It was a grisly tale of sex and murder that was reported with voyeuristic glee. Amanda Knox tells her side of the story in a powerful new Netflix documentary, writes Ed Power.
AMANDA KNOX, the controversial new documentary from Netflix, is an intensely disorientating watch — especially if you are one of the many who has already reached a firm opinion regarding the guilt or innocence of the American student accused of the grotesque, sexually motivated murder of her flatmate in Italy in 2007.
“We are all interested in these true crime stories and trying to solve these whodunnits. We forget there is a tragedy behind them,” says Brian McGinn, producer of the doc, which arrives on the streaming service today.
“Everybody is interested in this idea of a sex crime — this idea of girl on girl crime. The media really ran with that because it is so appealing.”
Knox and her former boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, were finally acquitted of the killing of University of Leeds student Meredith Kercher by the Italian High Court last year, with crucial police DNA evidence connecting them to the crime deemed deeply suspect.
And yet the Seattle native is still widely perceived as having escaped justice on a technicality and to have indeed been responsible for the death of her house-mate at their apartment in Perugia. The Netflix documentary invites us to at least consider the possibility that Knox was stitched up by an excitable media, led by the British tabloid press, and by an Italian justice system which, owing to Knox’s colourful sex life, rushed to caricature the accused as a she-devil and temptress.
Thus, McGinn and director Rod Blackhurst suggest, she ended up on trial, not for what she had or hadn’t done, but because of who she was: an attractive outsider confident in her sexuality.
“The immediate point of entry is that people know a little bit about the story and they think they know a lot,” says Blackhurst. “Every single one of the people in the case — it feels as if their version of what happened has not been fully heard out. When something complex gets reduced to headlines it automatically encourages the public to leap to conclusions.”
Knox cuts a strange figure throughout the film — at once naive and steely, and clearly ill at ease under the spotlight. When she speaks about the case it is in hippyish aphorisms.
“People love monsters,” she says, “when they get the chance, they want to see them.”
As Blackhurst and McGinn remind us, somebody was convicted of the killing of Kercher. Perugia ne’er do well Rudy Guede, who received a 16 year sentence for murder and sexual assault (later reduced to nine years). The point the movie makes is that Guede was a far less enticing villain than Knox. He was a local miscreant of African extraction, she a glamorous American christened ‘Foxy Knoxy’ by the tabloids.
“A group sex crime… a sex game… Meredith killed for refusing sex. What a great story, a fantastic buzz,” says Nick Pisa, the former Daily Mail reporter in the documentary. It was Pisa who published Knox’s leaked prison diaries in which she detailed the seven men she had slept with in Italy — a list compiled after she was falsely told by the Italian police she was HIV positive.
“It was a particularly gruesome murder, throat slit, semi-naked, blood everywhere,” says Pisa.
Having finally put the case behind her last year, why would Knox wish to talk about it again?
“You have to remember, for a large portion of this, she was in prison,” says McGinn. “You had people photographing all these headlines. It didn’t feel as if she was being treated as a person. She was being looked at as a concept. As she says in the documentary, even today she will be in a grocery store and people will go, ‘Woah — it’s you’. She became an accidental celebrity.”
“Nobody had really heard from her at any length. there was a lot of noise,” adds Blackhurst. “Having her and the [Italian] prosecutor ... you get a lot of point and counter point.”
At its heart Amanda Knox is more interested in holding a mirror up to the audience than uncovering new bombshells regarding Knox’s guilt. The press whipped itself into a frenzy over the idea of a 20-year-old temptress killing Kercher in a sex attack gone wrong. It was a narrative the world was happy to take at face value. McGinn and Blackhurst invite us to consider our own culpability in all of this.
“Here was the perfect combination,” says McGinn. “You had this beautiful old town, an ancient way of life. Then all of these young people from all of these countries. There was something about it — the headlines wrote themselves… Amanda was portrayed as unnatural, bestial, sexual. Her prison diary, leaked to the press, talked about her sexual partners.”
Nine years on, the appetite for juicy true-crime stories is arguably stronger than ever, as testified by HBO’s The Jinx and Netflix’s own Making A Murderer.
But though the latter, in particular, has been a major hit, but the producers have also been accused of manipulating the facts to tell a better story.
So it is natural for viewers to wonder if the same is not happening here. Kercher’s family are not interviewed (they appear in archive footage) and, though prosecutor Giuliano Mignini is granted screen-time in which to present his case, it’s Knox’s perspective that is nonetheless front and centre.
“There is a tenuous connection between the true crime story and justice,” says McGinn. “We are perhaps at a point where we can have that conversation. You start going from, ‘Wow this story is unbelievable’ to ask yourself, ‘Well, why am I so interested in this?
“One idea she brought up is that people have been looking into her eyes, looking at how she behaves. She points out that this isn’t objective evidence at all. That is a powerful moment in the film.”
Do the filmmakers think she is guilty?
“It is a natural question to ask,” says McGinn. “But there has been a final word on that. The issue we wanted to tackle is why is everybody asking the question? Why are they coming to conclusions on one side or the other?”
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