After hours of filming and months of teasing, Netflix’s Spanish-language teen drama Elite has finally gone live. And it was worth the wait. Cue much fanfare over plot twists and an enviably attractive cast, but even better, a renewed discussion on topics that matter in modern society.
Grazia travelled to Madrid where the programme, likened to Gossip Girl, was filmed, to interview one of the stars of the show. Throughout the eight-part series, Mina El Hammani plays Nadia, an ambitious Muslim, Palestinian girl who, alongside two other pupils, enrols in a prestigious private school in Spain and faces prejudice towards her working-class background as well as ethnic discrimination and Islamophobia. Pretty heavy stuff.
In the first episode Nadia is ordered to remove her headscarf by the principal or face expulsion, in a scene that plays heavily in the debate over whether to ban headscarves in schools in Europe over recent years. She also tells the fellow new pupils that you "get used to" people staring at the hijab. It is in this context that the show’s co-writers sought to use Nadia’s character to highlight the challenges some Muslims face in their daily lives.
“I’ve experienced stereotyping,” Mina starts, frankly. “My family are Muslim and although they never forced me to wear the hijab or a veil, I have always been subjected to people - in high school and on the street - telling me that I should go back to my own country or that I should go back home, even though I was actually born in Spain. People identify you with your family’s origin. When I go to Morocco I’m seen as the Spaniard coming for a visit, and when I’m in Spain I’m seen as a Moroccan who should leave. You’re between two worlds.”
While the series, available to be played with English and Arabic subtitles, primarily details the intertwining relationships of the young cast, viewers also become acquainted with Nadia’s home life and how she interacts with her father, mother and older brother. “It was important to show the way Muslims live, their lives and the dynamics of what a Muslim family is,” Mina, 24, explains. “This is a family that really follows the ways of Islam outside of their country; they feel the need to be close to their origins.”
“My family,” Mina continues, “Are more open-minded than Nadia’s. When I was young I had the chance to ask my own questions and create my own path. But there are similarities between us. When I was 16, I never went to parties. My parents didn’t like it, so I didn’t get to know what partying was like until I was 19. I tried to be invisible at school because I didn’t want to be the centre of attention.”
As the plot unravels around spoilt, rich teens clashing with the newbies and a death of one of their classmates, Mina expands on how Elite is far from the typical high-school story. “It’s a story about human beings, the relationships between them and how they interact, especially at that age of 16," she says.
What advice would Mina give to her younger self going through high school again? “Honestly, I don’t think I’d give myself any advice, because I’m pretty happy with the way things have turned out,” Mina replies. “If you have a clear goal and you’re persistent and hardworking then you’ll reach that goal. When I was a child I started working towards that goal, even though I had some family members and friends who didn’t support me because they didn’t believe in what I was doing. But in the end it’s your own life. You need to do whatever makes you happy.” Well said.