The Cold Truths of the Netflix Original Grand Army

Ryan Gardner

The show Grand Army, which was released on Netflix this year on October 16th, reveals the hard truths of issues that teens across America frequently face. 

Each episode displays the realities of mental health, racism, rape, and so many more issues adolescents go through. Oftentimes one may forget that this show isn’t real life because of how raw and moving each episode is. 

At the beginning of the show, there is a bomb threat that goes off blocks away from the school forcing Grand Army High School to go on lockdown. While this was all happening, Jayson (Maliq Johnson) and his best friend Owen (Jaden Jordan) are playing around with something that belongs to their friend Dominique (Jean). Eventually, they end up losing the item, causing serious consequences for the two.

Jayson and Owen are black, and their punishment makes you question how corrupt school systems can be when dealing with POC. The school-to-prison pipeline epidemic is called into question because of how malicious the public school system is in correlation to the well-being of black youth. The American Civil Liberties Union, whose duty is to fight for civil rights goes on to say, “Black youth are incarcerated in state-run youth prisons at five times the rate white youth are.”  (ACLU)

We can now further see how the likeness of African American kids going to jail compared to their white counterparts is no coincidence. The punishment for the two boys is unreasonably harsh and quite unexpected. Within the show, it offenses that children’s’ race other than black commit are not weighed the same as Owen and Jayson’s are. 

Now when looking at this issue alone it seems like a case of racial unfairness, but this situation is much deeper than that. Joey Del Marco (Odessa A’zion) who is white goes out one night with her friends and is sexually assaulted. The “attractive” white characters within the show who are accused of sexual assault are allowed back in school the same week of the bomb threat. Comparing the boys’ situation where they lost Dom’s personal belongings and were forgiven by Dom (the girl whose item it was) and still faced remarkably harmful consequences. This kind of pretty privilege is seen to revolve around the three characters who assault Joey, and it goes over the heads of many. 

 In the article “The purpose behind Zero Tolerance: Improving Safety or Creating Harm?” Quezada Yamili talks about the pitfalls of a student’s academic life once they become suspended or expelled due to zero tolerance. “In addition, data collected from thirty-seven states reflect that schools with high suspension rates had lower achievement in math, writing, and reading.” (Fuentes) 

It is no surprise to many that Owen and Jayson get the treatment that they do because society has normalized the dismissal of racial disparities for people of color. 

“A snapshot of recent data on school discipline shows that zero-tolerance policies disproportionately affect Black and brown Students”(ACLU). Yet crimes for white characters within the show seem to lead them to a minor sit-down talk with staff and parents. 

The two major issues for both groups with racial differences overlap. It took all some time to realize how many didn’t acknowledge how greatly the white character who committed a crime benefited from the school system compared to the incident with Owen and Jayson. 

In an article, “United States Senate Hearing To Focus on Ending The “School-to-Prison Pipeline” from the NAACP they state,  “The School-to-Prison Pipeline is counterproductive and lacks a pedagogical underpinning. In fact, many of these policies not only label children as criminals, but they also encourage children to lose hope, making it more likely that they will wind up behind bars .” 

Furthermore, the apparent normalization of the position the boys are in deeply reflects how society treats students of color as a whole. Grand Army does the job of showing viewers the realities of what being a black student is like and how they often have to work smarter and harder. 

In an article, “Zero-Tolerance Policies and the School to Prison Pipeline”  from Shared Justice they explain, “The notion of deterring future misbehavior is central to the philosophy of zero-tolerance, and the impact of any consequence on future behavior is the defining characteristic of effective punishment.” 

However, effective punishment has been seen to predict higher future rates of misbehavior and suspension among students who get suspended and are connected to the likelihood of students dropping out. 

All in all, the Netflix show Grand Army is quite the show to see. The controversial topics within the show help spread light to so many teen issues faced across the country.