Before you read the review:
The following text contains spoilers of Netflix’s Black Mirror: Bandersnatch episode.
Keep the following in mind before reading my review:
When I heard Netflix was releasing a new episode of Black Mirror called Bandersnatch where the viewer was a part of the storytelling by choosing different outcomes for the main character; my first thought was “ABOUT FUCKING DAMN TIME!”. Finally, a big industry player who realizes the potential of the including the audience in creating the story world - Interactive storytelling has been in the talks for a loooong time and Netflix are far from the first to use this type of narrative. Game writing and film writing are moving closer to each other for each second passing, especially with new technology such as VR and all that shit. The screenwriter in me knows I have to adapt my writing to this new industry format - the producer in me thinks about how you can monetize it and optimize the experience for the viewer.
The days between Christmas and New Year’s most people tend to not do a lot of work but when I heard Bandersnatch had beed released I knew I was gonna have to work - work for me is watching Netflix. So I grabbed my notebook so I could write down my thoughts, made some coffee and made myself all cozy in my bed (great office environment, right?). Because I work with film I usually have this rule that I have to watch things three times before I can give it my honest opinion.
First time to just watch it - without thinking too much, just watching it. Writing down whatever I think about.
Second time I focus on the writing - bc I come from a screenwriter background I believe good writing is key in any motion picture production. Without a good script, a good story, good dialogue, good characters; I can guarantee - you won’t get a product consumers (the audience) will enjoy. Bad writing really is a pet-peeve for me, mainly because it’s so easily adjustable early on in the production. You can save a loooooot of money by drafting an extra round.
The third time I look at the production - I am after all first and fore most a film producer. This means I look at the whole picture of the final product. How the director has worked with the script, the actors, the camera angles, the tone, the style. I listen to the sound design, the music. I look at costumes, set designs and all that. I think about the budget and how they’ve solved problems that could’ve arisen during shooting in a cost effective way.
But with Black Mirror: Bandersnatch I broke my rule. Mainly because my Instagram followers seemed very eager for me to write one and I felt like I had to do it quick. I’m assuming you’re reading the review AFTER you’ve watched the episode so I won’t be explaining the concept etc. So here we go:
Netflix’s Black Mirror: Bandersnatch Review
Here I was lying in bed with my cuppa coffee and my iPad all ready to watch Black Mirror Bandersnatch, it’s revolutionizing they said - this is the future of film! I opened Netflix on my iPad and clicked “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch” guess what happened? A video came up saying “Your device isn’t supported by the interactive storytelling in the following content - please open on another device”. GREAT! Thank you, Netflix! Now I have to get out of bed and prep my laptop instead like some kind of tech neanderthalis.
When I finally got it to play on my laptop I watch for literally (probably) 5 minutes before writing down “Set Design: Bus too clean”. Doesn’t start well - as someone who’s lived in London for almost 4 years I know what a double decker looks like. Even if it’s set in 1984, you wouldn’t have a double decker that’s cleaner than your a brain surgeons hands before walking into surgery, I mean yes - it’s Black Mirror after all so it’s supposed to feel a bit unreal BUT STILL! Things like that can really turn me off. I was seriously very close to closing my laptop bc of this. Bc if they hadn’t thought about small stuff like that, what else hadn’t they been thinking about?
I gotta give them a producer’s applause tho for filming on the upper deck because that way you don’t have to think about moving modern cars and other stuff that could tell you’re not actually filming in 1984. Another producer’s applause is for the dog digging in the flower bed at the beginning. In one of my first classes of film school I remember my teacher telling me “Never show something on screen that is irrelevant”, when the dog in the flower bed got so much focus it immediately got me thinking why they kept pushing it - but by the end of the episode I realized it was bc Stefan was gonna bury his dad there after he’d killed him.
The biggest mistake many writers do when writing a script is being too expositional. Meaning you tell the audience what they’re suppose to think about by giving characters lines to say to highlight something. Great screenwriting often is more about what ISN’T SAID rather than what is. An example of this could be having a character saying “OUCH THAT HURT” when they hit their head instead of just having the actor ACTING out that their head hurts… The audience isn’t stupid - we can see when something hurts.
In Bandersnatch, that one expositional line is what the main character Stefan says “I’ve played all of his games” when he first meets Colin Ritman at the Thundersoft office. Like OK we get it Stefan, you’re a fanboy. You don’t need to tell us three times (it’s literally said three times in the span of 2 minutes) that you’ve “played all his games”, we can already see he’s starstruck by Fionn Whitehead’s amazing acting performance.
This happens again when Stefan gets home and his dad is defrosting minced meat and his dad says “I’m defrosting mince”. I think he’s supposed to deliver the line like like “WOW LOOK I’M DEFROSTING MINCE! HOW AMAZING!” but it just ends up being expositional trying to push even more that we’re in the 80’s which they’ve already established. It feels like one of those famous darlings the writers should’ve killed off in the second or third draft. I feel like this throughout the episode, like a lot of the dialogue could’ve been cut out and been replaced by just acting.
THE CONCEPT OF CHOICE:
The first choice you’re given as a viewer is to choose whether Stefan should eat Frosties or Sugar Puffs for breakfast. A very innocent choice, mostly put there to establish the concept of choosing paths for Stefan. But after a while, I can’t tell you how many minutes into the episode it is bc Netflix doesn’t let me know. But it’s when Stefan is at his therapist’s office and she asks him if he wants to talk about his mother. You’re given the choice to say yes or no. I went with no bc I felt like it’d be out of Stefan’s character to say yes straight away, but an eager, curious viewer probably would go with “yes” bc who wouldn’t wanna know what happened to his mom? But what happened when I chose “No” was that the therapist pushed for Stefan to say yes - the therapist even says “Don’t feel pressured” which made it really obvious that the writers want you to say “Yes” so they can tell you what happened to his mom. Again - this is an expositional writing mistake, I just got angry bc I don’t wanna be told what to do or to think about and I feel pressured to say yes even tho I don’t want to; I mean this is both good and bad bc you as the viewer can really relate to Stefan but in the same time it’s too obvious what the writers’ objectives are.
