‘The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez’: What is the Netflix Docuseries About?

The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez, the documentary series recently released by Netflix, covers the horrific killing of an 8-year-old boy from Palmdale, California. Since its debut on the streaming service, the true-crime docuseries has been the top-viewed show in the U.S. (it currently sits at No. 1). But what is The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez really about? And is it worth watching?

‘The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez’: the tragic story of the murder of an 8-year-old boy

The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez
Family and friends attend a memorial service for Gabriel Fernandez | Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

This new Netflix series is a tragic story of child abuse. The first thing we hear is a call to 911. Pearl Hernandez, Gabriel Fernandez’s mother, calls in, saying her son stopped breathing.

As Entertainment Weekly reported, the filmmaker behind The Trails of Gabriel Fernandez, Brian Knappenberger, “stepped into a Los Angeles courtroom in 2018 to document the harrowing story of a young boy who died after suffering from malnourishment, torture, and abuse.”

Throughout the series, we see the young boy’s mother, Pearl Fernandez, and her boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre, on trial for murder.

The documentarians follow Jonathan Hatami, the Assistant District Attorney of Los Angeles. He tells Knappenberger at one point child abuse cases are extra special to him because he was physically and verbally abused when he was young. There’s not a second of this docuseries that doesn’t break your heart.

The popular Netflix true-crime series exposes flaws in the child services system in Los Angeles

“The series also sheds light on lapses by social workers from the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services who, prosecutors alleged, failed to protect Gabriel,” the Entertainment Weekly reported. The District Attorney’s office even charged some social workers with negligence, which was unprecedented for this type of case.

Pearl Fernandez
Pearl Fernandez in Lancaster Superior Court | Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Knappenberger told EW what he hoped the audience got out of The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez.

I think on a broader scale, I do hope that the film gives a broader look at how this system works. It’s a very secretive system, not a lot of people know how it works. It’s got a big budget in L.A., it’s huge. It rivals the LAPD in terms of manpower and budget, but we don’t hear much about it.

The documentary series The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez gets deeper and deeper down the rabbit role of bureaucracy and corruption in the Los Angeles government. Apparently, the city contracted DCFS out to a private company. The documentarians make the case that this is a natural conflict of interest. For example, one corporation published a report describing foster children as “assets.” That in no way puts the children’s best interests first.

“We need to keep them accountable,” Knappenberger told Entertainment Weekly. “If they’re not getting the job done, then something needs to be done.”

While The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez is deeply, deeply sad, it’s also very worth watching. These kinds of stories are underreported, but if we all knew the horror stories, we wouldn’t allow this to continue.