The following contains minor spoilers for Grand Army
Grand Army is a Netflix Original TV Show centering around high schoolers and their struggles with identity politics in a way that feels very authentic to the younger generation. Something that especially struck me as a viewer was their subtle take on performative activism through they’re leading ladies, Odessa Azion as Joey Del Marco, and Odley Jean as Dominique (Dom).
Contrary to what other people have said, I found Joey was an easily likable character from the start. She’s confident, lively, intelligent, and a great friend. She puts a fresh spin on the “pretty and popular” typecast we frequently see in film and television. She’s heavily invested in political issues and uses her likeness to engage her peers in activism surrounding racial and patriarchal issues.
While she has great moments where she takes a real stance against prejudice, Joey also highlights the irony of white liberalism and its (at times) blindly fake allyship.
In the opening scene of Episode 3, Dominique and her basketball team took a knee during the national anthem to support other black athletes protesting police brutality around the nation. Two young white boys started yelling for the athletes to stop kneeling and Joey, who was on the floor with the dance team, took a knee with the basketball team.
The scene seems to be made out so the audience will appreciate Joey, the innocent white ally, for taking a knee with her “rebelling” black peers. They’re doing the same thing, and the predominantly black basketball team takes a knee before Joey, yet Joey’s knee is somehow still made out to be superior.
This is only one of the lightest examples in the show, and Dom is the only person who seems to be bothered by or even notice this unreasonable glorification of Joey’s activism. Throughout the show, Dom observes a lot about Joey that is easy for Joey herself to forget, or at least conveniently ignore. Joey’s closest friends often crack racist jokes and/or casually sexist remarks, yet people praise Joey, the cool-white-activist for saying the same things that Dom and the other black characters have been seen as difficult and radical for saying. It makes a very interesting parallel to the whole “white savior complex” issue we see in real life, where white people often speak over and villainize black people who have been speaking up longer and more consistently.
Joey is by no means a villain, and it’s clear that she doesn’t realize she is overshadowing black voices through her clearly good-willed activism, but that plays into the irony of it all. She’s able to acknowledge her privilege on one level, but she’s blind to the fact that people are only listening to her due to that same privilege she is criticizing. And while people seem to villainize Dom for not appreciating Joey’s activism, it’s because she sees that other layer of privilege that Joey is, understandably, slow to see.
Both Dom and Joey are very bright characters, and a lot can be drawn from their dynamic. Outside of this small discourse, the show was incredible and deals with a lot heavier topics with Joey and Dom individually. It was sadly canceled after its first season. Although its outreach wasn’t the greatest, it influenced many important conversations in the spaces that it did reach. If you’re bored this holiday season and aren’t looking to watch anything related to the holidays, I’d highly recommend you give this a watch.