Netflix is facing a lawsuit from seven people who appeared on the 2018 docuseries Afflicted, who say that the streaming service lured them with a promise to raise awareness about rare, chronic conditions, only to wind up depicting them in a way that suggested their illnesses were psychosomatic.
The plaintiffs filed a $1 million defamation, fraud and invasion of privacy lawsuit on Wednesday, writing in 51-page complaint that they were told the show “would be a serious Netflix documentary, with science and interviews with experts in the field.”
That, they said, was not what transpired.
“The series is not a documentary in any sense of the word, but a reality series that advanced a producer-driven narrative, of which Defendant Partland was the ‘mastermind,’ suggesting that its’ subjects medically-documented physical illnesses are purely psychological and/or psychosomatic,” the lawsuit says.
Netflix has faced blowback from the series since it came out last year, including individual essays written by participants, contrasting the show-runners promises with a very different outcome.
“My Afflicted chapter was nothing more than a plot from a telenovela,” wrote Pilar Olave, one of the plaintiffs. “They wanted to give viewers a show while making them believe in the filmmakers’ false narrative by calling it a documentary instead of a reality TV show.”
Several doctors, scientists and writers also signed an open letter to Netflix expressing concern over the show’s “unethical treatment of its subjects and its many factual errors and omissions,” specifying that “rather than authentically depict these participants’ experiences and the biomedical research that might explain their illnesses, Afflicted used every creative tool and untenable journalistic practice to advance a narrative that suggests these patients’ problems are primarily psychological, a theory that is not supported by the evidence.”
When one of the letter’s signatories, Maya Dusenbery, sought comment from Afflicted’s executive producer for a piece in Pacific Standard, she received a statement that said the series’ creators were “saddened and upset” by some of the reactions:
“Our intention was to give the world a compassionate window into the difficulties of patients and families suffering from elusive and misunderstood illnesses, to humanize their struggle, and to show that struggle in all its complexity,” the statement read.