Updated: Jan 24
The Queen's Gambit was trending on no.1 on Netflix in Saudi Arabia for quite some time. For some, it is hard to imagine why. When you want to make a television series on sports, what's the first game that would pop into your mind? Football? Hell yeah!! Basketball, baseball, tennis? Close seconds. Maybe even cricket. These are the games hundreds of millions of people are crazy about the world over. These games draw large crowds in stadiums and sell out weeks in advance. The top performers of these games have a cult following and brand power bigger than even film and television personalities. Yet, Netflix chose to tell the story of a child prodigy in a game no-one cares about and made it work. And that game is chess. If you think of it, how many of us are aware of the current world champion in chess compared to our awareness of the biggest names in football and other mainstream sports. That's how mundane this game is.
Yet, Netflix took the risk and created a series about an eight-year-old, orphaned American girl Beth, who, in the grimmest circumstances, chances upon the game of chess through the solo performance of a janitor, Mr. Shaibel, in the orphanage she is sent to. She pesters him to teach her the game, and after much deliberation, he reluctantly agrees. After just a few training sessions, she not only defeats her mentor but also every opponent that comes her way. She glides through every tournament effortlessly, vanquishing county, state, and national champions in the game. In her entire career (or at least the series), Beth is only beaten twice. This is the gist of the story
With a very geeky game as the premise of the series that very few people on this planet understand, the show-runners placed a hefty bet. A bet that paid off due to the complexity of the characters, the layers that kept unraveling in the brilliant storyline that keeps you hooked to each episode, and the cinematography that transports you effortlessly to cold war era America. Not to mention that Anya-Taylor Joy (who plays the grown-up Beth), the shining star of the show with her breath-taking performance, showed us the emotional range she is capable of displaying with just her eyes. We might have just found the female equivalent of Tom Hardy.
Packed with all this goodness and more, The Queen's Gambit became a top trending show and one of the most-watched in the history of Netflix.
But what made this show trend on number 1 in Saudi Arabia? Why did the local audience love it so much? Well, we might have some ideas as to why.
1. It is a "coming of age" story of a young woman who makes it big in a largely male-dominated field
This country is undergoing massive social transformation in current times. Gender roles are becoming increasingly flexible; females are being represented more in every field of social, economic, and political life. There have been some unprecedented advancements in sports in the kingdom. With such exciting changes, every female role model is an inspiration for young women in the country. The Queen's Gambit resonates with Saudi women because it is the coming of age story of a young woman in 1960s America in a sport where there were hardly any female participants and people talked her down for even trying. Young Saudi women find a bit of themselves in Beth - they are brilliant like she is, they are passionate about what they're good at, just like she is. And they've just got their wings to fly as high as they like, just like Beth did.
2. Manages to make it big in a sport while looking glamorous
Saudi women love glamour and fashion. They love to dress up; they love their makeup. But their love for glamour does not make them frivolous. They are also thorough professionals and have conquered every field like medicine, engineering, space, sports, government, and entrepreneurship. All of this, while managing to look absolutely stunning. They are one of the biggest buyers of high fashion and luxury commodities in the world. So when it comes to identifying with an on-screen character, nothing short of a hardworking, professional woman who is also a glam diva would do. And this is what Beth is. She is the best in the world, at the top of her game, and she looks worth it. She loves the things every girl does - nice dresses, pretty shoes, stunning bags, and looking beautiful. Yet all her love for glamour does not stray her focus from her passion for chess. Which also helps in breaking the stereotype that geeky girls can only be freaks
3. An inspirational story for children and adults alike
The story of a character as complex as Beth is not created for women alone. It is a story for everyone. A small child would as much be inspired by the child prodigy that Beth was, as an adult would be inspired by how Beth overcomes the different challenges she faces in life and overcomes them to stay on top of her game. While the challenges of a young woman (who also had a drug problem) in 1960s America would not be the same as millennials face in Saudi Arabia today, the one constant in every human story are challenges. The type does not matter. The constancy does, which makes Beth an inspiration for every age, every gender, and situation.
4. It strikes a chord with even the older Saudi audience as they can relate to the 60s America that they visited
How many of you have grown up listening to stories of your Saudi parents living in America in the 60s and 70s for higher studies? Some of them may have visited just for tourism, yet they have memories of the country back from the days of The Beetles, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, the Chevy Corvair, and more importantly, the US-USSR cold war. The Queen's Gambit brilliantly captures the tension between the two countries as an essential plot point and transports the viewer to one of the most important eras in American cultural history. By doing so, it manages to instill a feeling of nostalgia in older Saudi viewers who might reminisce of their time spent in the country for studies, work, or leisure during that momentous period.
5. Passion for a game is relatable to every young viewer
It's no hidden secret that the Saudis are big on football and it is the principal sport played in the country with a passion and fervor that borders on mania. But again, so what if the show is not about football; it is still about an undying love and passion for a game that supersedes everything. This love for a game is what young Saudis may have found so relatable to make it the top trending show on Netflix in the country
Do you agree with this? What do you think we missed? Do tell us what you found most relatable about the show in the comments section below.
Photo credits - Netflix