Culture

Netflix Amanda Knox Documentary: Why Murder Case Appeals To Our Base-Level Fears

Amanda Knox
Amanda Knox appears in new Netflix documentary directed by Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn. The pair tell Newsweek why she decided to make a film. Netflix

A year after Making a Murderer introduced the world to the seemingly implausible murder case involving Steven Avery, Netflix is again dipping its toes in the true crime genre. Except this time, the story at the center of its new feature-length documentary is one most will already be familiar with—but perhaps not from this perspective.

Nine years after being implicated in the brutal killing of British student Meredith Kercher in Perugia, Italy, Amanda Knox is telling her side of events in filmmakers Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn’s new film, Amanda Knox , that premiered at Toronto International Film Festival in September and is released globally on Netflix Friday.

“Either I’m a psychopath in sheep’s clothing, or I am you,” says Knox, 29, her face looking flushed of color, to the camera. That sound bite is indicative of what Blackhurst and McGinn hope to achieve with the film: unlike Making a Murderer , or the hit podcast Serial , or even the most recent true crime phenomenon revisiting the mysterious killing of child beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey, Amanda Knox is not trying to solve a cold case.

Instead, it is both an intimate character study of the way the events of that fateful night in November 2007 have affected Knox, her then-boyfriend and co-accused Raffaele Sollecito and prosecutor Giuliano Mignini, as well as an exploration of how a tabloid narrative remarking on Knox’s beauty and sexual proclivities shaped—and perhaps even overshadowed—a tragic murder investigation.

“Each of the people in the film, Amanda to Mignini, walk us through their experiences, walk us through the crime and what happened,” McGinn tells Newsweek . “But the question is: how can we as filmmakers go further than beyond just the basic true crime questions?” Blackhurst adds: “We saw that the entire world was fascinated by what, at its core, is a tragedy. We wanted to understand how something could be consumed that way—and what would it be like for these people caught up in the story living inside of this?”

Blackhurst and McGinn first began working on the project in 2011 when Knox and Sollecito appealed their original conviction for Kercher’s murder, and were subsequently acquitted. The pair were convicted again in January 2014 but appealed a second time. Finally, in March 2015, an Italian Supreme Court found them not guilty, putting an end to the eight-year case. In the period  between the second conviction and conclusive acquittal, Knox approached the filmmakers about making a documentary. “She wanted to do it because she wasn’t sure what was going to happen with her life; she was worried about being found guilty and extradited back to Italy,” McGinn explains.

Speaking to Newsweek ahead of the film’s release, Blackhurst and McGinn reflect on their five-year journey to bring Amanda Knox to the screen:

Newsweek : Your film isn’t necessarily out to solve the case of Meredith’s death. What did you want to achieve?

McGinn: Everyone else was trying to make this great big “whodunit.” A lot of the documentaries were proposing: “We’re going to have all of these experts. We’re going to rebuild the entire house on a soundstage. We’re going to show where every piece of evidence was.” It almost became this television punditry, breaking it down. We thought it would be interesting to get the first-person perspective and illuminate the story through the eyes of the very different people [involved]. The movie gives you more information than you’d get just by giving a list of facts, because it allows you to see the worldviews of these people and how they collide.
 

Do you think that’s why Amanda wanted to take part—because it was about the impact of the events? Presumably she could receive multimillion-dollar offers to tell her story but chose this.

Blackhurst: The first thing we should note is that no one would ever be paid to participate in a documentary. That would be unethical of us as filmmakers.

What these people saw was that there’d been all these different versions of them presented in headlines, clickbait journalism and 140 characters that didn’t understand them as people. The way they were talked about was like they’d become characters in some Hitchcockian nightmare about a story like this. None of them—Mignini, Knox, Sollecito—felt the portraits that were being painted were representative of them as individuals.

McGinn: I think [this film is] really about each of these people having a very impactful thing happen in their lives and wanting to tell their side of it, and wanting the world to know how they feel. I think that’s a pretty natural instinct.

We seem to be obsessed with true crime at the moment— Making a Murderer , Serial , The Case Of: JonBenet Ramsey —why do you think that is?

McGinn: One of the things we clicked onto in this story, we looked at the rise of social media and digital journalism—that plays a big role. If we look at the true crime stories that are fascinating to us now, they’re emerging in these new media landscapes. Podcasting became the perfect medium to tell this first-person story of someone investigating the Adnan Syed case; it gave you an outlet that didn’t exist previously to have an almost armchair detective story—Sarah Koenig trying to get to the bottom of the case. The medium of podcasting made it feel more personal [to the audience].  Certainly with Making a Murderer you see the way the blurring of the lines between tabloid and traditional news journalism has created these two pockets on each side of every story—people want to show that their opinion about a case is totally correct.

