Brit Marling co-created and stars in “The OA,” which she calls “metaphysical film noir.” (Courtesy Nicola Goode/Netflix)

‘The OA’ brings Brit Marling to San Francisco

By Joshua Rotter

Special to S.F. Examiner

Brit Marling wasn’t satisfied with perfunctory girlfriend and crime victim roles she was offered in Hollywood upon her arrival there in 2005, so she decided to take her career into her own hands.

“It was very frustrating that to succeed as an actor, as a young woman, you had to wade through this swamp of parts that didn’t give you any real purchase inside the story. If I was going to continue to act, I had to learn to write,” says Marling, in The City last week to promote her Netflix show “The OA.”

With her longtime friend and future director Zal Batmanglij, she began developing projects including a suspense series about a supernatural Russian heiress called The OA who returns to her adoptive family in suburban Michigan after a mysterious seven-year absence to recruit outcasts for a secret mission to save her missing friends.

Called “The OA,” the eight-episode series premiered in December 2016, with Marling in the title role and Batmanglij directing.

The just-released second season finds The OA teaming with private detective Karim Washington (Kingsley Ben-Adir) to investigate the disappearance of several teens in San Francisco. Marling describes “The OA Part II” as a “metaphysical film noir.”

As in classic American film noir from the 1940s-50s, San Francisco becomes a character in the story, a metonymy for the world’s anxieties, fears and corruptions in a small, narrow peninsula, where contrasts — especially the inequality between the haves and have nots — bump up against each other.

“While it’s true all over the country that there is a huge inequality in wealth — it’s a virus — in San Francisco you see it more clearly,” says director Batmanglij.

This inequity is apparent in the tech industry, where companies, from small startups to monopolistic big firms, are dominated by men, and women continue to struggle to achieve executive positions and equal pay.

Marling says that while film noir, as a genre, is great at exploring the corruption of cities, it’s still lacking in its depictions of women.

That’s why Marling and Batmanglij made a point, when writing season two, to make The OA private detective Karim Washington’s equal. She is just as smart, capable and integral to the plot as he is.

“When we were thinking of adapting the film noir genre for our story, we wanted to rewrite the femme fatale as a character who has her own agency and autonomy and isn’t just punished by the narrative. So we created a co-detectiveship between the detective and the femme fatale in which they come to trust one another,” says Marling.

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