Now I think I was about halfway through it when I wrote down “too many choices”. I remember thinking like “Here I am lying in bed the days between Christmas and New Year’s watching some Netflix, can I please not be asked to do a bunch a stuff when all I’m tryna do is RELAX??” but boy, I realized I’d been played by the masters of Black Mirror when in one of the final (I’m assuming) alternative endings when Stefan has been having problem with the game lagging and when he finally is handing in the final version of Bandersnatch to Thundersoft his boss asks “What was the problem?” and Stefan says “I gave them too many choices.” and his game works.
This is where I find the beauty in the writing of this episode. The writers really know their concept - in fact the concept is probably what’s most well crafted in the whole production. The whole piece is basically an allegory of you as a viewer. When you’re watching you’re not only making choices for Stefan, you’re making choices for yourself. Giving Netflix a piece of your mind by seeing how you choose. Are you one of them who chose for Stefan to kill his dad or one of them who told him to back off? Your choice says more about you who’s viewing than about Stefan, Bandersnatch and the concept.
WHY BANDERSNATCH ISN’T REVOLUTIONIZING
So, as someone who’s a young female film producer, who runs a non-profit to create more diversity on screen you must’ve by now thought “But when is she gonna talk about Bechdel?!” And the answer is now. Now I’m gonna talk about Bechdel - well not Bechdel, bc Bechdel is a very outdated, lazy form of measuring diversity in the film industry. Mainly because it tells all you need for a film to get an A in the diversity test is to have two characters who talk to each other about something else than men, white people etc (depending on the type of Bechdel test).
Here’s the thing; Bandersnatch is written by Charlie Brooker, directed by David Slade and produced by Russel McLean - all white middle aged men - and it really shines through. It’s really a piece written through the eyes of white, middle aged men who romanticize their tweener era in the 80’s (not too unlike the Duffer brothers who wrote Stranger Things). Literally, LITERALLY the only person of color in the whole episode was the Thundersoft CEO who I can’t even remember the name of and who was more of a stereotype of an south Asian computer science nerd we’ve seen way too many times in movies. He’s almost a token, just to pop some color into the blinding whiteness, but his presence harms more than it helps because of the whole stereotype portrayal.
Secondly, there isn’t a single female character of relevance to the story whatsoever. Ok that’s not true, there’s the female therapist, but you kinda hate her, she’s fucking annoying. Apart from her, the first female character we meet is the cashier in the vinyl shop, she doesn’t have a name or even say any lines. Then we meet Kitty, Colin Ritman’s girlfriend. Who’s only given character trait is that she takes care of their baby and later we find out she’s interested in beauty because she tends to change her looks a lot, something we found out from a comment the Thundersoft CEO says like “Oh I didn’t recognize you without the blue hair”.
And then we have Stefan’s mother, who yes - has a relevance to the story but she’s not really given a character as we only meet her briefly in the flashback before she dies in the derailing of the train. From that lil flashback sequence we also find out that Stefan’s dad is a controlling toxic husband (also a stereotype of a dad) and that his mother is caring, beautiful and loving (very much a stereotype of a mother).
GREAT JOB BOYS! YOU DID IT! ONCE AGAIN! A ROUND OF APPLAUSE FOR REPRODUCING THE GENDER/RACE POWER ORDER! HOW REVOLUTIONIZING!
My biggest question here really is “WHY?!?”. Why did it have to be Stefan’s mother who died in the train crash? Why did the boss have to be some Indian nerd stereotype? Why did Stefan have to be a boy? Why couldn’t he be a girl, wouldn’t that have been so much cooler? A game developing girl who goes crazy bc she thinks someone else is making choices for her in a system where she has no power (reminds you of something, doesn’t it?) I know I would’ve been WAY eager to watch that episode at least. Why do writers, producers, directors keep making films and tv-series about white men/boys when the audience watching is way more diverse than that?
“It’s all about money” they say, but you know what? According to the 2018 MPAA report, 52% of moviegoers in 2017 were female, in the US 43% of moviegoers are people of color according to the same report. So if non-white, non-males are a majority of consumers, why isn’t the film industry producing content after who’s the majority of the audience? LADIES! POC! It’s because we keep buying their shit!!! Imagine; like a classic white boy would never go watch a chick flick. So why would you watch something that’s aimed for the classic white boy? If we, the consumers, the audience, stop consuming media that clearly isn’t aimed for us - the suppliers of the market; the writers, producers, directors - would have to adjust their supply after the demand. It’s like the first rule of economics. (I wrote a whole post about economic principles in the film industry a while back, read it here.)
So if you want change, take your responsibility - and realize that your decision matters. You can create more diversity in the media by not giving your money to movies that reproduce white male dominance in the film industry such as Black Mirror: Bandersnatch or Mission Impossible. So, next time you’re in the theatre or scrolling through Netflix; think #NotWithMyMoney. At least I’ll make sure it’s #NotWithMyMoney that more white centered, male centered stories will continue to dominate the film industry. I’ve done my part in creating change - now you do yours!
So yeah for those of you who don’t already know what it is I do; it’s just this - creating more diversity in the film industry by telling people in the industry what mistakes they’re doing throughout production by putting a spanner in the works for more diversity on screen by for example hiring white men as writers, producers & directors.