Gritty teen shows such as “Euphoria” and “Grand Army” have been all the rage recently, but “We Are Who We Are” takes it to a whole new level. The new HBO drama from director Luca Guadagnino, known for “Call Me by Your Name,” chronicles the lives of a group of teenagers and their parents living on an American military base in Italy. The show tackles issues such as mental health, gender identity, sexuality, religion, and abuse with an ease that’s difficult for even the most talented writers.
Before it aired, Guadagnino was criticized for some controversial choices made during the filming of the show. Because Guadagnino wanted the show to appear as real as possible, the young actors were placed in some inappropriate and even mentally straining situations that were problematic to some viewers. The young stars and Guadagnino confirmed that they had clear communication and consent for all the difficult-to-film scenes to make sure that the actors were comfortable. The product of these difficult scenes was worth the stress, as the show comes across almost too real at some points.
The show is set with the backdrop of the 2016 presidential election, something that Guadagnino wanted to focus on when writing the show. The following of Donald Trump by many members of the military serves as the perfect backdrop to add tension to the story. While it certainly is not the center of the story, the lingering tension of President Trump’s presidency is the perfect stressor for the characters. Guadagnino also chose to air the final episode of the first season the night before the 2020 election, which many have speculated to be a final call-to-action for American voters or even a break from the stress of the election for viewers.
The cast, made up of legendary actors like Chloe Sevigny, and newcomers, such as lead actress Jordan Kristine Seamon, creates the perfect ensemble for this show. There is not a single bad performance even though Guadagnino took a large risk casting so many new actors. Both young leads Jack Dylan Grazer and Jordan Kristine Seamon give remarkable and haunting performances for their ages. The overall cast has great chemistry, as they spent much time together filming and improvising their characters.
Another aspect of the show that is remarkable is the set design and costumes. The set looks almost identical to a real American military base, but it was constructed solely for the purposes of filming. The costumes really take the show to the next level, helping to represent the complex identities of the teenage characters. Often flamboyant outfits worn by the show’s main character really help to develop the personalities of the characters before they even speak.
The best part of the show is the realness with which it handles difficult topics. It isn’t afraid to show the reality of coming into one’s identity while at the same time struggling with substance abuse and violence. Military bases are rarely the subject of media, but this show dives deep into the effect military life can have on children and their families. It focuses on how military life can stifle the ability to explore one’s identity and the fluidity and freedom that comes with breaking out of that lifestyle and exploring the world.
“We Are Who We Are” is a show that is worth watching for its boundary-pushing plot and spectacular performances. Guadagnino has stated that he has already written a second season of the show and that the cast would love to go back to Italy for another round of filming. A second season of the show has yet to be announced, but with critic praise overflowing, it’s likely that another season of the show will be produced after the COVID-19 pandemic slows.
Grace Beilman // Opinion Editor