The newest series from Apple TV+ is an anthology of modern fairy tales. Based on the short story collection of the same name by Cecelia Ahern and created by Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch, it highlights the challenges women face daily. Some are as small and seemingly insignificant as a walk down memory lane, while others speak to a greater societal truth about how we value women of color. These stories are what it means, both good and bad, to be a woman and the hazards every one of us can relate to on some level. These very personal stories speak to the soul of womanhood. Roar Episode 1 The Woman Who Disappeared is a cautionary tale about the exploitation of stories and the erasing of our identity by those who want to steal power for themselves.
In Roar Episode 1, Wanda(Issa Rae) is in LA to meet with studio executives about optioning her best-selling autobiographical book. She experiences a series of events designed to help us understand how people of color have to navigate a primarily white world include seeing a middle-aged white woman reading her book who doesn’t recognize her and meeting her studio contact Blake. Blake tells her that his real name is Ugandan, and he chose to go by his mother’s maiden name because no one would be able to pronounce his given name. Additionally, Wanda’s rental got canceled because her identity could not be verified due to a hair style change. They are all small things that add up.
At the studio, the camera can’t capture her face due to inadequate algorithms, which can’t pick out darker skin tones. Blake also tells her about the men she will be meeting with, and all of them are problematic for one reason or another. Some are just ignorant, while one is a misogynist with a list of sexist infractions that have not hampered his career. They tell her the book is becoming a VR experience early in the meeting. She is understandably upset by the commodification of her life experience so white people can walk a few minutes in Black shoes. She calls it Black People For Dummies and asks who will be playing her in the experience. Instead of addressing her concerns, the men act as if she isn’t speaking at all. When they finally acknowledge her, it is to invite her to a party that night.
Her friend tells her to shrug it off and spend her money on a new dress for the party. This continues her feelings of invisibility, though, as one man sits on her and at the store, and her reflection begins blurring as if she is disappearing. When she tries to purchase a dress, both the cashier and the other women in line(all white) act as if she is not present. No one can see her on the street, and a van almost runs her over. Even Blake drives away, not seeing her. Finally, with no other choice, she walks to the party. Once there, no one can see her, and they are testing the VR experience.
She puts on a headset and is forced to see the worst day of her life when her father is assaulted by police officers who think he is a suspect. During the violent altercation, she is knocked down and taken to the hospital. It is a profoundly personal scene which the people at the party act as if it is an entertaining bit of tourism instead of exploitation. Despondent and hurt, Wanda leaves the party and sits on the front porch, where Blake finds her. He sees her, and she is surprised he can. He tells her you know who you are, and she replies she does. Then, newly determined, she walks back through the door to the party.
Roar Episode 1 is about reclaiming your power from those who seek to steal it for themselves. At first, Wanda doesn’t feel comfortable with her success. Her friend calls it Imposter Syndrome. However, when Wanda chooses to embrace her intelligence, writing, and worth, the implication is she will become visible and heard, and respected. In reality, that is only part of the struggle, though. For men like the studio executives, she is nothing more than a good to be bought and sold. She will likely have to continually push back on their egotism to prevent being silenced.
Women of color with strong opinions are often treated like either unicorns, as in “you speak so well,” which is coded language for “you sound so white,” or ridiculed for being an “angry black lady.” The former problem is uniquely relegated to women of color, while the latter is something all women experience, albeit slightly differently. Strong-willed or emotional women are deemed high-strung, hysterical, and weak. The word hysterical or hysteria comes from the medical term hysterectomy(removal of the womb). Only after Wanda’s journey to the party and triumph over the dragon, aka her self-doubt, was she able to reclaim her voice and power. Presumably, she marched back into the party and refused to have her book turned into a carnival attraction for wealthy white folks with more misplaced guilt than desire to change.
Find all our Roar coverage here.
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.