Five Points uses Facebook to get teens talking about suicide and bullying
- TV Show
Five Points just wants to talk.
According to writer-creator Adam Giaudrone and executive producer Kerry Washington — two key forces behind the teen drama, which uploads its two-part season 1 finale to Facebook Watch tonight — it was as critical to generate a dialogue about the series’ tricky subject matter as it was to cover it in the first place.
To that end, partnering with a social media giant turned out to have its perks: Five Points viewers can watch the season’s final installments then discuss them in an adjacent “More Than Five Points” Facebook group comprising more than 8,000 members. “It’s been really cool to launch [Five Points] where the community already exists,” says Washington, an active social-media presence herself. “You know a conversation is going to live around the project, because it’s existing where the conversation is already engaged.”
A more measured riff on the after-school special, Five Points certainly courts conversation. Across its 10 episodes — all set within a high school on the South Side of Chicago — the show conducts a 360-degree exploration of a student suicide, while also tackling bullying, sexual identity, drug abuse, teen pregnancy, and gun violence. That its episodes pack so much in, while running between just 10 and 20 minutes apiece, is indicative of Five Points’ unflinching focus on topical issues.
“Sometimes we try to portray adolescence in this really romanticized or condescending way, and I think what drew me to the material was this exploration of a moment in our development as people,” Washington says. The Scandal star adds, “That’s such a pivotal time, our adolescence; it’s when we’re actually becoming the adults we’re going to be, and in that time [what] we’re dealing with are really serious issues.”
In approaching such delicate subject matter, both Washington and Giaudrone agree all involved were on the same page about striking a balance between honesty and sensitivity.
“If it’s not authentic, people would see through it,” says Giaudrone, who originally penned a version of Five Points eight years ago, long before it found life as a Facebook Watch series. From the project’s early stages, he sought to tell a story from five perspectives, one that could only come fully into focus after each viewpoint had been presented.
“The fact that we get to see five different perspectives allows us to dig deeper into more than one or two issues,” he says. In one story line, star athlete Eric (Spence Moore II) copes with depression and a painkiller addiction amid mounting stress about college prospects. In another, his supplier — the brainy yet socially awkward Wallace (Nathaniel Potvin) — is targeted by the school bully, a possibly closeted athlete (Jake Austin Walker). “As the heroes of their own stories, all these people are experiencing the things that matter most to them,” says Giaudrone.
Key to the series’ success, he adds, was consulting mental health professionals, who adjusted his scripts to ensure they followed experts’ guidelines. “We had resources from script through production through post all the way to delivery, experts making sure what was going out dramatically was also going out appropriately for whatever issue it’s tackling,” Giaudrone explains. That may have helped Five Points avoid some of the pitfalls that plagued Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why, a series that drew criticism for showing its main character’s rape and subsequent suicide in graphic detail.
“When tackling social issues, sure, there is a responsibility just as a human that you should take, and that I attempted to take,” says Giaudrone, who shies from comparisons to 13 Reasons, noting that Five Points tackles a range of subjects, not just suicide. “For me, it just came down to telling the best story.”
Washington, for her part, describes the challenge of depicting real-life traumas as both “a fine line to walk” and the show’s narrative raison d’être. “It’s about why trauma unfolds, but also how we deal with that trauma as it lives in us and what we do with it,” she says.
“I think many of us are living in a time when we’re feeling traumatized by a lot of the violence that we’re seeing around us, or the violence that we’re witnessing in the world right now,” the EP adds. “What we do with that pain, how we metabolize it, how we use it to connect more deeply with ourselves and others in our communities, is so much for me what the show is about.”
One of the most rewarding parts of ushering Five Points onto Facebook, says Giaudrone, has been watching as viewers interact with one another, finding commonalities between the characters’ arcs and their own experiences. “So many people are realizing they have more in common with different types of people — whether it’s different genders, different races, different socioeconomic classes,” he says of watching fans chat in the Facebook group. “I think that’s a big part of Five Points, that you realize all these characters have more in common than what the stereotyped label that’s been put on them would otherwise indicate.”
To responsibly enable such a discussion, he adds, Facebook set up resources to aid those affected by the issues Five Points depicts. Actors appear at the end of each episode for PSAs that encourage viewers to seek out the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for themselves or someone they know, if needed. Links to such resources as Now Matters Now and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention are also accessible from the main Five Points Facebook page.
“We want to make sure anyone who is dealing with any of these issues… that there are places for them to reach out,” Giaudrone says. “If anybody who is watching this is dealing with any of these issues, they need to know that they’re not alone, that there are people for them to reach out and talk with, that tomorrow is going to be a brighter day.”