A Modern Day Portrayal of Emotional Abuse

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The outspoken feminist character of the popular web show Skam España, Nora Grace (Nicole Wallace), has her hair in a ponytail, wears a defiant red lipstick, and tries not to burst into tears as she talks to her friends for the first time about her relationship with her new boyfriend. “It all happened so gradually I didn’t notice“, she says, feeling guilty for not realizing sooner, for pushing her friends away because of him, for thinking she would know better if she ever was in this situation. This is something countless people face when they are in an emotionally abusive relationship, the kind of thing not really shown at all in media, much less with the sensitivity and accuracy that Skam used to display it. 

Nora is the main character of the third season of the Spanish version of Skam, a multimedia web series that focuses on one particular character in a high school’s group of friends in Madrid per season. The show started out as a Norwegian web show that sought to portray teenagers as they were, using Instagram posts, text messages, and seemingly live updates on the character’s lives as they navigated the troubles of school, young love, mental illness, prejudice, sexuality and self-identity. It became so famous online that it currently has seven international adaptations, all of which rarely stray from the original storyline and character arcs. However, the Spanish rendition of the series vowed to do something different and unexpected. Where the original version received online criticism over not having any LGBTQ+ representation for women, in the Spanish Skam it is the token comic relief female character Cris (Irene Ferreiro) that discovers herself and falls in love with Joana (Tamara Luz Ronchese), a teenager who suffers from borderline personality disorder. And where Norwegian Noora’s (Josefine Frida) romance with William (Thomas Hayes) seemed a little off at times, Miquel (Alex Villazan) – William´s Spanish version – was controlling and jealous, developing a toxic relationship with Nora. 

Image Credit: Amino Apps

It all started as a cute romance between two who knew each other from childhood. But soon Miquel was asking his girlfriend to not hang out with certain types of people, getting mad at her for the smallest things, gaslighting her until she started believing everything was her fault. She tries to explain her situation, more to herself than to anyone else: “Every time Miquel and I argue it is always my fault because I always hide stuff from him“. Even when trustworthy friends noticed something was wrong and told Nora to her face she was not herself, she put up a wall and kept her distance. It is a familiar story for people who have seen those they love go through this type of situation, and even more poignant for people who have been on the inside of it. 

If it is hard for domestic abuse cases to be taken seriously when there is physical evidence, imagine how difficult it is with the absence of it. Sometimes the person, unlike Nora, doesn’t realize the toxicity of the other person during the relationship. Sometimes they may realize it months or years later, if they even realize it at all. But their friends, and in Skam España´s case the audience itself, are painfully aware of what is going on. 

I find it a bold choice to present an emotionally abusive relationship in the media. It is hard to think of another TV Show or movie that has tackled this issue so well, not just showing how anyone can fall into this kind of trap, but also choosing to show the aftermath, the pain and the weight the relationship inflicted on the victim and how it doesn’t simply just go away. It takes time to rebuild and start to feel like yourself again, to realize the guilt you feel and for the positive feelings you have towards the other person to go away. It seems it will take time for it to happen for Nora, who is still coming to terms with it when we leave her at the end of the season and thinks she was stupid to see it so clearly when it happened to other women, but never when it was happening to her. But she has her friends that keep her honest and remind her that none of this was her fault.

Image Credit: Medium.com