Netflix's 'Harry & Meghan' Trailer Is Walking A Very Thin Line

The official trailer for the docuseries is raising credibility questions for some.

As Prince Harry and Meghan Markle continue their fight against misinformation, critics and reporters are calling out Netflix for a recent trailer used to promote the couple’s forthcoming docuseries, “Harry and Meghan.”

The official trailer for the six-part series, released on Monday, includes b-roll footage and photos from events without the couple, as the video aims to show the couple’s struggles with the media.

Numerous media outlets have pointed out how some of the footage included in the one-minute clip could be perceived as misleading

Some b-roll appears to have come from the 2011 premiere of the “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” film, while another clip shows footage of a trial regarding model Katie Price captured last year. Another part of the video shows a swarm of photographers and press covering Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen in 2019.

And one seemingly eerie shot of the couple, also shown in the trailer, was taken by an approved press pool representative present for the couple’s trip to Africa in 2019.

“This photograph used by @Netflix and Harry and Meghan to suggest intrusion by the press is a complete travesty,” royal reporter Robert Jobson tweeted on Monday. “It was taken from an accredited pool at Archbishop Tutu’s residence in Cape Town. Only three people were in the accredited position. H&M agreed to the position. I was there.”

The addition of the photograph was a “misperception of the truth,” Jobson adds.

“We were covering an official visit where they had taxpayer-funded protection and all the trappings,” he said. “This is just nonsense. The palace was not part of some ‘set up.’ No conspiracy here, just lies and misuse of photos taken from pools.”

Kensington Palace had no comment on the trailer when reached by HuffPost Tuesday, while Harry and Meghan’s Archewell organization directed comment requests to Netflix. The streaming giant did not return a request for comment.

However, a source close to the Netflix documentary told The Telegraph in an article published Tuesday that the footage is “standard practice in documentary and trailer production” and that “it’s not meant to be literal in a trailer.”

T. Makana Chock, the David J. Levidow professor of communication at Syracuse University, spoke with HuffPost about whether the trailer may create a misleading impression.

Chock has conducted internationally-recognized research in media psychology and studies persuasive messages in mass media, among other topics.

Hi! Can you tell me about your work and what you specialize in?

Chock: I’m a professor of communications. I study media psychology, which is how media messages, persuasive or other informative messages, affect audiences and how they process those messages — but looking at a variety of mediums, including sort of traditional television and social media.

What might a persuasive message in media look like? What are some signs that something is trying to influence our opinion?

That’s a big question. I’d say certain signs are: Is the person presenting, or is the message presenting, a particular point of view that will require you to form an opinion or change or develop an attitude about something?

Right now, I’m concentrating on the “Harry & Meghan” docuseries that’s coming out tomorrow. What are your thoughts on the trailer? Is it using persuasive messaging? Is this common?

Well, one of the things that I’m seeing in this, and I also took a look at the trailer and then looked at some of the comments and the protests and the response from Netflix kind of, is you’re looking at sort of a conflict in between entertainment and journalistic ethics, related to persuasive messaging.

So, from an entertainment perspective, the Netflix docuseries has said it’s common practice to use stock images to create a mood or to create a perspective point of view. And for entertainment, that is sometimes the case.

For journalism, you don’t do that. It’s a major violation to show images that will create or persuade an audience in a way those images are not accurate or are being misused or misrepresented. And so this becomes a question. Is this Netflix series to be treated as journalistic true storytelling or as fictional entertainment? Creates a bit of a problem.

I think that the trailer is obviously trying to persuade audiences to watch the series. And to create a way in which they’re telling the story. So that’s the purpose of the trailer and of the series, I guess, to want to give that perspective.

But from a journalistic perspective, if you’re looking at it, honestly, I think it was kind of lazy. And it raises doubts about the credibility of the narrative that doesn’t necessarily need to exist. For example, we know that Harry and Meghan were pursued by the media and pursued by the paparazzi. I don’t think there’s a lot of debate that occurred. So somewhere out there, there must be clips and images of paparazzi pursuing Harry and Meghan that are actually accurate images. And yet they chose to use images that were from other situations, other events, that were completely out of context. And it was unnecessary.

