Critics Choice foreign language contestants give voice to global protest

Red jumpsuits, Salvador Dalí’s masks and the revolutionary Italian anti-fascist hymn “Bella Ciao” ​​are no longer simply elements that make up the iconoclastic Spanish drama “Money Heist”. They managed to bleed themselves out in real life as many protesters – from the hit show’s home country to Lebanon, Indonesia and beyond – imbued these motives with their own struggles against the tyranny of the government. , corruption and wealth inequalities.

“I think people needed a symbol,” said designer Álex Pina Variety. “We have this show that’s touted as resistance against governments and against institutions, and that combined with entertainment, has crossed the boundaries of reality, and people just embraced it. You have these antiheroes on the show that people actually think of as heroes and they make personal connections and social and political connections. [with them]. “

This year, local-language shows led the charge in exploring anti-capitalism and anti-establishment themes and thus won Critics Choice Awards in the Foreign Language Series category. Alongside Netflix’s “Money Heist” is the South Korean sensation “Squid Game,” with both series dramatizing the failures of the global financial system after 2008 in fictional high-stakes environments. French “Lupine”, for the same streamer, analyzes these trends on a small scale, rooting suave thief Assane Diop (Omar Sy) as he avenges his father’s unwarranted disappearance orchestrated by a wealthy family. Meanwhile, Apple TV Plus’s English and Spanish “Acapulco” features a comedic tale of rags to riches from protagonist Máximo (Eugenio Derbez in the current story, Enrique Arrizon in the 1980s shutter), which recounts its turbulent road to ascending class mobility.

In contrast to US-based shows, notably “Succession” and “Only Murders in the Building,” which respectively follow a very wealthy family media conglomerate and affluent New Yorkers, these international series defend the underdogs, while painting a morally gray image of their protagonists. For “Squid Game” creator Hwang Dong-hyuk, the end result is an in-depth commentary on how society pits people against each other in competing battles of ambition and survival.

“From the perspective of a society’s losers, this whole system in itself is enormous violence,” he says. “If you were eliminated from society, it equates to social death – and therefore I wanted to shed light on the intensity of the violence of the competition itself and also the intensity of the violence that is imposed on the losers. “

As “Squid Game” forks human nature – and more precisely, its creator’s “main strands of personality” – into the conditional empathy of Gi-hun (Lee Jung-jae) and the desperate selfishness of Sang-woo (Park Hae-soo), “Money Heist” finds its moral ambiguity in The Professor (Álvaro Morte).

In the final season of “Money Heist,” the professor and the gang guard the country’s gold reserve, exchanging it for copper. It’s unclear whether their goal is to redistribute the wealth – like they did in Season 3 – or to keep it to themselves. “We wanted to continue to create some sort of confusion with the public as to whether the professor was an honest and good man, or if he was a dishonest thief,” said Pina. “And we have to be ambiguous in the message we conveyed. “

In “Acapulco”, the same premise abounds, as young Máximo finds himself on a “gray line” to climb the corporate ladder of the resort. Co-creator Eduardo Cisneros sees it as the product of a culture of scarcity, “the idea that it’s a zero-sum game, there’s not much to do and what we see at the screen then, it is a comic representation of it “.

Though lighter, the show’s beating heart is all about the sacrifice dreams necessitate, and its goal is to subvert the mythical logic of pulling oneself by the boots.

“Acapulco,” Cisneros says, is firmly rooted in “the perspective of the waiters, the workers, the people behind the scenes”. Beyond its cheerful plating – the vibrant fuchsia and orange of the resort town of Las Colinas (coincidentally reminiscent of the larger-than-life playgrounds of “Squid Game”) – is a striking portrayal of class disparity. .

“From day one, we wanted to show what it is like when you pull the curtain back, and when you take something as world famous as the image of this Mexican resort,” Cisneros said. “It ultimately became an exploration of the haves and have-nots. The goal is to merge the entertainment with social commentary, he says, like “broccoli with a lot of gooey, gooey cheese on it.”

In “Squid Game”, the message is expertly woven into the twisted and adrenaline-pumping games of the series. Meanwhile, “Money Heist” hides its politics in the blatant and noisy resistance of its captivating thefts. So while the protagonists of these shows are sometimes complicit within the system they fight against, a bigger and more insidious villain looms. As countries from South Korea to Spain plunged into economic uncertainty and debt after the collapse of Lehman Bros. At the onset of the global recession, Hwang and Pina searched for narratives to respond to the current cultural and socio-political moment. And now, as the devastation of the ongoing pandemic and climate change exacerbate economic inequalities, Hwang says his story, which draws heavily from his personal life and has been in the works for more than a decade, has grown from ‘a local perspective with a more international appeal.

“It’s only been two centuries since we saw capitalism,” says Hwang, “and I think it does and has been tested over time, and I think that we live in a world where the many people belonging to capitalism are just not happy. They are not satisfied. On the contrary, I think it made their life more miserable and led them to a dead end. And I think through the tests that capitalism has been subjected to, we now see that the reality is that it is not able to respond to the many crises that humanity is facing.

Ultimately, that’s why shows like these have found a global audience. Amid the adjacent imaginative and dystopian details of their two worlds, they are anchored in a reality that resonates, compels, and inspires change.

“It’s exciting when people believe in what they’re watching and when they embrace that underlying message from the show,” Pina says. “And it was totally unexpected for us. I think it resonated a lot because of the dissatisfaction for a while with the company, what was going on [was] people had to have tools to protest and have a voice.

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