When King Juan Carlos of Spain visited the town of Ponferrada, he was introduced to Nevenka Fernandez, a young municipal councilor, and complimented her on her attractiveness. Her response (“Majestad, soy tambien muy inteligente!”) forms the title of this post. That exchange epitomizes the issues at stake. Even at the highest levels, Spanish men diminish and ignore the professional accomplishments of Spanish women. Some Spanish women, however, have resisted.
My search for enlightening and entertaining Spanish content on Netflix has recently taken me to a documentary and a drama about sexual harassment.
Breaking the Silence
In Spanish municipal government, political parties put forward lists of diverse candidates, which have come to include token females. Nevenka Fernandez was a young economist who was part of the Popular Party list 1999 in the Castilian town of Ponferrada, and after their election victory was given the position of Treasurer. She and Mayor Ismael Alvarez began a sexual relationship after the death of his wife. When she ended it, he began harassing her. She became depressed, resigned, and filed a legal complaint against Alvarez. Alvarez was ultimately convicted and fined, the first such conviction for a Spanish politician.
The three-part Netflix documentary, Nevenka: Breaking the Silence, released in March 2021, tells her story based on her lengthy and emotional interviews, interviews with journalists, explanations of evidence presented at the trial, and discussion of media coverage and public reaction. Alvarez, however, refused to be interviewed. Nevenka’s story is harrowing. The documentary includes telephone logs showing Alvarez calling her 30 times a day and Nevenka’s depression at the time of the trial is written on her face. Her prosecutor is removed because it is evident to the judge that his conduct also constitutes harassment.
Nevenka’s legal victory was diminished because much of the national media have portrayed her as notorious and she could find work in Spain, and ultimately exiled herself to the UK. Alvarez, on the other hand, paid his fine, but remained popular and a political and social force in Ponferrada. With 20 years’ hindsight, Nevenka insists that her victory was not Pyrrhic because it benefitted the next generation of Spanish women.
Intimidad (Intimacy) is an eight-part Spanish series released on Netflix in early June that has quickly become its top non-English language program, with 30 million viewership hours in its second week. The drama focuses on two women who are harassed because, unwittingly, they have been filmed having sex, and the videos have been released. One, like Nevenka, is a municipal politician chosen to give the ruling party in Bilbao a diverse list. The second is a factory worker, and the circulation of the video in her workplace drives her to commit suicide.
The series is about women fighting back. The politician, Malen, refuses to resign, though her party wants her too. Begona, a teacher, resolves to find out who made the tape of her late sister Ane, and who at the factory circulated it. Their cases are handled by a senior police investigator, Alicia, a lesbian who has not come out. Some men in the series are quietly supportive of the women, while others are perpetrators who fight the investigation. I consider the series a feminist fantasy, which is enough of a spoiler.
The series has an excellent cast, headed by the jolie laide (at least in my opinion) Itziar Ituno Martinez, who previously had a major role in the Netflix Spanish series Money Heist. Ituno Martinez portrays a woman who is not ashamed that her partner in the sex tape is not her husband and who has the toughness to fight for her political career. The comparison with the character Birgitte Nyborg is obvious (and will be the subject of a future post as soon as I can find the time to watch the new season of Borgen).
Intimidad was produced on location in Bilbao and the surrounding Basque region. Bilbao’s famous buildings including the Guggenheim Museum, City Hall, and Cultural Centre are shown, and are of great visual interest. The actors often switch effortlessly from Spanish to Euskara (Basque), which sends a message about bilingualism in that region.
Time Well Spent
While I learned some Spanish, especially slang and profanities, watching both programs, I found their stories and themes valuable as well. Nevenka Fernandez is an admirable person and fighter for a righteous cause. The female characters in Intimidad all were relatable and sympathetic. I encourage you to watch both in your preferred modality: the original Spanish, dubbed, or subtitled. The stories are relevant to any society in which women are fighting sexism and harassment, which is to say any society.