Grand Army: An Authentic Netflix Series



A still image from the Netflix original series “Grand Army.”

Cristina Baco

Although 2020 has been nothing but chaos, Netflix has been there to save us from reality, especially this fall. To list just a few masterpieces that have been released within the past two months, there was The Devil All The Time, The Trial of the Chicago 7, The Queen’s Gambit, season four of The Crown, and so many more. However, there was one Netflix original that particularly stood out to me, which was Grand Army. If you like TV shows like Skins, Degrassi, or Euphoria, then Grand Army is a must-watch. Director Katie Cappiello takes you through a nine-episode journey that highlights issues surrounding identity, racism, poverty, sexuality, and sexual assault. The story takes place in Brooklyn, New York and focuses on five different high school students that attend the fictional school that is Grand Army. (Warning: some spoilers may be ahead)

Joey Del Marco is one of the five characters. She’s a member of the dance team and is known for her outspoken and carefree personality. However, her life takes a turn for the worst after she is sexually assaulted by her male best friends. Another character is Leila Kwan Zimmer, who struggles with finding her identity. Leila was adopted from China and has white, Jewish parents. On top of not feeling like she fits in with any nationality or culture, she also has a very difficult time adapting to high school as a freshman. Another character is Sid Pakam. Sid, who is Indian American, is the captain of the swim team and is struggling with coming to terms with his sexuality, while also trying to get into his dream school, Harvard. Dominique “Dom” Pierre is another leading character. Dom, who is of Haitian descent, lives in a small apartment with her five family members. Dom essentially has to choose between having a social life or supporting her family’s financial needs. For this reason, Dom has to develop a side hustle, doing people’s hair and making hair products, while also balancing all of her schoolwork and applying for internships. Lastly, there is Jayson “Jay” Jackson. Jay, who is African American, plays the saxophone and is auditioning to get a spot in the all-state band. Jay’s attitude in life shifts after his best friend, Owen, gets a 60-day suspension after a prank goes wrong; but it is clear that the 60-day suspension has a lot to do with Owen’s race. 

I’m not sure I would call Grand Army an aesthetically pleasing show, after all its purpose has nothing to do with aesthetics. Grand Army focuses on authenticity and connecting with their audience. There were many things I could relate to while watching the show, and many of my friends had similar thoughts. It’s refreshing to see Netflix coming up with more shows and movies that show representation, whether it’s representation in race or representation of real-life problems that people face every day that are typically ignored by the film industry. Something unique that Grand Army did was include animation to show creativity and how people cope with what’s going on around them. One of the main characters, Leila, would use her imagination and creativity to escape real life. The show did this by using animation to act out her creative thoughts. I’ve never seen a show include animations/cartoons in it to demonstrate something like that, especially when the show itself isn’t animated. 

The acting was very impressive, especially considering most of the characters were played by first-time actors. In fact, the acting was so good that the show made me despise some of the characters. Watching the characters in their most vulnerable moments almost made me forget I was watching a fictional TV show because it felt so real. I think that’s why it was so easy for me to understand the characters and relate to them. They didn’t always feel like fictional characters, and that’s not something that is easy to accomplish in shows and movies. I also think the show did an amazing job at portraying the psychological effects that sexual assault or sexual abuse can leave on a victim. It gave a great perspective on what sexual assault victims go through on a daily basis. Grand Army also did an amazing job of showing how real systemic racism and how it can mess with young Black kid’s heads and ruin their goals in life.

I was able to relate to some of the issues in the show. The character that I connected with the most was Leila. Although Leila was not at all my favorite character, it was hard for me to completely hate her, mainly because I have gone through similar things she has gone through. Leila doesn’t feel like she is Chinese, but she also doesn’t feel like she is white, like her adoptive parents. Because of this, Leila finds it difficult to connect with both cultures – white and Chinese. As a Puertorican who lives in Wisconsin, the majority of my friends and classmates have a very different culture than I do. While I have a lot of Puertorican culture in me, I also have a lot of American culture considering that I have lived in the U.S. for ten years. Sometimes I feel like I don’t completely fit in either culture, which is why it was so refreshing to see a character with Leila’s struggle.

 Overall, Grand Army is an emotional and raw series that draws attention to important issues that stand out in our current society. Race, gender, sexuality, class, sexual assault, and privilege are all topics that are tackled throughout the show. It’s a show where almost everyone can identify with one of the characters and their struggles. This show really opened my eyes to what privilege really is and what kind of things people may be going through that others don’t know about. I recommend this show to any teenager, even if you don’t typically watch drama based shows. Everyone can learn something valuable from this series.