Netflix’s The Strays Leaves you Catatonic – Peju Akande
Title: The Strays
Writer/ Director: NathanielMartello-White,
Cast: Ashley Madekwe, Jorden Myrie, Bukky Bakray, Samuel Small, Maria Almeida, and Justin Salinger.
Nothing prepares you for what happens on Netflix’s The Strays; not especially when all you are looking forward to is a nice drama. Instead, you get trauma and something else that twists your mind.
The Strays is a British movie that tells the story of Cheryl Blake. She is a young black woman, who appears more white than black, actually and who struggles to keep her head above water.
When we meet Cheryl she is having a meltdown. She is sobbing and venting to a female on the phone. She is in a small and cluttered living room. She feels treated like vermin by the officials at the Housing office after going there to ask for help.
But Cheryl is an accomplished staff at work. Having won, for three consecutive years, The Salesman Award of the year. There’s even a plaque on the mantle recognizing her labour. There is nothing in her immediate environment suggesting she is lavish.
So we know she is smart and hardworking and yet is suffering not just panic attacks on account of her mounting bills but feeling threatened by a “suppressive” system.
A few eerie seconds later, Cheryl walks out through the door and out of that cluttered, tight, and stifling environment.
Cut to a few years later and we are introduced to a clean, posh, uncluttered lush neighborhood of the rich and snobbish.
As the camera slowly pans, we see wigs…establishing a change of identity…we see a large living room tastefully furnished and a happy family.
Welcome to the world of Neve
We see a woman who bears a slight resemblance to Cheryl applying makeup…to hide something, perhaps? Neve is practicing her posh accent as she dresses up for the day.
Neve, is a teacher and lives with her White husband, Ian, and their two adorable white-looking teenage children; Sebastian and Amanda who both attend a private school their mother teaches at.
While it is obvious Neve wants a completely new identity, one that distances itself from anything black, we see her children wanting to identify with black even if just by the 25% of the black they know they got from their mum.
At dinner, for instance, when Ian announces, “We just hired a girl from out of town, a lovely young black girl.” Neve scoffs at the “black” and this prompts Sebastian to reply, “We are black…” affirming there is nothing wrong with black.
At this point, the viewer knows Neve is a fraud. Neve is hiding. She may appear to have blended into a new life and adopted a new community of neighbours, friends, and even family, but her past is fast catching up with her. She senses it even when those around her don’t, she says, “Something is coming, someone’s there, can’t you see?”
Neve isn’t just seeing things; there is something more visceral taking place from the wigs that itch, causing her to keep scratching and nightmares that begin appear a tad bit too real. At some point, you ask yourself, is this a horror movie or a mind-bender?
Do they want answers or revenge?
But Neve has so much more to worry about than the wigs. She has to worry about two black strangers in her almost-white neighbourhood. Strangers no one else seems uncomfortable with but herself.
The movie comes to a head when we see Cherly’s past confront Neve’s present. She has a meltdown right in front of her posh guests as she confronts the strangers, who turn out to be familiar strangers she walked away from some 16 years before.
The Strays examines several social issues; Bigotry. Sexism. Racism. Inequality. Stereotypes. It takes individual willpower to handle “the cards that we are dealt.”
This movie is gripping and will keep you seated till the end even though it feels a bit stretched and seems to fall flat towards the end.
But despite the fluctuations, The Strays will leave you wondering what exactly you are witnessing at the end of the 1-hour 37-minute movie.