by Jeremy Griffith
The American Millenniuim
The camera viewfinder pans over her and you catch a glimpse of a running girl in body armor and blue kevlar helmet, but then her image is gone again; replaced by sky, debris in the streets, sky again, a devastated city with an explosion in the far distance. British reporter Kiki King is in the Syrian town of Kobani with her producer and cameraman covering the ongoing war between Kurdish Freedom Fighters and Isis. They’re running across a dangerous road as snipers attempt to engage them, which is why the camera has such trouble focusing on the action. This is British TV Channel 4’s debut on Netflix of the journalistic public affairs program, Unreported World, which appeared this month.
The TV show Unreported World has been a staple of British TV since 2000, but with the advent of streaming channels and a desire to get away from Fake News and into more entertaining and engaging journalistic efforts Netflix has adopted a season of 8 episodes, each lasting 24 minutes apiece. The first of these episodes is the one described above, called The City That Beat Isis. In the 24 minute episode, King and her cameraman talk with fighters in the besieged city of Kobani as they try to liberate it from Isis. There isn’t much of the sprawling town to save, much of it is in ruin, destroyed by war and coalition air strikes aimed at dislodging terrorists. You can see distant explosions, coalition aircraft circling overhead leaving long white chemtrails, bodies in the streets, and broken buildings. You can see the fear in King’s face as she plods along in her reporting, giving the blow by blow of what is happening in the contest over the city. The crack of bullets can be heard in the background as she reports. At one point, a rocket lands very near her, and the camera falters again as the camera operator seeks cover. “That was very close,” King says, very deadpan and British.
After watching three of these episodes, I’m hooked. As a journalism junkie, I’m enthralled by good reporting and this new series, while being very old, is actually new to America and it has a lot of variety. News junkies like me will dig it. It’s very much in the vein of Vice News and Vox, very edgy with real content from areas of the world often neglected by the mainstream media. The second episode in the season shifted to America where another female Brit takes a look at young rodeo participants in the American south, some of the contestants are as young as 8 and 9 years old and their parents allow them to participate in dangerous sport more traumatic on the body often times than pro-football in the NFL. The episode is entitled, America’s Cowboy Kids.
The kids are typical southern kids, very respectful of the reporter interviewing them. “Yes, Ma’am!” and “No, Ma’am!” are often their replies to the reporter’s questions as they describe why they love their sport and how they struggle through the inevitable injuries and disappointments that come with it. The families involved are very religious, and you see them praying before competition. You can feel a lump in your throat as you see young kids in full protective gear get on to a bucking steer in a shoot and prepare to ride it for a full eight seconds, exactly like the highly paid professional bull riders they idolize. The parents are looking on. The gate opens and the enraged animal explodes into the open arena, attempting mightily to dislodge its rider, which doesn’t take long. There’s a tense moment where the child continues to ride, sliding off precariously to the side as the steer prances and spins. Then the child falls off, and a sharp hoof comes down hard, dangerously close to the child’s body. The rodeo clowns distract the animal and pull it away. The boy gets up from underneath, and runs to the side of the arena and climes the fence. He’s ok.
I really get the sense that the reporters and producers of this series really have their fingers on the pulse of the world and show stories with real drama and impact. Every episode follows a similar pattern, but the formula doesn’t diminish the show, because the stories are so interesting. A very professional looking man in a finely tailored gray suit, introduces the show at the beginning before tossing over to the reporter in the field. There the storytellers take the viewer of the guided tour of the land, issue and concept they are reporting on.
In episode 3 we are in Zimbabwe where a young hip looking black man with dreadlocks is covering non-traditional journalism/comedy critical of that nation’s longstanding and brutish dictator, Robert Mugabe. Reporter Seyi Rhodes introduces the viewer to a group of friends, white and black, who work together to produce edgy comedy and journalism criticizing Zimbabwe’s leader Mugabe. Collectively this group calls themselves Zembizi News, and their brave comedic efforts brazenly attacks the dictator and his yes-man state-run media. The dictator recently tripped on a rug at a political event and pictures of his fall have gone viral, giving these internet rebels a lot of material. Through Rhodes’s reporting we can see how dangerous it is for these talented comedians to be calling out their government. While it would be only natural for a comedy show in the United States to parody a politician, in Zimbabwe, it can be very dangerous and even lethal. Comedy takes courage in Africa.
Eight episodes of this series will not be enough for journalism connoisseurs like me. Netflix, please add more of this series and quickly. Even back dated issues are good. The ones appearing now are already two years old. I predict that Netflix will order more episodes which will be consumed quickly. I the meantime, there’s always You Tube. I have to see the next episode.
You can see a full episode of the report from Zimbabwe from Unreported World’s You Tube Channel here: https://youtu.be/g1wTucQlj9s