Netflix’s Thicker Than Water: Is the Show Inspired by Real Life?

Netflix’s ‘Thicker Than Water’ is a crime drama that follows the story of Fara Bentayeb, a journalist who finally gets the promotion she’d been vying for a long time. Before she can celebrate it, she gets entangled in a dangerous situation with a drug lord looking for her brother, Semir. Hoping to save their brother, Fara and her sisters fall deeper into the pit of the criminal world, doing things from which there is no going back.

Created by Nawell Madani and Simon Jablonka, the series goes through many twists and turns in the lives of the Bentayeb family, testing their bonds through some very tricky situations. In between this, the show also presents a realistic portrayal of a family trying to keep itself together, financially and emotionally. Is there a line between reality and fiction, or is the show based on true events?

Thicker Than Water is an Original Story

Image Credits: Ismaël Bazri / NETFLIX

No, ‘Thicker Than Water’ is not a true story. It is based on an original story by Madani, who also serves as the show’s writer, director, and producer, apart from playing the lead role. The idea to create the series came to her during the pandemic. The world was closed down, and Madani had just had surgery, which kept her on bed rest for three weeks. This was when she started writing the story about a family with many struggles.

Citing shows like ‘Succession’ and ‘Ozark’ as her influences, Madani said that she wanted to create a series focused on the female characters and “wanted to put the family at the heart of the story and talk about strong and courageous women.” It had started as a comedy, but with Simon Jablonka’s involvement, the story evolved into a darker thriller.

While crime drives the plot of the story, family and sisterhood become its beating heart. In creating the Bentayeb family, Madani looked towards her own family. Madani has three sisters and a younger brother. Talking about their importance in her life, she said: “The family is quite present in my life. If I didn’t have my sisters in my life, I wouldn’t be where I am. They protect me and tell me the truths that are not necessarily pleasant to hear. I wanted to tell this. No matter what happens in life, when you have a problem, you turn to your family or the one you have created for yourself.”

Another thing that influenced Madani was a news presenter for ‘66 Minutes’: Aïda Touihri, who is of Arab descent. She inspired the arc of Fara’s professional life. To show the life of a journalist, Madani researched what the job is like for women, especially African and Middle Eastern descent. “When I spoke with female journalists to create this character, they really explained to me their struggle, as North African women, that they have to do three times more than the others while seeing the places pass under their nose,” she said.

Image Credits: Ismaël Bazri / NETFLIX

She infused Fara’s story with her own experiences of racism and sexism. “I fed the character with phrases that were said to me like ‘don’t worry, slowly we’ll forget to where are you from,’” she said. In one scene, when Fara is to appear on TV as a news presenter for the first time, her black curly hair is straightened and dyed blonde. This was a reference to “hair complex and racism,” where straight hair is connected to a clean and acceptable image, while curls are used to show rebellious and messy people.

With all these little things, Madani made the story more personal and relatable for the audience. Setting aside its crime and drama, she wants the audience to see the strength and courage of women, most of whom have to become “the man of the house.” “We are often on the front line of education and the economy, and even more so in the neighborhoods… I wanted to talk about that by mixing thriller and jokes,” the writer-director added. She confesses that due to being a woman of African origin, she, and others like her, have to do more than others to prove their worth, but she wants them to know that “anything is possible.” So, even though the story is fictional, it has elements that ring true to the experiences of real people.

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