If you haven’t heard of Sense8, one of the most recent Netflix-funded TV shows (available only through Netflix or a streaming site), then clearly you have been living under a rock.
While there are various reasons to catch this – The Wachowskis (responsible for The Matrix) wrote and directed, the cast includes British actors Freema Agyeman (amongst others, Martha Jones, Doctor Who) and Naveen Andrews (who made his name in the adaptation of Buddha of Suburbia and hasn’t stopped since, including films like Planet Terror and TV show Lost) as well as huge names like Daryl Hannah (amongst others, Elle Driver, Kill Bill), while taking place around the world (locations are: Chicago, San Francisco, London, Berlin, Seoul, Reykjavík, Mexico City, Nairobi, and, Mumbai) – there is one huge one that should not be overlooked.
Every section of society has issues to overcome, and your awareness of them increases with your proximity to that particular group. Unless you are a middle-class, Caucasian, cis-gender, heterosexual male, born in the West, who only interacts with people who fit into that category, you will be at least partially aware of some of the issues that are being discussed – and even if you are that person, there is a character who represents your lack of knowledge about these areas.
Plot sidebar: A Sense8 is one of a cluster of eight people born on the same day around the world who are linked telepathically to the point where they can use one another’s abilities and inhabit each other’s bodies where needed. The basic premise of the show is that a Sense8 who has been turned and who is trying to locate and kill others tracks down one who commits suicide, activating a new cluster. The first season of Sense8 focuses on a cluster as they learn to use their abilities. Of course it is more complicated than that, but that should be enough to keep you going.
Apart from the fact that Sense8 is moving, funny, emotionally powerful, breathtakingly gorgeous, and inspires awe in totality at the human spirit, there is a deeper power here. Each of the Sense8s in the show are almost totally representative of arguably one of the biggest issues in their geographical area.
In San Francisco, Nomi highlights the legal issues surrounding trans people, whilst highlighting transphobia in the LGB community; in Chicago, Will tries to tackle institutional racism at the heart of the Police; in Nairobi, Capheus desperately tries to help his mother who is dying of HIV/AIDS and uncovers the truth about the problem with medication in Africa; Kala in Mumbai is caught in the battle between atheism and religion as one attempts to supersede the other; Sun is battered by the patriarchal society and misogyny that is still rampant in South Korea; Riley gets swept up in drug-related violence as a DJ based in London; the homophobia of both the acting and Latino communities forced Lito into the closet in Mexico; and Wolfgang shows the impact paternal issues can have on someone being brought up in post-1989 Berlin, forcing him into a life of crime as a safe-cracker.
I dare anyone reading this to tell me that none of those impact them in any way.
The fact is that The Wachowskis, very deserving of their collective capitalised ‘The’, have literally ripped the still-beating heart of the world’s problems and delivered them on a silver platter. What you do next is up to you, because you have just spent time immersing yourself in each main character’s specific and location-specific issues, but they all relate back to you in some form or another.
Personally, HIV/AIDS does not affect me directly, but does affect friends. I am lucky enough to not have a family that would institutionalise me if I told them I was trans, but what if that were not the case. In my field of expertise it does not matter if you are gay, but not all career paths are like that. I remember the 7/7 bombings but the fight between religion and atheism does not beat down my door. I was raised in the 90s in England, but who can’t remember what it’s like to feel different at school for whatever reason? I wish I could say my society doesn’t devalue women and place them lower on the food chain than men, but it does.
Sense8 is one of those shows that reminds you of all of the above and keeps hitting you with it until you understand the message – this world is not perfect and needs to be fixed yesterday. This is not just a TV show that highlights societal problems, it is a call to arms. And if you binge-watch it in the same way that most of us have watched RuPaul’s Drag Race, Warehouse 13 or Doctor Who, then this message will be repeated over and over and over.
This is mandatory viewing for all of humanity, because if you are human this is the greatest opportunity to emotionally connect with some of the problems of the world that you never thought possible. Maybe afterwards you will want to do something and help, or maybe you will cry and chat to people about it.
All that and delivering a smart and funny drama that, while predictable, keeps you involved right to the very end – good job Sense8.
You can watch Sense8 on Netflix now