I love a bit of trashy TV as much as the next person, and some inconsequential and unenlightening viewing of a Sunday afternoon has become something of a lockdown staple. But although I don’t mind a bit of bad TV every now and again, I do prefer that TV to leave as small an impression on me as possible.
Unfortunately, whichever way you look at it, Netflix’s hit 365 Days is unlikely not to leave an indelible mark on the minds of its viewers. For many, the continued presence of this Polish soft-core porn film on the streaming giant is an injustice which normalises violence against women and attempts to sexualise abduction and non-consensual sex.
The film tells the story of an absurdly photogenic Polish woman, Laura, who, while on holiday in Italy with her unsatisfactory boyfriend, crosses paths with Sicilian Mafia boss Massimo (also ridiculously photogenic) who proceeds to kidnap her and tell her that he plans to keep her prisoner for 365 days, in the hope that she will fall in love with him before the year is up.
If you thought this was ludicrous enough, you’ll also be delighted to know that the film features extended shopping scenes (supposedly when Massimo gives his credit card and an unlimited spending allowance to Laura we’re supposed to think this is very romantic), questionable dialogue and a nice smattering of revenge, Mafia-style.
Unfortunately, however, this film is not just something to be laughed at and remembered as a uniquely terrible example of lockdown TV. 365 Days may be generating some mirth from its viewers, but it is, at its heart, designed to be an erotic thriller (the unending sex scenes make this pretty clear). Despite its 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, 365 Days is the fourth most watched programme on Netflix UK, and the third most-watched on Netflix US. It has numerous fans across the world, many of whom are prepared to defend the film and its stomach-curdling content.
The issue is not that this is a bad film. There are plenty of bad films which gain bizarre levels of popularity. The issue is that this is a misleading and problematic film, and it is upheld by Netflix as though streaming it is necessary in the interests of consumer choice. Despite the fact that there have been prominent calls for 365 Days to be removed from Netflix, the streaming platform is refusing to budge, and insists it will continue airing the film for the foreseeable.
But this is where the issues become most acute. Netflix has 12.4 million subscribers in the UK, and nearly 70 million in the US. A huge swathe of the viewing public has access to the platform’s content. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the viewing public in both countries has had no formal education around healthy and unhealthy relationships.
Only at the start of 2020 did it become a legal requirement to teach secondary school pupils about unhealthy relationships as part of the UK’s national curriculum. This means that most young people in the UK and the US will never have experienced such teaching.
You may wonder why this matters so much, especially when a film like 365 Days seems so obviously egregious. Well, for one, I may be writing this article in a very opinionated tone, but it is clear that on the other side there are many people who do not think that 365 Days is lacking in all merit. And indeed, even if viewers acknowledge its woolly plot line and wooden acting, this will not necessarily stop them from buying in to the (graphic) sex scenes as realistic, or getting caught up in the chemistry of the two lead actors.
This means that viewers may not be able to spot or fully realise the dangerous and misogynistic nature of the relationship which is glorified at the centre of the film. Using an extremely attractive male lead to play the part of someone who engages in kidnap and abuse is a worrying way that the film tries to let the protagonist off the hook for his actions – drawing in viewers enamoured of the lead and hoping that their view of him will blind them to the awful nature of his actions. Why the film makers wanted to have a brutal and aggressive protagonist is baffling, but I would fathom a guess that this is because portrayals of abusive men as attractive or even as flawed heroes are well established across popular culture; the film makers are lazily feeding in to an existing trope and adding some racy sex scenes on top for good measure.
So while Netflix may argue that it is in the interests of viewer choice to keep 365 Days on the platform, I would argue that many viewers, particularly if they are young, cannot make informed choices about the material on display in the film. With no framework for understanding unhealthy relationships available through formal education, a film like 365 Days simply perpetuates myths about what is acceptable in a relationship and rides roughshod over the idea of consent. And because it is a film, its influence is naturally insidious; people can imbibe and be affected by its content without even realising it. Maybe this would be ok if people were adequately armed to objectively critique such films, but the truth is, they’re not.
So, Netflix, listen to your critics. Many, like Duffy, have harrowing personal experiences which it is disrespectful for such a platform to ignore. This is not a question of censoring material or failing to offer viewers adequate choice; this is about operating responsibly. The UK government finally stepped up to its responsibilities last year, and agreed to overhaul the relationships and sex education curriculum. While the new curriculum is much improved, it has hardly been in place long enough for changes to take effect. Many other countries lack decent sex and relationships education. In order to be a responsible corporation, Netflix must show that it cares about its viewers and their safety, and stop 365 Days from exponentially expanding its reach.