‘The Wilds’ Is A Love Letter To The Complexity Of Teenage Girls

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What seems worse, being stranded on a deserted tropical island or stuck in a global pandemic? I may have picked the pandemic, but after watching the ‘Unsinkable Eight’ struggle in The Wilds, I’d happily choose the comfort of my own home and luxuries; shark attacks, food poisoning, trauma, and lack of resources doesn’t sound all that appealing. However, what does shine through in The Wilds is the resilience, ingenuity, individuality, and the depth of our girls. After all, the whole Dawn of Eve program was created to prove that a matriarchy would benefit the world better than a patriarchy.

If you hadn’t realised by now, The Wilds is Amazon Prime’s newest survival drama – a combination of the Maze Runner and Lord of the Flies, but gender-reversed and featuring a lot more cynical humour. Throughout nine hours of screen time, social constructs are challenged in an unfiltered portrayal of teenage life. It’s more grit than glamour and Leah Rilke’s (Sarah Pidgeon) broody monologue is the best characterisation of what adolescent girls have to endure in modern society. “I remember not being enough, I remember wanting to be more… I remember the ridiculous expectations they had for us. Like, we were supposed to be these golden gods, 24/7”. For prospective viewers, the show effectively tackles many issues, including…

Feminism

Female empowerment is often a controversial topic for TV shows. Sometimes it’s over-scripted until it’s laughable, other times it’s completely sidelined. Diverse representation is even more of a struggle, especially with white, heteronormative shows always stealing the spotlight. Yet, The Wilds doesn’t just look past gender in its casting; eight fully developed characters of varied body types, ethnicities, religions, and sexualities, to name a few, dominate our screens, making it impossible for viewers to not relate to at least one of the situations the girls encounter on their traumatic journey. I fully admire Amy B. Harris and Sarah Streicher for the progressive concept they have created; it’s a heartfelt and genuine production. If only season two would arrive sooner.

Body Positivity

With our world engrossed in the growing presence of social media, it’s very important that issues of self-esteem and body image are highlighted onscreen, especially as most teenage female characters are depicted by flawless models in their mid-twenties. It’s an unrealistic and harmful expectation to live up to and shouldn’t be seen as the norm. Streicher described the casting experience in an interview, emphasising how they “were all pretty deliberate and firm about making sure that the body diversity… was reflected in the people we found”, and I, for one, am glad they followed this initiative.

Though each girl’s storyline tends to follow various stereotypes, Rachel Reid’s (Reign Edwards) arc in episode two is an emotive portrayal of the intense art of competitive diving and the overworking of athletes. Carelessly discarded without consolidation, for her mature physique, Rachel enters a feud with herself and resorts to bulimia. It’s necessary viewing and is just one of numerous standout performances executed by these actresses. Another notable episode follows pageant queen Shelby Goodkind (Mia Healey), as she deals with conservative family pressures.

Relationships

Sex positivity and fractured relationships feature in many episodes. Fatin Jadmani (Sophia Ali) is perceived as highly promiscuous, which leads to several misinterpretations about her capability and work ethic. The show acknowledges that it’s unfair to have these stereotypes without fully knowing a person. It should always be positive for a person to be comfortable in their skin, so it’s refreshing for the girls to see Fatin for who she is.

Sexuality is purposefully left ambiguous in the show, with none of the girls being canonically labelled as straight. It’s important that labels aren’t seen as a priority, leaving room for self-discovery. Over the closing episodes, a relationship develops between two of the girls, and though it’s not shy of internalised homophobia and tension between the two, it feels like an authentic depiction, featuring all the challenges they have to face both on and off the island.

Familial dynamics are also very diverse in the series, with foster care, controlling parents, and life as a young carer being just a few examples. Dot Campbell (Shannon Berry) loses her dad to a terminal illness, after years of having to shoulder adult responsibilities, while Toni Shalifoe (Erana James) struggles with understanding that she is deserving of love after being left in foster care and a tough breakup with her ex, Regan. However, Toni’s chosen family in Martha Blackburn (Jenna Clause) proves she will always have someone to care for her, even if they aren’t blood-related. Every family is different in the show, resulting in a very relatable watch.

Mental Health

It’s no doubt that spending more than twenty-three days away on an island would degrade anyone’s sanity, especially when stranded with seven strangers. In those icebreaking challenges asking who you’d take with you to a desert island, I doubt Rachel would pick her twin, or Leah would pick the basic, mainstream girl from school. With many experiencing lack of stability at various points, Leah suffers the worst; her paranoia nearly drowns her, both literally and metaphorically. Yet, it’s her continuous overthinking that leads to a breakthrough in discovering the truth behind their circumstances. In many ways, it was a good arc for her to discover (with the support of Fatin) that her instincts can be trusted, and was a well-performed depiction of OCD, which often goes misrepresented in shows.

On the other end of the spectrum is Nora, an intellectual like Leah, but with an analytical outlook of the world, instead of romanticised daydreams. While it is never said that Nora Reid (Helena Howard) is neurodivergent (or Quinn for that matter), descriptions of her in the pilot script label her as “quite possibly on the high functioning end of the spectrum”. Though everyone on the island perceives her as the ‘brains’, which is certainly a helpful means of survival, she’s also very misunderstood. Out of any character, Nora deserves to be explored more next season – that’s if she’s not dead (I certainly hope not!).

Overall, The Wilds is a very well executed in its depiction of teenage girls. It’s amusing, deep, and most importantly, doesn’t promote unrealistic expectations of life. It’s a celebration of our differences, yet also an ode to the beauty of our flaws as complex individuals.

The Wilds is available on Amazon Prime Video.

Words by Emilia Butcher-Marroqui

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