the series do not reflect all Muslim families but just one particular family. When Nadia must deal with the fall out of the online video, her father doesn’t disown her, he doesn’t beat her or lock her up, nor is there any honour-based violence committed here (popular topics for the BBC). Nadia’s father and mother catch her when she falls and enables her to come back to the haven of her home her values and her beliefs. Despite all this, I’m still rooting for Nadia and Guzman to find their happy ending. And by the way, I think this drama completely passes the Riz Ahmed test.
The Main Reasons Why You Should Be Watching This Netflix’s TV Show
Elite Review 2 – Anna Parcerisas: Writer, director, producer
I read an article a while back saying that the main reason why we choose to unwind from the hustle and bustle of everyday life by watching TV drama is because of the way TV programmes challenge us and expose us to new ideas by putting ourselves into somebody else’s shoes for at least an hour. Right away, you find yourself asking questions such as, “what would I do in this situation?” or “How would I react?”. You might also identify with characters you never even knew existed. This is because the scriptwriting process entails developing a large number of episodes with strong, significant, and thought-provoking characters. The hope is the audience will eventually love to see them grow, as well as be influenced by them as they go about their day.
However, not all TV shows evoke that soul-stirring feeling as if travelling to an unknown country or to a mysterious place. There are those TV shows that even make us want to return and also stay on that roller-coaster ride forever. That’s one of the main reasons why I was hooked on Elite.
From the first episode of the first season, the series Elite invited me into a world where I wanted to spend more time. It brought me a mystery I wanted to solve and introduced me to a cast I wanted to get to know. From the first episode on, I felt immersed in the world of Elite in a way I hadn’t experienced for a very long time in a series.
Moreover, when I checked the feedback and reviews from viewers, a staggering 20 million household accounts were reported watching it worldwide within the first two months of release.
The thing that struck a chord with me about Elite was the innovative way the writers tackled controversial topics such as classism, homophobia, women empowerment, cultural conflict, and love.
On the one hand, Season 1 starts off with a “Who killed Marina?” murder-mystery. The close-up of a tense and shocked Samuel, one of the lead characters, followed by another close-up of the leading female inspector played by Ainhoa Santamaria from the hit TV historial drama Isabel. This tells us that something serious has happened before the encounter between Samuel and the inspector. We know the answer to the mystery resides in Samuel, and that’s what will be eventually unveiled in this first season. Before long, the three main characters of this season 1 are shown on screen for the first time on their first day of high school at Las Encinas: the primary location of the whole series. This is how three working-class students – Samuel, Nadia, and Christian’s become entwined with the wealthy and privileged kids of las Encinas after they win a scholarship to the exclusive bilingual high school.
Elite features a charismatic and a massively impressive cast and has something for everyone’s taste and interest: Gossip Girl’s expose of wealth, 13 Reasons Why and Big Little Lies’ style investigation flash-forwards, Skins’ inspired parties, and Skam’s coming-of-age drama. The main power of the series resides in the poignant storylines with a wide range of characters. For instance, Nadia’s character takes the role of the heroine. She deals with her own struggles as the only Palestinian Muslim student at Las Encinas. Her brother Omar, however, is left behind, selling drugs and battles with coming out when he starts having feelings for one of the white, wealthy students named Ander.
Nadia is seen as the perfect daughter through the eyes of her parents: her school grades are superb, she helps her father in the family grocery after school. She’s an intelligent character that starts a journey of self-discovery and growth from the beginning to the end of the series.
Marina is a rich girl with her own secrets, including suffering from HIV. She is determined to show her family and the world around her that she doesn’t take anything for granted. She is in search of another kind of happiness that the money and the materialism of her wealthy parents won’t ever give her. By contrast, her brother Guzman plays the role of the rich, bad boy, brooding sociopath in Las Encinas.
Season 2 tracks the dispute that takes place right after Marina’s murder. It’s a new school year, and all the characters have been affected in one way or the other by Marina’s death. A now isolated Samuel entirely recovers from the loss of Marina, whom he was dating. At the same time, he is trying to find money bail for his brother Nano, who has been wrongly involved in the murder. Marina’s brother sociopath Guzmán turns to drugs and alcohol and his girlfriend, rich mean Mexican girl Lu. She tries in vain to cope with Guzman’s anger and depression over his sister’s death. Nadia is still drawn to Guzmán despite her strict Muslim Palestinian parents. Meanwhile, Carla and Christian continue to cover up the true murder’s identity. Unlike Season 1, this season offers three new, complex, multifaceted characters to the cast. This includes an affair between half-siblings, drug trafficking mothers, fake online glamorous personas and much more.
Overall, the second season of Élite is mind-blowing and fascinating. The tone of the show becomes increasingly haunting, sexy and mysterious in the second season. The cinematography escalates to another level compared to season one in which it explores more angles while telling stories through the colours and lighting of the scenes. For instance, the unlikely romance between Samuel and Carla emerges as a cat-and-mouse game, providing us with endless butterflies in the stomach.
Still, in my opinion, without a doubt, the three new characters are the best thing about the show. Their presence at Las Encinas comes as a well-needed breath of fresh air when season 1 came to an end and the sadness and suffering from Marina’s death.
The new character of Rebeka feels like she left the set of Narcos to step in as Samuel’s and Nadia’s partner in crime. One of this season’s funniest moments is in fact, when Lu refers to her as “Narco Barbie.”
Overall, Rebeka doesn’t fit into the circles of the privileged at Las Encinas. Her mother’s empire from trading drugs depends on exploiting the vulnerable. And as Rebeka puts it to her mother, “The queen never pays the price. It’s always the pawn.”
Another of the show’s new characters is Cayetana, my favourite of Season 2 together with Lu’s brother, Valerio. Throughout the first season, I was hoping that at least one character in the show would possess the complex character traits of Cayetana and Valerio.
In the beginning, we see Cayetana as the archetype of a self-centred vain narcissist. Her Instagram is teeming with pictures of her luxury homes or which Louis Vuitton dress she will be wearing at a party. Surprisingly, deep down inside, she hides a very different reality from her online social media facade.
All things considered; this show has everything. The tenderness and companionship that this series conjures up are far from the accomplishments of wealth and superficiality presented at first.
Anna Parcerisas is an award-winning filmmaker born and bred in Barcelona, Spain. She grew up between the imaginary worlds of David Lynch and the marginal places and realities of Jim Jarmusch. Anna’s latest work as a director, NATIA, has garnered international recognition, winning awards globally, including Best Under 25 at the BAFTA recognised Underwire Film Festival and Best Short Fiction Film at the Kinofilm Manchester International Short Film Festival. Up-to-date NATIA has also screened at worldwide festivals such as FEST in Portugal. As a producer, she has wrapped on a short western called “Downward Motion”, which is currently at the post-production stage. She is also working on two music videos for independent artists and on the production of the audiovisual content of an app. Anna has also started the co-writing process of what it will be her first feature film.
Sabera Ahsan is of Bangladeshi heritage and was born in the Midlands in the late 1960s and grew up in Manchester in the 1970s. She studied a BA Hons in Spanish and Politics and a Masters in screenwriting. Sabera trained as a primary school teacher and left teaching in 2002 after spending five years in Spain as a primary English specialist for the Spanish Ministry of Education and the British Council. Sabera is a fluent Spanish speaker. After many years as an equality, crime, policy officer and advisor, Sabera dedicates her time to writing, blogging, campaigning and running online magazines for women. She has written a debut novel and childrens stories about diversity and belonging.
Link to Netflix’s TV Show Elite: