Viewers in the Arab world are still waiting for the first locally produced Netflix Original content. We were assured last week at a promotional event in Dubai for the streaming service that bosses are looking for the “right material” and Arabic production remains a key priority.
Meanwhile, Netflix’s stable of international productions continues to grow with release of its first Spanish production, Cable Girls (Las Chicas del Cable). It follows the release of French political drama Marseille last year, and arrives ahead of the first German production, a supernatural drama called Dark, which will premiere towards the end of the year.
Cable Girls stars Maggie Civantos, Nadia de Santiago, Ana Polvorosa and Blanca Suárez as new operators at a Madrid telephone exchange, and follows their lives, loves, friendships and tribulations in the male-dominated 1920s. The stars are household names in their native Spain, but Civantos admits that working with a global name such as Netflix has taken their careers to a whole new level.
“The budget is so much bigger [than for a domestic production],” she says.
“It’s not quite X-Men, but we are a top priority for them and everything that’s necessary for a top-quality production is in place.
“It’s probably the highest-quality production we have in Spain at the moment.”
Netflix content chief Ted Sarandos last month told The National more than half the viewers for its existing European shows come from outside the continent.
“After four years of original programming and filming in 18 countries [including the UAE, for the Brad Pitt movie War Machine, due for release next month], we know compelling stories can come from anywhere, and no matter their origin, can resonate with audiences around the world.”
Civantos expands on what viewers can expect from Cable Girls.
“There are four different personalities and they interpret the reality of life,” she says. “They’re real people and in a way they are female heroes.
“It’s about fighting for rights, which was something people didn’t really do in Spain at that time. One has just become a mother, another is young and just wants to be free, one is from a higher class and just wants to get out there and fulfil her dreams.
“We still face the same challenges today, so in that way I suppose they’re timeless characters.”
Netflix is building a reputation for producing shows with strong female leads, such as Marvel superhero drama Jessica Jones and fashion-industry comedy Girlboss.
Civantos feels Cable Girls has some important points to make that transcend borders.
“One thing you can see through all cultures and all religions is that women have historically always been in a position where they’re oppressed by men,” she says.
“There may be all sorts of wars that have happened for a variety of political or religious reasons, but across all societies in history there’s always been that war against women.
“There just comes a time when you have to come together and say, ‘That’s it. I have intellectual capacities and you’ll have to deal with it’.”
The 1920s, in particular, was an interesting time for women in Europe, with issues such as universal suffrage at the forefront of conversations across the continent.
“It was the start of a strong movement for the independence of women so they could get out of the house and have their own job and life,” she says.
“It’s about the position women had at that historic time and what route was used to give women a different position where they can have the same rights as men in terms of aspirations, careers, being self-sufficient, determining their own life.
“In a way, it’s of its time, but it’s also a struggle that goes on today.”
• The first season of Cable Girls is available on Netflix now.