Ultimately, Amanda Knox is a project of restoring lost “innocence,” and the filmmakers seem eager to play their role.
The newest true crime documentary from Netflix, “Amanda Knox,” centers on Amanda and the eight years of court proceedings regarding the murder of her British roommate, Meredith Kercher.The movie presents interviews with Knox, her former Italian boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, prosecutor Giuliano Mignini, and British tabloid reporter Nick Pisa. The film resonates with American audiences, who have been primarily exposed to news media reporting favorably on the “home-town girl.” Amanda is America’s “woman in distress;” and the filmmakers are her white knights who have arrived to rescue her from the evil beasts of Nick Pisa and Guiliano Mignini.
Cultural Constructions of the Femme Fatale by Steve Simkin
In the film, the brutal murder of Meredith Kercher is sidelined by focusing on Nick Pisa and the British tabloids as a stand-in for all media reporting, then portraying Knox (instead of Meredith) as the victim of Pisa’s reporting.
American audiences in particular have been outraged at the she-devil, femme fatale portrait of Amanda that is created by the British tabloids. Very few critics, if any, have looked at the role the Netflix filmmakers have in overturning this narrative.
While some feminists have spoken up, they have staunchly insisted on pushing the HIV claims made by Pisa (without fact-checking) as a key example of how Knox was persecuted for her sexuality. (The truth, according to Amanda, is the prison officials TOLD HER NOT TO WORRY; that the test could be a false positive and they would retest; and they DID NOT REQUEST her list of partners; it was her decision to write it in her diary) Almost all reviewers (save one) have missed that the it is the filmmakers who arrive to rescue Amanda and restore her lost “innocence.”
To understand how the film reinforces that women need saving-and the positive American reception to the film-you first have to understand the narrow view of the case in the US media. After she was arrested, Amanda’s innocence campaign in the US pushed back on the image that was coming from the British tabloid media. Amanda’s family hired PR professional David Marriott, claiming this was done to manage the media requests coming into the family. However, later news reports tell it differently: “By enlisting her friends and family, and targeting specific news organizations to tell the family’s story, Marriott eventually helped reshape how the world saw the young American.” The Friends of Amanda pushed a counter-story of Knox being persecuted by the lead prosecutor, Giuliano Mignini. The US media organizations were seemingly as content to report on what Knox’s representatives said without fact checking, as Nick Pisa was content to report on what trial informants told him without fact checking. Largely absent from US reporting was any real information on the case or evidence (a problem repeated in the Netflix documentary).
As supporters joined the campaign for Amanda’s innocence, they too focused their sights on Mignini and tabloid media reporters. Bruce Fischer targeted Guiliano Mignini and Nick Pisa as the “Architects of Foxy Knoxy.” Former FBI agent Steve Moore claimed that Amanda was being framed to cover for Guede. Jim Clemente, a behaviorist whose expertise was in child predators, claimed to know what happened to Meredith simply by ‘looking at a couple of photos.’ Amanda even had support from Seattle’s Judge Heavey, who wrote to Mignini in a plea for Amanda’s release.
Knox’s innocence advocates: Bruce Fischer, Steve Moore, Greg Hampikian, David Marriott, Jim Clemente, Judge Michael Heavey (ret)
Over time, Knox’s innocence campaigners established the narrative in the US that Knox was being unjustly accused by a prosecutor with a vendatta. For its part, the US media was content to allow claims such as ‘Amanda was interrogated for 14 (or 43, or 46, or 53) hours,’ without ever fact checking whether this was true or not (See a recent Time magazine article with this claim). Knox’s innocence campaign was particularly focused on combating the tabloid narrative of “Foxy Knoxy.”
Another key component of her US based innocence campaign was that she was unfairly (according to the system in the US) retried and re-convicted, a belief which persists to this day. News organizations were content to think their audiences wouldn’t understand the Italian Courts, so instead they reported that Knox was unfairly being subjected to “double jeopardy,” that is, being convicted again after a trial court found her innocent.
Enter the filmmakers.
Sometime in 2011, Rod Blackhurst, Brian McGinn and Stephen Robert Morse decided to embark on the “filmmaking journey” together to produce a movie on the case. The directors and producers were all in Perugia for Knox and Sollecito’s first appeals hearing in October 2011. Producer Stephen Robert Morse was clearly in the pro-Knox camp, and to a lesser extent, so was director Rod Blackhurst. Morse appeared to have adopted fully the innocence campaign’s narrative, including attacking Nick Pisa as a “shit journalist”. (Recently, posters to Fisher’s online forums have stated that Morse was with people from “Injustice in Perugia” when he confronted Nick Pisa on the street in Perugia).
