‘God creates dinosaurs, God destroys dinosaurs, God creates man, man destroys God. Man creates dinosaurs, dinosaurs eats man….. Woman inherits the earth.’
It sounds like the beginnings of a feminist utopia, yet Y: The Last Man’s vision of a world according to Dr. Ellie Satler’s prophecy is anything but.
Based on the iconic DC Comics graphic novels of the same name, Y: The Last Man is a new dystopian Disney+ series that explores a world in which everyone with a Y chromosome is wiped out not by dinosaurs but – in horrifically gory fashion – by a deadly virus, leaving those left behind to find a way forward.
The extent to which the world would cease to function without men is made shockingly clear in the opening episodes: planes fall out of the sky (because 98% of pilots are male), and the majority of governments across the world collapse as the few surviving female politicians try to figure out who among them is the most senior. Nothing brings home just how deeply entrenched the patriarchy is like its complete and instantaneous destruction.
‘White supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism, these are all things that are a part of the air that we breathe and we don’t know all the ways in which they inform who we are,’ says showrunner Eliza Clarke. ‘[Y: The Last Man] has an opportunity to really deconstruct the ways that our identities are formed in our world today, how we’re complicit in those systems, how we’re harmed by them and how ultimately we might be able to overthrow them.’
On the face of it, Y: The Last Man is about Yorick Brown, the one person with a Y chromosome to survive the wipeout, and his role in helping those who remain to figure out what happened and why.
But in many ways, Yorick is the least important character in the story – a Trojan horse for a group of more capable, diverse and nuanced female characters. ‘I think Yorick is a little bit less self-aware than he is in the graphic novel,’ says Ben Schnetzer, who stars as the hapless hero. ‘For me what was really compelling was seeing this person who was seemingly on paper so ill-equipped to play the role that he does in this narrative, then have to go and set off on this road.’
Far better equipped are the characters of Jennifer Brown (Diane Lane) – a Congresswoman thrust into the presidency – and 355 (Ashley Romans), a kickass agent who worked for a secret government-funded agency and is assigned to help Yorick on his journey to discover the reason behind his survival.
‘355 is a Black woman who has so many colours within her, and she’s full of contradictions in so many ways, and I think the show really draws out the contradictions of all the characters within themselves and all these systems of oppression,’ says Romans, who is the standout of the series. ‘We’re asking questions such as who are you without your oppressor? and who do you want to be? and who are you in this new world?’
Y: The Last Man has been more than a decade in the making, with Clarke first receiving volumes of the original comics as a gift from her now-husband in 2009. And while the source material was first published in 2002, a lot of the themes established early on in the show reflect similar discussions being had in society today. ‘I think Covid has brought the inequalities in our world to the forefront in ways that because we’re all forced to be at home we actually have time to think about and explore,’ says Clarke. ‘The world has changed in many ways [since 2002,] and in some ways it hasn’t changed at all.’
That being said, there are some key differences between the original comics and this series. Perhaps most importantly, Clarke wanted to make sure that the show explored the ‘diversity of gender’, and was clear that ‘chromosomes and gender are not the same thing’.
This is reflected early in the series, with the inclusion of a group of trans-masculine characters who survive the purge, and the confirmation that trans-women and non-binary people with Y chromosomes died along with the cis-men.
The show pays tribute to its source material by retaining the spirit of the story and including stylistic homages to the illustrations of Pia Guerra, but is clear to establish itself as having its own message to tell.
For Schnetzer, while he knew there was a ‘prestige’ surrounding the comics, he didn’t read them until after having landed the role, with his interpretation of Yorick ‘beginning and ending’ with Clarke’s scripts.
He told UNILAD:
When it’s time to go to work the graphic novel is a really rich source of reference and research but only insofar as it is relevant to the story that we’re telling in our adaption in the TV shows.
That said, as far as source material is concerned it was just such a joy to read the graphic novels, and such a joy to interpret these characters in to the 3-Dimensions of the world that we were creating.
But fans of the comics will be relieved to here that Yorick’s trusted companion – a monkey named Ampersand (or Amp, for short) – remains a central character, albeit in CGI form.
‘When I first heard that Amp was going to be CGI I will admit I was a little disappointed for about half a second that I wasn’t going to be able to do the dance with a real monkey,’ said Schnetzer, who doubt had visions of developing his own Ross and Marcel-style relationship. ‘Then after that half-second I realised the day-to-day reality – I started imagining what it would be like sharing every scene with a primate – and [so] I’m very grateful to our VFX team who I think did an extraordinary job.’
Incredibly, despite not having an actual monkey to mess around on set with, Schnetzer still consulted with animal handlers to figure out how to make his relationship with Amp as realistic as possible, explaining, ‘I think Ampersand is such a strong character in the graphic novel and it was very important to me that that relationship feels real.’
With a glut of dystopian dramas having emerged both in film and on TV over the past decade, Y: The Last Man hopes to distinguish itself from the pack through its timely exploration of issues of identity, oppression and community. ‘I would love people to walk away with a new found sense of empathy for themselves and for other people,’ says Romans. ‘I think this show is going to ask a lot of questions… and it won’t give us all the answers immediately but it is going to provide a lot of space to have these discussions.’
Eps 1-3 of Y: The Last Man will launch exclusively on Disney+ in the UK tomorrow, September 22. New episodes will be available to stream every Wednesday.
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