On Nov. 1, it will be nine years since 21-year-old British exchange student Meredith Kercher was murdered in Perugia, Italy. Her death launched a million headlines, though few actually focused on her.
Kercher’s murder quickly gave way to the the trial of Amanda Knox ― a then-20-year-old on exchange from Seattle, Washington, who was accused of murdering the British student, her roommate, with the help of her boyfriend of five days, Raffaele Sollecito, and local drifter Rudy Guede. It’s one of the most reported stories in recent history. Both tabloid and traditional news outlets have picked at the remains of the case’s carcass like vultures for close to a decade now. There’s been a Lifetime movie, “hard-hitting” sit-down interviews, and a memoir from Knox herself.
After all of that comes a documentary from directors Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn that just might shock you with its complete lack of sensationalism. “Amanda Knox,” which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this month and begins streaming on Netflix Sept. 30, is in stark contrast to the coverage during Knox’s arrest, trial, appeal and subsequent acquittal.
Blackhurst and McGinn travelled to Italy in 2011 and began filming after Knox appealed her first conviction. By then, the case was already four years old, yet the headlines never seemed to go away. In a world where everything has an increasingly shorter shelf life and dwindling attention spans seem to be the norm, sustained interest in Knox’s case fascinated the pair.
Five years later, the result is a well-researched and nuanced documentary that allows the case’s key players — Knox, Sollecito, Italian prosecutor Giuliano Mignini, and Nick Pisa, a Daily Mail writer at the time who was responsible for many of the biggest Knox scoops — to offer their sides of the story.
“We weren’t interested in just contributing to the accumulation of coverage of the case. We wanted to try to do something that actually added to the discussion, or started new discussions,” Blackhurst told The Huffington Post in a recent interview.
The filmmakers said they went to great lengths to ensure that sensationalism didn’t creep in, which is harder than it sounds when the subject of one’s documentary has mostly been covered as clickbait.
But after nine years of news coverage and Hollywood adaptations, “Amanda Knox” offers a lot of clarity on the case and directs viewers to the most logical explanations of events. It also provides more insight on Knox herself, who surprised the directors with the way she was able to understand her experience.
There are those who believe in my innocence and there are those who believe in my guilt. There’s no in between. And if I’m guilty, it means that I’m the ultimate figure to fear because I’m not the obvious one. But on the other hand, if I’m innocent, it means that everyone is vulnerable. And that’s everyone’s nightmare. Either I’m a psychopath in sheep’s clothing or I am you.
These are the first words viewers hear from Knox, who is now 29 and works as an advocate for the wrongfully convicted. McGinn told HuffPost he got that response by asking her why she thought people cared so much. He surmised that it’s a question she’d never been asked, but likely had spent a good deal of time thinking about. He added that they found her ability to narrate with a “bird’s-eye view” really interesting.
“I think what we realized is that for people to get through [these kinds of experiences], people have to remove their emotional connection to it in a way,” McGinn explained. “Because otherwise it’s incredibly hard to deal with that. That was a really interesting revelation for us, because you expect that people will be emotional.”
Those expectations for how people should behave in certain situations are in part what led police to suspect Knox. Much attention was paid to the allegedly bizarre behavior she exhibited after discovering her roommate had been murdered. Behavior such as kissing her boyfriend and sitting on his lap in part helped set the narrative that she was a “black widow,” “femme fatale” and a “man eater.” The press had a field day with her MySpace page, claiming they uncovered the “twisted world of Foxy Knoxy.”
It’s difficult not to feel sympathy for Knox after watching Blackhurst and McGinn’s film ― a less sympathetic character, however, is journalist Pisa, who compared seeing his name on the front page with a “great story that everyone is talking about” to having sex. He covered the case from day one and was one of the first to report on Knox’s leaked prison diary ― the one that contained a list of the men she had slept with, which she wrote after prison officials falsely told her she tested positive for HIV.
Out of everyone interviewed in the film, it’s most difficult to listen to Pisa speak, since he does it with a certain callousness. Still, he serves an important purpose, forcing viewers to look at their own role as media consumers when he claims that he was just feeding the seemingly never-ending demand from readers.
It’s the public’s ongoing fascination with the case that, in turn, compelled the filmmakers to document the story. McGinn pointed out that Knox’s case coincided with the rise of digital media and social networks and what he calls the “bite-size-ification” of news.
“I think when you get your news in such small chunks, the complexity of things gets reduced. One thing that we found is that the story is extremely complex, and in many cases, it had been reduced to a great, catchy headline. And who doesn’t love a catchy headline?”
They admit the film is supposed to serve as a sort of meta commentary on how we consume stories like Knox’s ― stories that supposedly have all the ingredients that make them too interesting to look away. “Amanda Knox” strips away the salacious ingredients and tells a story that you can finally make sense of.
“Amanda Knox” starts streaming on Netflix on Sept. 30.
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