Blackhurst, to his credit, was more reserved in his views; he tweeted out “Free Amanda Knox” in three posts in 2010 and 2011 prior to starting the film; one of the posts linking to the sensational Rolling Stone article, “The Never Ending Nightmare of Amanda Knox” which describes how Knox was “coerced” into a confession. On the day the Supreme Court threw out the case, Blackhurst’s tweet was a simple heart.
The filmmakers of “Amanda Knox”: director Brian McGinn, producer Stephen Robert Morse, director Rod Blackhurst
The filmmakers may have had a ready-made outline in the way of Douglas Preston’s novel the Monster of Florence. Douglas Preston had joined Knox’s innocence campaign in part due to his own confrontation with Prosecutor Mignini. Preston’s novel describes Mignini’s role in the search for the serial murderer called the Monster of Florence. Mignini’s search is portrayed as an Ahab-like endless pursuit with an uncertain resolution. While the Mignini of Preston’s novel is not destroyed by his pursuit of the “monster;” it does consume him.
Preston learned of the serial killer case while living in Italy from journalist Mario Spezi, who co-wrote the novel. While Preston was researching the case, Prosecutor Mignini accused Preston of obstruction of justice, and Preston was given the option to leave Italy. After this, Preston had an axe to grind with Mignini- and he ground it to a fine point in his novel. Preston believed Mignini was a “rogue prosecutor,” and Preston was particularly fond of pushing a story that Mignini saw satanic conspiracies, that Mignini “believes that Satan walks the land.” This satanism claim was pushed in the US and elsewhere by sympathizers in media organizations like CBS. Preston’s co-writer, Mario Spezi, was also charged by Mignini with obstruction of justice for interfering with the Monster of Florence investigation.
Back to Perugia; in 2011, after the filmmakers decided to start their project, Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn hung out with Mario Spezi in Florence. Producer Stephen Morse was with Spezi at the courthouse when the appeals court issued their ruling. (Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi are thanked in the credits of the Netflix film).
The film suggests Knox has become Mignini’s new monster to pursue; as she narrates in the film: “people love the idea of a monster.” Netflix’s imagery for the film puts Preston’s story in Times Square in banner ads. But to American audiences used to the reporting over the last nine years, its Amanda who is being persecuted, and she is the damsel in distress.
Of course, damsels need their saviors, and Stephen Morse in particular seemed ready to be one of Knox’s white knights. In a now deleted blog post, he telegraphed the role he perhaps eagerly pursued: “it is my hope that one day her world will be free of the misplaced hatred that has already been lofted upon her for years.” It was Morse who got Plus Pictures on the project and it was Morse who connected the directors with Knox. Netflix has reportedly distanced Morse from the project, saying his producer title is only honorary. Indeed, it was the directors, who, after hanging out in Florence with Mario Spezi, managed to get the participation of Mignini, Knox, Sollecito, and Pisa.
Amanda finally had her white knights. The”white knight syndrome” is a “compulsive need to be the rescuer.” White knights “see women as powerless and unable to defend or take care of themselves; their problems are a result of misfortune or the cruelty of this world, never as their own fault.”
In the film, everything happens to Amanda; she is not responsible for anything. Knox is presented entirely as a victim of a prosecutor colluding with the media to create the myth of Foxy Knoxy, and any of Knox and Sollecito’s actions that counter the film’s narrative are left out. Her incredulous story of coming home, seeing blood, taking a shower, using the bathmat (with blood on it) to “surf” to her bedroom and back is hardly explored. The cell phone and computer records that contradict both Knox and Sollecito’s stories are ignored. Knox says her slander of Patrick is because she “broke” under the pressure of interrogation, and there is no mention of her following statements and writings where she acknowledges Patrick is in jail because of her (oddly, though, in the film she doesn’t repeat the 53 hour interrogation claim). The film ignores that Knox’s conviction for slander was upheld in all five courts that heard the case. There is almost no mention of Raffaele’s inability to maintain a consistent story and his refusal to support her alibi throughout the trial and first appellate hearing. Sollecito makes a lone passing comment about getting stoned, though at Knox’s apartment pot was as common as pasta.
To fully save Knox, the dual media images of guilt and sexual promiscuity needed to be confronted. To deal with the image of guilt, Knox’s questionable reactions after the murder are swapped out with Pisa’s clear lack of empathy. The film cuts between Pisa’s statements on orgasmic headlines with scenes from Meredith’s funeral, putting Nick Pisa’s amorality at center stage. He becomes the wolf in pursuit, preying on innocent victims for his own gratification. Knox’s own insensitive actions after the murder are replaced by the actions of someone who responded even worse.
