On October 5th, Netflix released the first season of a new series entitled Élite. The plot revolves around the story of 3 working-class students who are provided a scholarship to Spain’s most prestigious secondary school, Nadia Shana, Samuel Domínguez, and Christian Expósito by a company attempting to repair it’s the public image after a terrible construction disaster.
Without spoilers, the tension created by the placement of these 3 in such an environment escalates to the point where a student is murdered. In this respect, it is a darker version of 13 Reasons Why because it involves several characters being interrogated by an investigator transitioning from the interrogation to flashbacks of the events they describe.
This results in a highly suspenseful and dramatic series that captivates the audience. Indeed, Netflix renewed the Élite for a 2nd season less than 2 weeks after its release. One plot thread I found particularly intriguing involves Nadia Shanna, a young Muslim woman of Palestinian origin, and how her culture and religion conflicts with the new environment.
Right off the bat, the audience learns that Nadia is no ordinary young woman. In addition, to be distinguished by her headscarf, she is also clearly intelligent introducing herself to her fellow students in fluent English despite the fact that the other Spanish students can barely put together a phrase. Despite, her clear manifest acuity, she still faces discrimination right off the bat being forced to remove her hijab because of the school’s policy against it mirroring the status quo in several European countries which have legislated against both khimar (headscarf) and the niqab (face veil).
That is not to mention the constant chiding she endures from her classmates. In this respect, the show presents is accurate bullying against Muslim students, especially visible ones, is all too common. One aspect of the series which Muslim viewers may find problematic is how Nadia’s character and her family deal with the other dysfunctional aspects of the high school life.
Like any other high school drama, the series includes explicit and frequent references to drugs, sexual activity, and other forms of misbehavior from which Nadia is not immune. Without going into too much detail, much of the series’ drama revolves around how Nadia deals with the moves of an attractive male student named Guzmán towards her. Despite knowing such a relationship to be morally wrong, she does not completely rebuff him creating much dramatic tension in the series. Naturally, this leads to a series of conflicts within her family to the point that her attendance at the school is called into question. While I personally was not particularly pleased with how Nadia was portrayed, I cannot criticize the Series for being unrealistic on this point.
Speaking from my own experiences, I know many fellow Muslim youth who participated in the aforementioned types of behavior even if it goes against the rulings of Islam. Even amongst otherwise practicing Muslims like Nadia, this type of behavior is all too common. While I will not defend the depictions of such realities in the Élite, that does not in any way change their existence and the need of the Muslims to address them head-on.
All in all, Élite is a dramatized representation of the very real dysfunctions typical of upper-class life in the western world, particularly Spain. It does this by centering the story around the brutal murder of one student and demonstrating to the audience how the reckless actions of the other students contributed to the tragedy. One particularly intriguing plot thread involved that of Nadia Shanna and her struggles to balance her religious convictions with the world around her.
Despite her devotion to the former, she is far from perfect creating dramatic tension with her family. Even though her situation is highly problematic as per Islamic injunctions, it is one that is all too realistic for Muslim youth in their environment. As demonstrated by previous research, the typical dysfunctional behaviors which we mentioned are rather common amongst the Muslim youth. That is not even to mention the discrimination and abuse she endures because of her status as a visibly Muslim woman with the headscarf. It is this combination of realism and great cinematography that draws so many viewers.