As the old saying goes, “Comparisons are odious”. That said, ‘Alba’ can hold its head up high and proudly declare to come up roses in any such analogy. On the one hand, because this Boomerang TV and Atresmedia co-production is inspired by ‘Fatmagül’, the first ever Turkish soap aired in Spain in 2018 which became a blockbuster worldwide. On the other hand, because the story it narrates begins with a multiple rape, which inevitably connects with the case of La Manada and other similar sexual assault cases which with shameful frequency occupy headlines in this country.
The story introduces us to Alba, a young university student who returns home for the holidays to her native town on the Mediterranean coast after her first year away studying in the capital. On her first night back, she and a friend enjoy a night out on the town, and here’s where the series first gives audiences that subtle inkling that trouble is on the way. A feeling that should really have us instead asking questions like, how is it that two girls enjoying their freedom should be in danger? Alas, firstly Alba is harassed by a group of boys as she dances in a nightclub and then, another group of boys slip a drug into Alba’s drink before lying in wait as she’s walking home alone, to rape her.
In an audiovisual world plagued by gratuitously graphic images of sexual assault, it’s a welcome change that ‘Alba’, premiered 28th March on Atresplayer Premium and coming soon to Antena 3, chose to focus its attention on the young girl’s experience. In this way, the rape forms part of the feature, but does not become the defining moment the drama gloats on as the undeniable objective is to convey to audiences what it must be like to walk in the girl’s shoes, not only during the horrific attack, but rather throughout the entire process she’s subjected to from this point onwards, accompanying her as she faces her life after the events.
From the first episode, ‘Alba’ portrays our protagonist’s defenselessness with as much cruelty as is proper when she reports the attack to the police and, although she barely remembers anything, has to narrate what happened time and again to a string of professionals. As she is the only victim, her testimony is questioned, she’s interrogated to the point of exhaustion, and several attempts at victim blaming occur as she’s quizzed about her behavior and how she was dressed on the night.
But the ordeal has only begun and continues throughout the trial she’s forced to embark on to prove the truth. Because in fact, ‘Alba’ is a story of the empowerment of this survivor of sexual violence and her search for justice. Something that proves eminently complex in the drama when her attackers come from a wealthy family with sufficient resources and power to impose their own account of what happened.
Up to this point, ‘Alba’ adheres to the premise of the original ‘Fatmagül’, which at its premiere in 2010 in Turkey became both a television and social phenomenon, as it encouraged many women to report the abuse they had suffered and force their assailants to face justice as Fatmagül does in the television drama. Alba overcomes the geographical and social distance by transporting the story to our reality and portraying our protagonist, played by Elena Rivera (‘Cuéntame cómo pasó’, ‘Inés of My Soul) into an independent, brave and, above all, girl-next-door figure we can all identify with and by shirking any attempt to romanticize the character, it exposes the macho bigotry we’ve all internalized.
Some examples. Why do even consider that a girl is putting herself in danger when she comes home alone in the early hours? How come we always talk about what the victim did before and after an assault instead of focusing on the perpetrators? How is it that some men justify consent, as is the case with Alba’s attackers, if a woman is incapable of giving a clear refusal, either because she is unconscious, drugged or paralyzed with terror?
The melodramatic element, perhaps the least plausible aspect in the drama, is delivered when we discover the identity of the aggressors, since inexplicably three of them are the best friends of Alba’s boyfriend, Bruno. Beyond the impossible love story which commences after the event, what is interesting is that all of them dispel the stereotype of the monstrous criminal. They are young, handsome, rich and basically have it all. They could be anyone’s children, siblings, or friends. Because behind every aggression there is an aggressor. And these rapists are part of a society that this series holds an uncomfortable mirror up to and which, hopefully, will give us all some food for thought.