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A Show That Redefines Feminist And Queer Comedy: Watched It Yet?

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By Rachit:

Netflix, last week premiered the second season of ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt‘. Created by Tina Fey and Robert Callock, the comedy-series features Elle Kemper as ‘Kimmy Schmidt’, a woman rescued from a doomsday cult who starts her life over again in New York. Along with Elle Kemper, the show stars Titus Andromedon, Carol Kane and Jane Krakowski. For those who haven’t had the chance to explore the ‘Unbreakable Life’ of Kimmy Schmidt and her friends, the show is about adapting to what life has to offer and never giving up.

In the first season we see Kimmy Schmidt leaving an underground bunker in which she lived for past 15 years and moving to New York where she finds herself living with Tituss (Played by Titus Andromedon), a flamboyant, sensitive and unapologetically feminine singer who does odd entertaining jobs. Their landlord Lillian Kaushtupper, is a wise old New-Yorker (Played by Carol Kane) who, besides her inability to make a buck, has a big heart and an eagerness to help people around her. Jane Krakowski plays Jacqueline White, a wealthy and insecure socialite who employs Kimmy Schmidt as a nanny for her younger child. Later in season one it is revealed that Jacqueline is of Lakota Native American descent and is passing for white.

After establishing the characters and their past lives in the first season, Callock and Fey take their stories further where they begin exploring how to deal with their past and move forward. ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt‘ is a show that has the potential to appeal to everyone. The show deals with issues of mental health, abuse, gentrification and culture of silence with humor, in a way that has rarely been seen before. It tells the most complex stories in the most relatable and positive way that could possibly make you appreciate life a little bit more.

Here are some reasons as to why you need to add ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt‘ to your weekend binge-watching list.

If there is one episode that stands out in this season, it has to be episode four- ‘Kimmy Kidnaps Gretchen‘. In episode four, Kimmy stages an intervention when ex-mole woman Gretchen joins another cult. The episode makes a successful attempt at reaching out to some of us who have never made our own choices. Who feel like that they are in a cycle, repeating same mistakes. Gretchen resists to Kimmy’s attempt to save her from entering another cult and says that they are two kinds of people – followers and leaders, “The sheep must follow the sheep captain”. A line that will make you laugh and quiver at the same time. The episode shows Gretchen doing drugs with strangers on the street, getting a tattoo, adopting a dog, binging on ice cream and for once in her life, following her heart. PS: Don’t get a tattoo when you are high! The show has a way to make pain seem funny. It’s hard not to laugh when Gretchen puts her hand on a burner, enduring pain in a way that is strangely comical.

In the episode, Tituss takes Mikey, a construction worker on his first gay date and on realizing that it could be more than just a date he decides to abandon him the next day. Next day in the morning Lillian points out to Titus that- “He can’t hide in there forever”. In our modern-urban life, rarely do we give someone a chance to truly love us. The episode talks about our fear of losing the one we might love, of opportunities we let go off because we are scared to give love a chance.

The show has something for everyone. If you are a person who loves playing pretend to what animals think in animal videos, the show has Bunny and Kitty to offer. The creators make fun about the fact that in our busy lives as parents it’s hard not to think about medicating our child to address their attention issues. Or about our nature to resist happiness as soon as we know we are happy.

The second season shows characters evolving and taking control over their lives. Kimmy learns how to give up on a possibility to have a relationship with Dong. She mends her relationship with Jacqueline and asks her if she could drive her car as an Uber driver. She takes charge of her mental health. After noticing physical triggers to male touch, she decides to get help from Andrea, a psychiatrist who she meets on an ‘Uber’ call. Andrea, played by Tina Fey is one of the most pleasant additions to this season. Her character has two versions, day and night time Andrea. During the daytime, she is a professional, disgruntled therapist who also runs a marathon. And at night, she is a bitter, mean and sharp drunk who warns Kimmy – “If you don’t deal with what you are pressing then one day your body is going to take over and do something rough. You’ll find yourself walking along a highway or eating at a Boston market.” The show runners make an effort to talk about access to mental health for all of us. There is a noticeable shift in Kimmy’s Character who feels that she doesn’t need therapy, to someone who is more aware of her actions and physical triggers. Night-time Andrea can save all of us a lot of therapy time, she points out to Kimmy, “During daytime it’s all about the process but the truth is, it’s always the parents, they fuck you up!”

Lastly, the second season is a tribute to all those who celebrate fake festivals with their fake families. It’s a story about three individuals who have all experienced loss and disappointment, but who have chosen to move forward observe things with a sense of compassion.

Packed with hilarious one-liners like, “I don’t get pissed off, I get pissed ON,” the show’s positive take on life is truly infectious. It might not be wrong to say that ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt‘ is redefining feminist and queer comedy.

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  1. Rohini Banerjee

    You make some good points, and for the most part, I agree with you. The way this season dealt with sexuality was amazing, and I really really enjoyed the Titus-Mikey arc. Again, it had some interesting feminist themes too. I’ve always read the bunker as a commentary on sexual violence, and this season takes that allegory further by talking about the PTSD Kimmy experiences (especially during intimacy) as a result of her time in the bunker. BUT, a major, major, red flag for me in this show is how it deals with race. From the very first season, I found Jacqueline’s aspiration to ‘become white’ deeply problematic. I know, it was supposed to be a critique, but the way they dealt with it made me uncomfortable. Similarly, the first episode of this season made me super uncomfortable. In a way, they continued to drive home that Native American culture was primitive and backward, and that Jacqueline no longer fits into it because of her urbanness and her exposure to New York life. It DOES try to turn it around, though. That episode, where Jacqueline throws the gala and realizes the horrifying racism of New York high society is definitely a powerful one. But, I can’t help but feel that this show continues to perceive Native American culture through a painfully white perspective. This, coupled with the fact that it’s actually a white actor who’s playing a Native American role, makes it more problematic. I don’t discount the merits of the show (like i said, I love how it deals with gender and sexuality), but the way it deals with race reeks of white privilege. I still recommend watching it though, mainly because of Titus Andromedon 😀

  2. Rachit Sai Barak

    I sort of agree with you, the first season did a terrible job in talking about race through Jacqueline’s character, I mean she is WHITE! But, I do believe they have tried their best to turn that around in the second season. With more prominence being given to Jacqueline’s parents, with them asking her to leave because she wasn’t really part of the tribe. I think the second season does point out Jacqueline inability to understand her own culture, but she is willing to try and give up her old ways. I think for the reasons you pointed out the showrunners did kind of alter her character, also she doesn’t feature that much in this season. And yes Titus Andromedon is amazing!

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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