Skip to main content

Yazeed Daher as Nassim and Sam Reid as his teacher, Ray, in The Hunting.SBS

If you are open to a short-form drama about a highly sensitive issue, here’s one.

First, the background: In 2016, Australian Federal Police were compelled to investigate a website that contained sexual images of girls from private and public schools across Australia. The site reportedly featured naked photos of teenage girls, some named, for the purpose of their bodies being rated by users. Police estimated that 70 schools had been targeted.

Teenage boys and young men were uploading photos to the site. According to police, specific girls were “hunted” through the site, with users requesting photos of them. Some of the victims were named and then targeted with abusive comments by both anonymous figures and teenagers they considered friends.

Binge-watching guide: The recent shows you need to catch up on, all available to stream

The Hunting (streams on CBC Gem) is a fine, four-part mini-series inspired by those real events. It’s a gripping, complex drama, unafraid to deal with some very tricky issues. One theme underlined is the vast gulf of understanding between generations. Some adults, whether parents or teachers, have zero understanding of how these teenage characters communicate and how they grade decency, morality and good taste.

Luca Sardelis plays Zoe, the girl at the centre of one of two sexting scandals in The Hunting.SBS

There is one excruciating scene in which high-schooler Zoe (Luca Sardelis) tries to explain to the sixty-something male principal of her school what has happened and why she is furious. She engaged in cybersex with a boy she likes, Andy (Alex Cusack). Unknown to her, he recorded it and distributed screenshots to others. They ended up on a website. The principal is completely baffled as Zoe tells him the encounter was a way of having “safe” sex.

Then, in the ensuing drama of Zoe’s fury, it becomes clear that a number of her male schoolmates think she deserves the humiliation she’s experiencing. Why? They dislike her for being outspoken about school and social issues. As for Andy, he becomes a perambulating epitome of white male entitlement; evasive, arrogant and getting help from certain adults who don’t want to see Andy’s life ruined.

Kavitha Ananasivam plays Amandip, who lives in fear of what her traditionalist parents will do if they find out she has shared a nude photo of herself.SBS

Elsewhere, there’s Andy’s friend Nassim (Yazeed Daher), an immigrant kid at a public school. He is sweet on classmate Dip (Kavitha Anandasivam), a smart and ambitious girl with strict immigrant parents. The gap between the child and parents is huge – the mother complains that Dip is wearing makeup on her face, and Dip is willing to take a nude photo of herself and send it to Nassim. What happens is that Nassim, reluctantly but under peer pressure, forwards it to someone else. What happens to Nassim and Dip turns into a hell of accusations and counter-accusations and terrible ignominy.

It’s when the adults are involved in what becomes a very public issue that the drama takes some brave steps. Some viewers will be infuriated by how characters behave and how they try to justify their actions. It would be worth remembering, however, that some scenarios are based directly on what happened in the real case. This is apparently true of one segment, in which arguments about sexting become entangled with the matter of school uniforms and whether short skirts lead to the sexualization of teenage students.

Simone (Asher Keddie) is torn between protecting her son Andy (Alex Cusack) and making him take responsibility for his actions and attitudes in The Hunting.SBS

Central to the drama are two young teachers. There is Ray, (Sam Reid) an idealist, who is in a romantic relationship with the assistant principal, Eliza (Jessica De Gouw). At one point, Ray tells Eliza what his father, who was also a teacher, advised him: “The kids don’t remember what you try to teach them. But they do remember what you are.” Eliza sees herself as feminist who can enact change. Both are deeply challenged by the cyber scandal that overwhelms their school, their lives and their relationship.

The Hunting (created by Sophie Hyde and Matthew Cormack) gives viewers a lot to think about. It is not a surface-only, quickly made, torn-from-the-headlines TV drama. It becomes about betrayals but offers no easy moralizing endings for the characters. Not easy viewing, but superbly done. Certainly, your heart goes out to these teenagers trying to navigate a new world.

Plan your screen time with the weekly What to Watch newsletter. Sign up today.