At this time, Meredith’s death, shown in images of the funeral, becomes simply a temporary stand-in for Knox, and Meredith is quickly replaced on the way to Knox’s eventual redemption. Knox’s sex life becomes the topic of Pisa’s reporting, and the film similarly replaces Meredith’s death with Knox’s victimization by tabloid media. By the time Pisa makes the claim that the HIV test result was a ploy, Knox has almost fully replaced Meredith as the victim, and Pisa has replaced Mignini as the primary evil pursuing Knox. Even though Pisa admits himself that much of what he wrote was false, audiences are quick to latch onto Pisa’s newest salacious statement that the HIV test result was a deliberate ploy to get and publish Knox’s sex partner list. The implication is clear- Amanda is being pursued by Pisa and the tabloid media because of her sexual promiscuity.
Meredith is reduced to an afterthought in Amanda’s tale; Meredith is not the one needing saving now. She doesn’t even warrant a R.I.P. mention in the film’s conclusion.
The filmmakers have disclaimed any role in constructing a narrative by stating they have simply let the subjects of the film a free and open space to say what they wanted to say. The production of a feature film, instead of an interview, obviously involves many decisions. This is where the narrative is constructed; whether through deliberate storytelling on the part of the filmmakers or, as may be the case, inadvertently through their own background and assumptions. They filmmakers stated they ‘started with the final supreme court ruling and worked backwards;’ which privileges Knox’s story and appearance in the film. The film takes the Supreme Court’s statement on “media pressure” and swaps in Pisa’s tabloid reporting on “Foxy Knoxy.” Musically, the film could have replaced the score with Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf,” to the same effect. Instead of contrasting Meredith’s funeral with Knox’s diary writing that she “could kill for a pizza” (made days after the murder), the film instead edits the funeral together with Pisa’s pursuit of headlines over any sense of humanity for lost life. And-as the directors later state-they didn’t have a film without Mignini, the target of many of Knox’s US supporters.
A successful narrative is as much a process of exclusion as it is of inclusion, and the film makes several significant omissions. One key omission is the ruling from the Nencini appeals court, which contradicts the film’s narrative of the damsel in distress. The Nencini court was the second court to uphold the conviction of Knox and Sollecito, and Mignini had nothing to do with it. Judge Nencini harshly criticizes the independent experts Conti and Vecchiotti who appear in the film. The film reduces this appellate hearing to a quick 10 second screen mention. During the appeals, the focus in the US was still on Mignini. Commentators on news sites in the US blamed Mignini for ‘retrying Amanda until he got the ruling he wanted,’ thus American audiences were primed to accept this story of redemption.
One person excluded from the film is Patrick, the Congolese man Knox blamed for the murder after about about two hours of questioning on the evening of November 5th. The filmmakers chose not to go from Perugia to Poland, where Patrick resided after losing his business in Italy. Patrick would have offered a more nuanced telling of the story. But ultimately, the black man who lost his business due to Knox’s accusations destabilizes the narrative of the woman in distress.
Rudy Guede, who had an apartment near Raffaele, is also almost entirely left out of the film. Guede is the only person serving a sentence for Meredith’s murder. The film’s editing suggests that Guede changed his story and blamed Knox to get a reduced sentence; again reinforcing the pursuit of Amanda as the central theme.
The film presents Mignini as a moralistic Ahab; except Mignini’s monsters that he chases endlessly are everywhere. Mignini’s statement when looking at the brutality of Meredith’s murder- “was it a monster that did this”- becomes an indictment of his own pursuit. Instead of the film presenting a richer view of the evidence that led a trial court and an appellate court to convict Knox and Sollecito, the film concludes with a religious commentary from Mignini: final judgement will not come in this lifetime, but in death.
Ultimately the blame for “Foxy Knoxy” is laid at the feet of Nick Pisa. He becomes the real wolf preying on Amanda, and it’s Nick Pisa that the filmmakers ultimately slay. In doing so, the white knight filmmakers restore Knox’s lost “innocence” and rescue her from the beasts that have pursued her for the last nine years.
In the end, the brutality of Meredith’s murder is all but forgotten.
By and large, those who have not been subjected to the “woman in distress” reporting have rejected the film’s narrative. They remember that the real story of a girl enjoying la bella vita before she is interrupted by the evil that besets her…
…is Meredith Kercher’s story.
As it currently stands, the Italian courts have ruled that Guede did not kill Meredith alone. The case is unresolved.
For additional information and reactions to the documentary:
Full list of evidence in the trial of the murder of Meredith Kercher.
Stephanie Kercher, sister of Meredith: “Why will Amanda Knox not stop speaking about Meredith Kercher’s murder?” Sister of victim speaks out to warn we still don’t REALLY know what happened despite ‘unnecessary’ Netflix show. (UK Daily Mail)
Documentary leaves people of color out of the story (The Stranger)
Producer Stephen Morse attacks credibility of Nick Pisa.
How the documentary misrepresents the DNA evidence. (True Justice for Meredith Kercher/Krissy G)