In a world free from parents, boys, technology, and the expectations placed on young women, a group of disparate teen girls battle for their lives when a private plane they're in crashes into the ocean near a deserted island in The Wilds from Amazon Studios. Ingenuity meets past insecurities in the YA series from Sarah Streicher that features a diverse cast including Indigenous and queer characters and touches on gender, the effects of toxic masculinity, and environmental concerns.
The cast of mostly newcomers includes the bookish Nora (Helena Howard of Madeline's Madeline) and her athletic sister Rachel (Reign Edwards); wild child socialite Fatin (Sophia Ali); best friends who are Indigenous and one of whom is queer, Toni (Erana James) and Martha (Jenna Clause); the brokenhearted Leah (Sarah Pidgeon),; the reliable Dot (Shannon Berry); and the Christian beauty queen Shelby (Mia Healey).
There’s not much that can be said about the plot of The Wilds without giving away major spoilers. Spoilers ahead if you haven't watched to the end of the first episode...
The series stars Rachel Griffiths (Six Feet Under, Brothers and Sisters, Muriel’s Wedding) as an academic or something of a mad scientist who conducts an experiment on homosocial relationships among young women. While her study ostensibly includes a feminist bent with the goal of empowering girls and women, ethical red flags pop up all over as she’s the puppet master of the scenario.
The Advocate spoke with Griffiths, who likened her character Gretchen to Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes, and the entire cast of young women in the series as well as Streicher and mega-producer Amy Harris about women supporting each other and the show’s inclusion of queer, Black, Indigenous, and Persian characters, who also come from various class backgrounds.
“It ticks all of my boxes for now of making female-led content, making ‘if she can see it, she can be it’ content, making nondidactic content that is thrilling and entertaining and kind of heart-stopping. But really authentically portraying human experience in casting diverse actors, from different parts of the world. Racially different, different experiences in terms of being immigrants or daughters of immigrants, First Nations,” Griffiths said.
“None of that felt inauthentic. None of it felt convenient or box-ticking. It felt absolutely at the core of this study [Gretchen’s] of ‘Why is it so fucking hard to become a woman?’” Griffiths added about taking on the role at a time when she’s choosy about parts that would take her far from her kids (although this one was shot closer to her home of Australia). The pilot was one of the best she’d read, Griffiths said. She name-checked Six Feet Under as another.
Rachel Griffiths as Gretchen Klein
For Ali, who plays Fatin, a teen with great sexual agency and a pricey waterproof suitcase that preserves her cosmetics as well as clothes that keep the teens warm while on the island, the show’s biggest draw was that it is a story by and about women.
"I’m so gung-ho in any opportunity to represent women. We don’t get enough of that in our world because we have still very male-dominated industries. The story of a man has been told so frequently. Even that of a woman, but written by a man. It’s another interpretation," Ali said. "This to me seemed so raw. The opportunity to perceive young women growing and doing it justice by making it real and accurate was a challenge that I really wanted to take on as an actor."
In one of her first projects ever, Clause was thrilled to be a part of a project that highlights Indigenous people.
"I play an Ojibwe and I’m a Cayuga Nation Wolf Clan from Six Nations Ontario. So for me to bring my spiritual authenticity to this role, and so for me to explore a whole new realm of the Ojibwe ways and their ways of prayer, just their beautiful messages that they send throughout their stories, it was so important to me that I got every little bit correct," Clause said. "Especially because I have a community behind me. I have a community I need to do justice to. I’m extremely proud of myself and proud of everyone that we’ve done."
Meanwhile, James was honored to play the out and proud Toni, a rare depiction of a queer Indigenous teen on TV, she said.
"I’m Indigenous New Zealand, so I’m Maori. So I’m telling an Indigenous story as well, and just getting to speak with Jenna about the Native American experience and getting to understand life on a reservation more than I could possibly know.... What I could bring to it was my own Indigenous experience," James said.
"Speaking to Toni’s queer identity, I felt so lucky to tell that story. It’s not a story of someone coming out or coming to terms with their identity, but more that she fiercely knows who she is and she’s proud of that. She knows herself. And she’s not going to apologize for it," she added. "I think it’s beautiful being able to tell a story of love and loving someone whoever they are. And that’s the story that I’m lucky enough to tell."
More spoilers ahead if you haven't watched episode 6 of The Wilds.
One turn in The Wilds is when it's revealed that Healey's Christian pageant character Shelby is deeply closeted. Producer Harris spoke about why it was important to them to tell a story of one queer character who is out and who she is and another who struggles, while Streicher gave a shout-out to the LGBTQ+ writers who worked on the story to provide something nuanced and multifaceted. At one point, when Shelby makes homophobic remarks to Toni, the rest of the girls flatly call her out.
"We don’t want to be in a world where we don’t acknowledge that Shelby’s family does rebuke all of those open-minded points of view. We wanted to show the world in its reality and how painful that can be," Harris said. "For us, it actually felt quite authentic to have seven out of the eight girls be like, ‘That’s just wrong.’”
Erana James as Toni and Mia Healey as Shelby
"To be able to tell the Toni story and very much who she is. She’s a basketball player, an athlete, a reservation kid, part of the LGBTQ community. For us, that was also exciting to be able to explore both versions," Harris added. "Kids who are still struggling to come out, I think there should be characters who are going through that so that they don’t feel alone as they’re trying to get there. And also, when you get there, this is potentially life [as a queer person]."
"The story was enriched by LGBTQ writers in the room. I’m a cis, hetero woman. It took listening and hearing their incredible contributions to help flesh out and make authentic the Shelby storyline. She is such a rich and conflicted character. I’m so endeared to her," Streicher said.
As for Healey, an Australian who deftly plays a Texas pageant girl, there are parts of Shelby that are universal, she said.
"What I could understand from her point of view was wanting to be loved and fit the mold and be what the right thing is to be. I used that to empathize with her," Healey said. "It was a very interesting story to play, and I am honored to have brought that character justice, hopefully."