The Woman Who Disappeared
Roar is a short anthology series available on Apple TV+, with eight episodes that give a glimpse into the lives of eight different women with unique stories, dealing with issues prevalent in society today. It’s very thought-provoking and if you haven’t watched it yet, you definitely should.
The first episode is called The Woman Who Disappeared. Now, before I watched it, I thought it was going to be about a woman who’s possibly kidnapped and goes missing before her body is found after a while. Dark, I know. But that is what happens to a lot of women all over the world.
The episode adopts an interesting angle on racism in its many forms in modern-day America. Wanda Shepard, played by Issa Rae, is a novelist who is flown to LA by a company that, initially, wants to turn her memoir into a movie. Her book is about her experiences growing up in America, and having to deal with racism and police brutality. One interesting scene in the episode, which I’ll talk about in greater detail later, is when she arrives in LA and is waiting to be picked up. She stands next to a white woman who she realises is reading her memoir. Without introducing herself, she asks the woman about the book she’s reading, and the woman, without recognising that she’s the author, simply tells her that it’s a fascinating read and that it’s the novel that her book club has chosen.
She then gets picked up by a black representative from the company, to be taken to her rental. During the drive, the representative, Blake, mentions that he has a Ugandan name, but goes by his mother’s maiden name because that’s just easier for him in the corporate world since a lot of people have trouble pronouncing it.
She spends the rest of her day exploring the opulent rental and preparing for the meeting the following day. Fast forward to the next day, she arrives at the company’s headquarters and walks to the reception, where she gets her picture taken to be printed out onto an identity card. After a few unsuccessful attempts, the receptionist writes “N/A” on her card and Wanda, understandably, takes offence to this. She then goes to sit down next to a black guy, who immediately recognises her and tells her he’s a big fan of her work. His card also has “N/A” scribbled on it, and he explains that the facial recognition program has a hard time picking up darker skin tones.
Blake then takes her to the office where the meeting, with four white men, will be taking place. The meeting, led by Doug, is going well until Wanda pulls out a notebook, where she’s written down a few suggestions about the movie’s plot. They then tell her that instead of a movie, they’ve decided to turn her book into a virtual reality experience, where people can metaphorically walk in her shoes. She isn’t happy with this, and feels that they’re trying to turn her memoir into a “racist science experiment”. The minute she voices her discontent, the four men suddenly can’t hear her. They can see her sitting in front of them, but they can’t hear anything she’s saying. They simply assume she’s overwhelmed. Doug then invites her to his place later on, where they’ll be trying out the virtual reality experience, in hopes that she’ll change her mind.
She leaves and goes to a boutique to buy a dress, and no one in the shop can see her. Also, important to note in this context is that the people in the boutique are white. She later arrives at Doug’s place, and once again, none of them can see her. Doug asks the group if anyone has any idea where she is, and one guy decides that they start without her, adding that it might be more comfortable that way. They put on the VR headsets and skip to Chapter 6. Wanda grabs one of the headsets and puts it on as well. Chapter 6 features a young Wanda taking a walk with her father before the police pull up and announce that there’s been a robbery in the area. They immediately grab Wanda’s father and push him up against a wall, ignoring his protests as he tells them that he’s innocent. They grab Wanda too, and shortly after, she passes out.
Back to the present moment, an emotional Wanda, having had to relive a traumatic and scarring experience, rushes outside and sits by the entrance. Shortly afterwards, Blake arrives, and to Wanda’s surprise, he can see and hear her. He asks if she’s okay, and she tells him that she doesn’t what she is, before Blake assures her that she knows exactly what she is. She then walks back into Doug’s place with her head held high.
Series of this nature are typically open to personal interpretation, but I think I did a pretty decent ten-minute analysis in my head before deciding to dedicate a blog post to my thoughts on this. Firstly, the scene where the white woman at the airport doesn’t realise that Wanda is the author behind the book she’s reading provides a sharp contrast with the scene where the black guy recognises her immediately. Is this meant to communicate how black people are often not recognised and acknowledged for their work, no matter how brilliant it is? I think so. There are a great number of real-world examples of this, throughout history. The lack of general acknowledgment of black women is once again emphasised when the facial recognition program can’t capture images of people of colour. This sheds light on a big issue: black people aren’t seen, acknowledged, and represented. Scribbling down Not Applicable is incredibly disrespectful.
Secondly, I’m going to focus on the scene where the meeting is taking place. No one can tell Wanda’s story better than she can, the same way no one can tell stories of oppression better than the oppressed. The four men clearly don’t understand this, because instead of considering Wanda’s suggestions, they’re trying to promote their VR experience. By doing this, they’re exploiting her story and taking away her voice. Notice how the minute she expresses her dissatisfaction, she immediately becomes invisible; they can’t see or hear her. This is a common and unfortunate occurrence, especially in America. There are countless protests and criticisms against police brutality and institutionalised racism, and they constantly fall on deaf ears. The minute black people are speaking out, they disappear, just like Wanda does.
Thirdly, Blake’s decision to abandon his Ugandan name and go by his mother’s maiden name highlights yet another struggle faced by people of colour. It’s no secret that people with native names deemed too difficult to pronounce by Western society typically don’t go that far up the corporate ladder. A name is an important part of someone’s identity. Blake’s identity is being stripped, and he’s had to resort to shrinking himself in an attempt to fit in and appease people.
The final scene is a great end to the episode, and I’m glad Wanda decided not to fade into the background and allow her story to be told by someone else, especially someone who can’t begin to imagine the challenges of growing up black in a racist society. I saw this as symbolising encouragement to people of colour to never stop fighting for racial equality.
The Woman Who Disappeared is a very eye-opening piece, and in my opinion, it’s storytelling at its finest. I’m excited to watch the rest of the episodes. If you’ve watched it, leave a comment and let me know what you think. I’d love to hear from you.