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Book Review: “NSFW” pulls the curtains back on Hollywood and #MeToo movement

Netflix’s “The Assistant” meets “Bombshell” in Isabel Kaplan’s debut “NSFW.” If you’ve seen either movie, “NSFW” is a wild ride through one millennial’s moral dilemmas and work in the film industry.


Fresh out of college, our unnamed protagonist lands an entry-level position at a leading TV network, working as a glorified babysitter and coffee runner. As the daughter of a prominent attorney, she’s grown up with one foot in the industry and one outside, friendly with celebrities but clueless about the inner workings of television and film development.


As our protagonist climbs the ranks of the production studio, she is confronted with the realities of the male-dominated business: her recommendations being ignored until they’re echoed by her male counterparts, unfair treatment, and multiple allegations of sexual misconduct and abuse. She’s encouraged to keep her head down and avoid those sticky situations, but the universe has other plans for her.


Kaplan uses a first-person point-of-view to dig into the protagonist’s inner thoughts and moral dilemmas she encounters on her first day at the studio. With nuanced and compelling characterization, our protagonist is nowhere near perfect. Her flaws and mistakes aren’t new for recent grads. Each layer pulled back brings her closer to reality and can only be described as relatable.


The novel’s backdrop–a TV studio embroiled in sexual misconduct and abuse allegations–parallels the #MeToo Movement that brought to light the horrific treatment of women working in the industry and is retold with subtle grit and clarity. Although the sexual abuse and sexism themes carry much of the narrative, the tidbits on navigating adulthood and post-grad life aren’t glamorized. As a 20-something dealing with her own post-grad transition, Kaplan perfectly encapsulates the anxiety and fears of the transformation. The themes of body dysmorphia, eating disorders, OCD, and the struggle between mother and daughter are woven into the narrative. Fair warning, the sexual abuse, eating disorder, body dysmorphia, and general sexism themes can be jarring–so proceed with caution.

Not to spoil anything, but the cliff-hanger ending works wonderfully with the protagonist’s inner struggle of coming clean about her experience or keeping quiet for her career. It’s a reality check, but the self-reflective moment when a book ends without the protagonist’s choice; is an unsettling moment for readers to look into their own ethics and what they would do in similar situations.


A stark observation of Hollywood power dynamics and the moral dilemmas of being a feminist, “NSFW” is a sharp, hard-to-put-down, authentic dive into the not-so-glamorous life of the silver screen and post-grad life for the female millennial.


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