It just seems like one surefire way to avoid criticism would be, as you say, to use something from the hundreds of thousands of hours of rolling camera footage of the couple.

You don’t need to use Harry Potter images in order to let people know that Harry and Meghan were being pursued by the media. They were.

As one royal reporter pointed out in the “Harry & Meghan” trailer, you see a camera lens looking out a window where it does give the impression that Harry and Meghan are being followed. And the royal reporter pointed out that this was a press opportunity cleared through the palace. So showing images where media was allowed access at the time was another part of the trailer that stood out to me.

I believe this also sort of lent a certain coloring or emphasis to the concerns, which, again, are valid concerns that Harry had that he says he has about his family’s safety. And again, these are valid concerns, and there are actual risks involved. But they used an image to heighten this, to create this type of impact. Again, was it necessary? There are other ways of doing this. Did you have to use these sorts of manipulated images to create this type of message?

I don’t know what the series is going to be like. Again, it’s journalistic ethics compared to entertainment ethics. And for an entertainment story, you have certain rules and things that you do, one is to entertain an audience, to create the most vivid images, to create the attention-getting, and to do these types of things in terms of production values. But if you’re telling a real-life story that people will be treating as truth, there are higher expectations of credibility that will be placed on this type of narrative storytelling.

One thing this made me think of is “The Crown,” which is a historical drama. I go so back and forth when people speak out and ask for a disclaimer. Something that I’ve found anecdotally in speaking with people because of my job is that this is some people’s only source of royal news.

Photobooth pictures of the couple are shown in the trailer for their upcoming Netflix series.
Photobooth pictures of the couple are shown in the trailer for their upcoming Netflix series.
Netflix

“The Crown” is clearly entertainment. It is telling a story about a family, but in some ways, the labeling is quite clear. This is a reenactment, a retelling, and so forth. And whereas this is supposedly the actual royals telling their own story or their own perspective. So I think that it has a different connotation. But audiences may not make that distinction.

Because you’re right, audiences watch “The Crown” and think of it as if it were true, as if it were a documentary. And respond and react to the characters and everything else as if this were real. They may not make that distinction between the entertainment aspects of “The Crown,” which is a fictional short form of storytelling, and what is supposedly a first-person or at least perspective being told by the actual royals.

Going back to the trailer ― do you know if this use of b-roll footage, pulling in from other places, is this a standard or common practice in other trailers?

Not in journalism. You can get into a lot of trouble. And I think it kind of depends too. So let’s say you were doing a trailer for “The Crown.” And you inserted images of the royal wedding or whatever it is, outside of “The Crown,” which interspersed and intercut with actual scenes. That might be used as a way of grounding or adding legitimacy to the story. Or using the best-cut images. So I’d say it also depends. If you’re doing a fictionalized story about the president of the United States, you might use images of the real live White House and aspects of this and people meeting with someone, either in the production or in the values. You might see that as a sort of fiction, it may be used in stock images. It’s not used for news or for documentaries.

I don’t think “Frontline” or someplace like that would make use of images that were incorrectly labeled or particularly things that were so far out. I mean, if there’s a case of someone who’s, you’re using images that are actually in context with the voiceover and the images don’t match, but the images are actually consistent, that makes sense. They’ve got what, the Michael Cohen trial in there? And that’s not even just a case of OK the audio voiceover, and the actual images are incorrectly matched. They introduced images that had nothing to do with Harry and Meghan.

Is there anything else you feel our audience or audiences should know ahead of this series?

Be careful and conscious consumers of media. Fact check. And I honestly don’t know what’s going to be in it, so I would always usually recommend fact-checking. Snopes is a good place for articles and so forth.

This interview has been slightly condensed and edited for clarity.

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