Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn’s Amanda Knox, premiering September 30 in theaters and on Netflix, is different from other documentaries in the increasingly popular true crime genre because its subject’s story is already widely known. So what’s the point of telling it again?
There comes a point—maybe it’s after a memoir, a Lifetime movie, and nearly a full decade of news coverage—that indulging in the trials and tribulations of Amanda Knox, the American exchange student who was charged with the murder of her roommate Meredith Kercher in 2007 in Perugia, Italy and remained entangled with the Italian legal system until 2015 when she was finally exonerated, begins to feel exploitive in and of itself.
Anyone who’s paid attention to the details of the case can presume Knox’s innocence (there is no DNA evidence linking her to the murder) and we can all agree that what she and Raffaele Sollecito (her then-boyfriend who was also accused and charged with Kercher’s murder) went through was nothing short of a living nightmare: They were targeted by public prosecutor Giuliano Mignini (a sensationalist lawyer who nonsensically links his cases to Satanism, while considering himself a modern Sherlock Holmes), mauled by the global tabloid press, and charged and exonerated multiple times while working their way to the three-tiered Italian legal system.
But now, both have been found conclusively innocent. Knox is back in her hometown in Seattle, Washington, while Sollecito has returned to his family in Bari. The only questions now lie with the Kercher family (who continues to believe Knox’s guilt), Patrick Lumumba (the man who Knox, confessing under duress, falsely accused of assisting in Kercher’s murder—she later apologized and rescinded the accusation), and Rudy Guede, the man ultimately convicted of the crime. All but Guede (who was represented in the documentary by his attorney) declined or were unable to participate in Blackhurst and McGinn’s film.
So again I ask what point there is—besides macabre entertainment value—in rehashing Knox’s story.
“For us, it didn’t start as an inquiry into the justice system or a re-litigation of this case,” McGinn tells me when I ask him that exact question. “This story was so well known that from minute one it’s different from Steven Avery or Adnan Syed’s story. For us, the thing that was interesting was the meta media layer.”
He continues, “Everyone’s impulses sucked them in narratively and shaped how they felt about the case. It’s a microcosm for how everything gets viewed now. You have to pick aside, all complexity is lost.”
To the immense credit of the filmmakers, Amanda Knox does—despite my reservations—manage to expose something new and necessary to witness. Throughout the film, we see the way information was conveyed to the public and, more damningly, the way the public ran with their own assumptions to create a scandalous portrait of both the crime and Knox’s character. As Nick Pisa —a former Daily Mail reporter who is candid almost to the point of villainy—explains in the film, it was became overwhelmingly beneficial for news outlets to falsely portray Kercher’s murder “as a girl-on-girl crime” regardless of facts because the idea of one beautiful young woman killing another in a fit of sexual rage was sexier than the truth—and global news consumers ate it up. In a horrifying reveal, the documentary exposes that the prosecution regularly leaked information or lies to Pisa and other reporters to increase interest in the trial and certainty of Knox’s guilt. (Knox was even falsely told that she had HIV and encouraged to write a list of all the men she had slept with. The list was then released to the press and published across the world.)
Knox’s mistreatment by the media and the way her behavior—whether it was her sexual past or her seeming coldness—was scrutinized throughout legal proceedings is certainly worthy of the attention that McGinn and Blackhurst give it (as Blackhurst reminds me in our interview, Sollecito—though convicted of the same crime—was mostly forgotten by the media throughout the trial), but as someone who spends her days both immersed in media and gender criticism, I also worry that the documentary finds its own way to fetishize Knox—whereas before she was painted as a whore, she now runs the risk of becoming a martyr—punished for her curiosity, her sexuality, her love of fun, and her beauty.
“People either see her as X or Y,” Blackhurst says. “...You’re always going to address things through the lens you already subscribe to, so while some people do think she’s a martyr, other people still think that she’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
“There are people who’ll come at this film from so many different points of view,” McGinn adds. “Some of them baked in already and some of them not and I think the thing as filmmakers, or for us, that is really important is to try to remove as much of the sensationalism of the story as possible because that’s what titillated people. It was our responsibility to refuse as much of that as we could and be as empathetic to every party that we could possibly be. If we did that and shown a light on different perspectives, I hope there’s a positive outcome.”
Indeed, the filmmakers do approach all their subjects—even a buffoon like Mignini—with an empathy that I doubt I could muster in the same situation. Knox, as they show, is eager to get on with her life working as a freelance journalist and advocating for the Innocence Project. Maybe now that her story has been told—and told well—one last time, we can let her.