Blackhurst: The interesting thing about the JonBenet Ramsey case [in 1996] is that, one of the reasons these things are being made 20 years later is because there was no black-and-white conclusion. That scares people. They want to see things in black-and-white, they want to know who the bad guy is.

In our film, Amanda says: “Not only do they want to know who the bad guy is but they also want to know that it’s not them or their next door neighbor.” That appeals to our base-level fears. We can’t imagine that a murderer would be the person we least suspect. But we also can’t imagine what it would be like to be an innocent person thrown in jail, or a loved one so tragically and senselessly taken from us. What we’re hoping is that people take a look at their role in commodifying these tragedies and how we are complicit in taking tragic events, where there may be some truth and fact out there, but how do they get left in favor of a narrative that is far more entertaining and fascinating?
 

Did either of you have any preconceptions of Amanda’s guilt or innocence beforehand? How did that affect the film?

McGinn: What we realized is that everyone on earth had preconceived notions about it and it depended where you were coming from. We went into the story not aiming to bring any baggage with us. What we found interesting was, when we’d hire people to make the movie, those people had differing opinions. The goal was to say that this movie has nothing to do with what anyone actually thinks.

The reason the film was structured around the final Supreme Court verdict, and why it was the right time to bring the film out, is because there has been a final verdict. The point of the film is not to change anyone’s minds… it’s trying to show how these people’s lives [were affected]. People can take away their own impressions of these people and have their own opinion of guilt or innocence, if that’s what they want to focus on. Hopefully there’s a larger conversation that exists as well.

Amanda Knox poster Netflix

The film ends with the result of the Supreme Court decision. What would you have done if she had been found guilty?

McGinn: I don’t think we’ve ever been asked that. I don’t think we considered the different trajectories were that to take place. Regardless of how [the verdict went], we would have wanted to know, from a human side, what that felt like for the people involved. I think we would have continued to go until there was enough distance from the story that the whole thing could be seen with perspective.

Some might accuse you of giving Amanda a platform to play the victim by telling her side of the story, when Meredith is the tragic victim in this case. How would you respond to that?

McGinn: I would argue we wanted each of the people in the film to tell their stories—not just Amanda. Amanda’s on-screen time in the film is probably less than some of the other characters. It wasn’t about giving anyone a platform, it was about trying to understand how their personalities [were portrayed] led to what happened [in the media]… so much of the story became about Amanda Knox. So the only way to tell the big picture of what happened in this case was to frame it as the Amanda Knox story, because that’s what everyone else in the world [knew it as].

Certainly, at the time, it was important to include the victim and the victim’s family as much as we could. There’s an arc to the way the Kercher family is dealt with in the film; when they showed up in Perugia, you get this touching moment that humanizes Mignini, where Meredith Kercher’s mother asks to see her daughter one last time. That’s a sad and tragic moment, but also an intimate one that is full of universal human emotion.

Blackhurst: The story did become internationally about Amanda Knox and [people] forgot about the victim. But in becoming about Amanda Knox, it also did not become about Raffaele Sollecito, who was also faced with the same situation that Amanda was. All of these people have become victims in different ways, caught up in narratives created about them.

Amanda Knox Netflix

The Kerchers aren’t interviewed in the film. Did you ask them to participate?

Blackhurst: We did reach out to the Kercher family multiple times in 2015 and 2016. We didn’t hear one way or the other, so we decided to respect their position—they made it clear this is something that’s painful to talk about so maybe the less they have to talk about it the less times they’ll have to reopen the wound.

Do you want them to see the film?

McGinn: I don’t think it’s our place to say whether we’d like them to see it or not. That’s up to them. We’ve shared it with their Italian representation and we did that before we showed it to anyone publicly. We’d love to talk to them and if they change their mind and do an interview with us in the future, we’d love to tell their side of the story as well.

Where does Amanda go from here? Did you get the impression from her, having made this documentary, she’d just like to be anonymous? Or would you be unsurprised if, say, she signed a book deal?

Blackhurst: All of these people are trapped and defined by this: Amanda, the Kercher family, Mignini and Sollecito. They’re all accidental celebrities—none of them asked to be in this position.

McGinn: It’ll be interesting to see what each of them do going forward. I think most of them have kept a low profile since 2011. The fact that the media is still covering them does not necessarily mean they are trying to seek the spotlight. That’s important to remember.

Amanda Knox premieres globally on Netflix on Friday

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