“Unbelievable” showrunner Susannah Grant says that when she first read the ProPublica article on which the Netflix limited series is based that she immediately wanted to tell the story on screen. “I thought for a moment about doing it as a feature,” she explains, “but there was so much there that we decided it would just be better if we had a lot of time to really explore all the nuances of it.” Now it’s nominated for four Emmys including two for Grant as both an executive producer and a writer. Watch our exclusive video interview with her above.
The series is based on the true story of an investigation into a serial rapist and the experiences of one of his victims, Marie Adler (played by Kaitlyn Dever), who was disbelieved and even charged with filing a false police report after she came forward about her assault. The first episode — for which Grant is nominated for writing alongside with Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman — focuses entirely on what Adler goes through; the detectives played by Merritt Wever and Emmy nominee Toni Collette aren’t introduced until episode two.
“The thinking was that she deserved [an episode focused on her], that the story deserved it,” Grant says of that narrative choice. “The title is ‘Unbelievable,’ and that maybe gives the impression that the experience is uncommon, but actually this experience is far more common for sexual assault survivors.” Sadly, what’s more anomalous in this story is the detectives who actually solve the case.
But while Grant wanted to be true to Adler’s harrowing experience, it was “incredibly important” not to sensationalize her trauma. The careful depictions of the crime were shot “all from her point of view so that you’re never a voyeur of sexual assault, which I think all of us are inadvertently in our culture.”
There was also a theme Grant wanted to emphasize: “I had heard and internalized this phrase, ‘The investigation often feels like a second assault to a survivor.’ And I wanted to unpack that. I wanted to understand that for myself, and I wanted our audience to understand that, to walk through it with someone and really internalize what that means. Going through it in meticulous detail I think had that effect.”
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