"The Woman Who Ate Photographs." "The Woman Who Found Bite Marks On Her Skin." "The Woman Who Solved Her Own Murder." Combining the dystopia of Black Mirror with the cautionary klaxon of Grimm’s fairy tales, Apple TV+’s new series Roar serves up feminist fables with bizarre twists. Packed with surrealism, wackiness and body horror, the show stars big-hitters such as Nicole Kidman, Issa Rae, Alison Brie and Cynthia Erivo exploring what it’s like being a woman today.
Take the first episode: "The Woman Who Disappeared." Insecure’s Issa Rae plays an author who has touched down in Los Angeles to meet a team of smarmy, self-satisfied, white Hollywood execs who plan on turning her memoir into a film. The dream, right? The momentous meeting takes a nightmare turn when the execs announce that they’re thinking of turning her story into a virtual reality experience instead. She hates the idea and insists that she doesn’t want it to happen, knowing it will exploit her trauma. Despite articulating herself eloquently and asking all the right questions, the execs start shuffling and eyeing each other awkwardly. They try to comfort her, offering her a glass of water, telling her it’s okay to be nervous. It dawns on her: despite all her vocal protesting, they literally can’t hear her. To them, she is sitting there silently, sulking. She’s slowly turning invisible. With nods to Get Out, it’s clearly an allegory of the way in which white people silence Black voices but capitalise on their pain and lived experiences. The final moments of the episode – when you see a glamorous party of influencers experiencing her childhood racial pain through VR headsets as a form of entertainment – are distressing to say the least.
The series proceeds in this overtly obvious way. It's impactful, sure, but the key messaging is rammed down our throats. The viewer isn’t given much space to infer or create personal interpretation because of how literal each and every story is. We see this with Cynthia Erivo as a busy working mother in "The Woman Who Found Bite Marks On Her Skin". Eventually, the bite marks reveal themselves to be a manifestation of her female guilt – it’s literally eating her alive. It’s painfully (geddit?) obvious. In "The Woman Who Was Kept On A Shelf", a former model spends her days lounging on an ornate platform in her living room, built for her by her rich husband. She's a trophy wife, duh?
The standout episode by far sees Nicole Kidman as a woman looking after her brusque elderly mother whose swiftly advancing dementia is putting a strain on their relationship. Kidman's character is under a lot of stress and develops a compulsion for eating old family photographs, discovering that it allows her to relive the memory captured in each image for a short, intoxicating moment. The warmth of the sun on her skin, the distant laughter, the seagulls mewing in the breeze. She is trying to cling on as her mother forgets. Brace yourself: nothing will prepare you for the bizarre sight of Nicole Kidman ramming crumpled photos down her throat with tears in her eyes. But it’s strangely moving because it's a universal story. We know that we, too, will one day reckon with our parents' mortality and face the same fears: of our own ageing bodies, of not remembering anymore.
Ultimately, Roar has good intentions. It is a celebration of women (albeit mostly cis, white, middle-class women) and the ridiculousness and messiness that is our lives. And there’s no denying that it looks good and has star power in abundance. It’s an anthology series with bold ambitions to address the issues surrounding identity and self that plague women today. Yet rather than dredge the truly horrific recesses of our minds or explore the laughable and hopeful moments of our day-to-day experiences, it leans into obvious tropes with an execution that feels too wacky to be relatable. I am woman, hear me Roar about nothing new.
Roar premieres globally on 15th April on Apple TV+