Women’s Empowerment: Unbelievable A True Story of Perseverance


I couldn’t even begin to imagine how one survives rape.  Rape is a sexual assault carried out against a person without that person’s consent, usually involving the use of physical force.

Unbelievable is the story of Marie Adler a teenage rape victim who is tied up, gagged, and brutally raped in her apartment by an intruder in the middle of the night.  Marie finds enough courage to survive her attack, free herself and call for help only to be revictimized by the system, and people meant to protect her.  It takes two female detectives, from another state, one with heart, and the other with experience to bring her justice.

Unbelievable is a 2019 American true crime television limited miniseries presented by Netflix.  It stars Toni Collette, Merritt Wever and Kaitlyn Dever.  This 8-part miniseries is based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning news article, “An Unbelievable Story of Rape” written by T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong and their 2019 book: A False Report.

The miniseries is written and directed by Susannah Grant known for her standout hit, Erin Brockovich. The series has garnered multiple nominations and awards including AFI’s Life Achievement Award for TV Program of the Year in 2020.

Episode 1 of Unbelievable captures the audiences attention immediately, not through the graphic details of the rape, but by the victim’s agonizing experience recounting her story again and again. The series opens in Washington state with Marie Adler, wrapped in a blanket, being attended to by her former foster mother as they wait for the police to respond to a 911 call.

Marie tells the responding police officer that a man broke into her apartment, tied her up and raped her. She is asked to provide the details. With difficulty Marie tells everything she can remember. 

The director captures the victim’s state of mind – the confusion, the shame, the vulnerability that comes about after experiencing such a traumatic experience by moving in and out of real time and flashbacks during her retelling.   It is obviously painful for Marie to relive her rape yet; she is asked to repeat her statement once more for two male detectives who have been assigned to investigate.

Once again, the viewer is embedded into the victim’s perspective through flashbacks and provided further glimpses of the assault but more importantly her current state of mind. Later she is examined thoroughly at the hospital and asked to tell her story again.

After that, at the police station, the lead detective asks her to recount the rape once again. His interrogative tactics seems to be geared at deciding whether this young woman is being truthful or not.  After finishing the verbal recount, the detective asks her to provide a written statement.

She incredulously asks, “Again?” Physically exhausted and in pain Marie finally speaks up and asks for a break.  The detective tells her she can go home and bring the statement to him later.  When she does return to the police station, she meets with the lead detective’s partner who challenges her credibility and suggests that she is lying.

  Alone, confused, hopeless and weary of the entire process Marie caves into pressure and eventually recants her story and later charged for making a false report. Unbelievable yes, but a true story nonetheless.

The raw material for this production is compelling not only because of what happens to Marie Adler during the rape but, because of what happens to her after by the people who are meant to help and support her. The remaining 7 episodes are just as riveting as the first.

The script and direction capture the mood and tone for the series. The young and talented Kaitlyn Dever who plays Marie Adler certainly captures the mind of a young woman who is shattered, scared, confused and alone.  This young woman’s performance was stellar and haunting. 

The series also includes Emmy Award winning actress Merritt Wever (Best supporting actress for Godless) and Toni Collette play two detectives investigating a series of rapes at a different time and place.   Both actresses were nominated for their roles with Toni Collette winning a Critic’s Choice Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie Made for Television.

Unbelievable is worth watching. It is binge-able if that is what you like. For my husband and I, the miniseries was deep and thought provoking, so we watched two episodes at a time. Often discussing the narrative elements of the piece, the investigation, and the acting. 

I hope all that see this miniseries consider that in the United States alone data reveals that 1 in 5 women have been victims of rape.  How many more have been victimized by the culture of indifference or victim blaming that seems to be so prevalent in our society?  In the age of #MeToo I urge you to watch this miniseries and let me know what you think?

Respectfully, Lady Geek

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