TV Review: The Knick

By Nombuso Nkambule (@hrh_nombuso)

Black people in the early 1900s New York (and as recent as 1994 in the newly democratic South Africa) were not afforded the basic human right of health care that we now all equally and freely enjoy. The black community was outcast and governed by an oppressive regimen that made it legal and okay for them not to have access to the same health services as white people. Instead, the black people in New York City had their own dedicated health ‘Negro infirmaries’ which were overcrowded, understaffed and sub-standard to say the least. These scenes are hard to watch, no other TV series has been so grotesque in its portrayal of racism and segregation.

Watch the Cinemax trailer tease for The Knick

The Knick (2014) is the latest addition of provocative TV dramas by Cinemax. Directed by Steven Soderbergh (who also directed Ocean’s Eleven and Erin Brockovich) and studded with a five star cast and crew, The Knick is as edgy as it is uncomfortable.

Set against the bustle of 1900s New York City, the Knick puts into perspective just how many of our current medical innovations, practices, standards and rights we take for granted. The provocative TV drama explores the psychosocial effects of the healthcare system on doctors and nurses, as well as the violent and oppressive racism in scenes that are just uncomfortable to watch.

The cinematography of The Knick is sublime and Soderbergh seems to know no bounds when it comes to depicting the onscreen reality of racism in ways that are uncomfortable and painful to watch. Dr Algernon Edwards, who is played by Andre Holland, is the debonair deputy chief surgeon at The Knick. Dr Holland is an extremely intuitive and skilled surgeon. He is also a black surgeon, and indeed the first black surgeon to operate at the whites-only Knickerbocker Hospital. The exclusion and racial abuse he is subjected to echoes a heart sore story that people of colour everywhere, especially here in South Africa, are all too familiar with. In maddening scenes that depict this theme, Dr Edwards is verbally and physically abused by white patients who “don’t want that nigger to touch them.” Despite his international accreditations and accolades, he is socially excluded from the social ‘boys club’ amongst his colleagues and patients are enraged at the idea of a ‘negro doctor’ treating them. The derogatory subjugation is vile and inhumane.

Black people in the early 1900s New York (and as recent as 1994 in the newly democratic South Africa) were not afforded the basic human right of health care that we now all equally and freely enjoy. The black community was outcast and governed by an oppressive regimen that made it legal and okay for them not to have access to the same health services as white people. Instead, the black people in New York City had their own dedicated health ‘Negro infirmaries’ which were overcrowded, understaffed and sub-standard to say the least. These scenes are hard to watch, no other TV series has been so grotesque in its portrayal of racism and segregation.

I could argue that the reason why The Knick is so compelling is because of its provocation; the aim is certainly to shock. But the aim of The Knick is also to showcase fine acting and to tell stories in a benign but apprehensive way. I think that in this sense, Soderbergh and his cast and crew have succeed.

For those who might like to enjoy watching The Knick on MNet with a cold one, executive producer and director of the show, Steven Soderbergh, has just launched his own Bolivian brew of beer.

20 Comments
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