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How Netflix's 'Afflicted' Failed The Chronic Illness Community
Thursday 13 September 2018
How Netflix’s ‘Afflicted’ Failed the Chronic Illness Community
According to participants in the docuseries, producers promised compassion but delivered exploitation instead.
When “Afflicted” viewers first meet Bekah Fly, she and her boyfriend Jesse are living in a secluded van in the middle of the California desert. Her severe mold sensitivity makes it difficult for her to reside in traditional homes or apartments, she explains. She only leaves the desert for doctor’s appointments and otherwise avoids indoor spaces to keep her symptoms, such as asthma, at bay.
In the premiere episode, Fly tells the cameras that the prospect of indefinitely living with her mold sensitivity, on top of chronic Lyme disease, sometimes makes her wish to end her life. In the fourth episode of “Afflicted,” cameras pan to Fly’s brother Nick Dinnerstein, who discusses her history of depression and anxiety. Fly’s parents also make a brief appearance in the series, recalling her experience in a psychiatric ward as a teenager.
Together, the edited scenes forefront Fly’s mental health, pairing her family’s soundbites with those of medical experts who speculate that she and her fellow “Afflicted” subjects’ illnesses are the result of psychiatric problems.
When producers first contacted Fly about participating in the Netflix docuseries, she was worried about how the show intended to depict people with chronic illness. So she took a direct approach, she said: “I just asked them straight out, ‘Is this going to be a slant of where you have a bunch of doctors calling patients crazy?’”
According to her, executive producers Dan Partland and Peter Logreco assured Fly that they were committed to telling each patient’s story with compassion in their seven-episode series. She believed them, and, in 2017, decided to take part in “Afflicted.” By participating in the show, the 30-year-old New York City native said she was told she’d have the opportunity to work with doctors that she couldn’t otherwise afford.
Today, she regrets that decision.
In her opinion, producers of “Afflicted,” which premiered in August, not only misrepresented the extent of her health conditions on screen, but they pushed a singular narrative that’s long haunted individuals with a variety of persistent, multi-symptomatic, tough-to-diagnose illnesses: Her sickness is all in her head.
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