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Is Cruel Summer 2021 based on a true story? Freeform TV series explored

Bruno Cooke April 7, 2021
is cruel summer 2021 based on a true story
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Bert V Royal’s Cruel Summer (2021), set between 1993 and 1995, centres around the disappearance of American teenager Kate Wallis. Executive produced by Jessica Biel, the series premieres on 20 April, and audiences are wondering, is Cruel Summer based on a true story?

Is Cruel Summer (2021) based on a true story?

The first place to look for any connection to a true story would be the trailer. Cruel Summer’s trailer doesn’t mention anywhere that it is based on a true story.

Meanwhile, IMDB categorises it under Drama, Mystery and Thriller, with no mention of docudrama or non-fiction elements.

Elsewhere, Looper and Deadline, in their write-ups of the announcement of the series, don’t mention any connection to real events. So it seems safe to say that it is not (at least explicitly) based on a true story.

About Last Night | Season 1 Official Trailer | Studiocanal International

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What does ‘based on a true story’ mean?

Usually, production companies flaunt their “based on a true story” taglines for all they’re worth, despite the contentiousness of the phrase. Promoters are often liberal with the phrase, as it lends an air of authenticity to whatever they’re selling.

Writing for The Dissolve, Genevieve Koski notes, “creators are always drawing on real-life experiences, either personal or more universal, and just because a work is ‘fiction’ doesn’t mean it isn’t rooted in a true story”.

So, the “based on a true story” tagline is often no more than a marketing tool. This is because writers take liberties with whichever truths inspire them: actual true stories don’t necessarily make good TV.

What is Cruel Summer about?

Despite the fact that it isn’t explicitly based on a true story, Cruel Summer tells a familiar story.

It follows two young women, popular girl Kate Wallis and unpopular wannabe, Jeanette Turner. Kate’s disappearance sends shockwaves through the town, and various clues point toward Jeanette being somehow culpable. 

Disappearance stories, especially teen girl disappearance stories, are par for the course for TV dramas, be they real or fictitious in origin. 

Sadly, part of the reason they capture the public imagination so vividly is because, in reality, they occur so frequently

In this sense, you could probably map Cruel Summer onto any number of real life disappearances, and find similarities.

Where to watch Cruel Summer (2021)

Cruel Summer will be available to watch from 20 April on Freeform, and a day later on streaming platform Hulu.

Who are in the cast of Freeform’s Cruel Summer?

The Jessica Biel-produced series features three directors: Daniel Willis, Bill Purple and Max Winkler.

Frank Ockenfels via Getty Images

Olivia Holt stars as Kate Wallis, with Chiara Aurelia (Gerald’s Game) as Jeanette Turner. Also among the cast are Froy Gutierrez (Teen Wolf), Blake Lee (Parks and Recreation) and Erica Muse (Smite). 

The series creator, Bert V Royal, previously wrote Easy A, starring Emma Stone, and Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead (play).

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Bruno is a novelist, amateur screenwriter and journalist with interests in digital media, storytelling, film and politics. He’s lived in France, China, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, but returned to the UK for a degree (and because of the pandemic) in 2020. His articles have appeared in Groundviews, Forge Press and The Friday Poem, and most are readable on Medium or