Netflix's Amanda Knox doc was interesting but didn't do Knox any favors

Sep 30, 2016 at 6:30 p.m. ET
Image: Netflix

Like so many people who were enthralled by the case, I made a mental note of the release date for Amanda Knox — the original Netflix documentary exploring the complex story of this young American woman who, while studying abroad in Italy, was arrested for murder.

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I remember so distinctly when the then 20-year-old Knox was accused of killing her roommate, Meredith Kercher. Although I hadn't lived abroad during my collegiate years, I had fled my tiny hometown in South Carolina to attend the University of Hawaii. I was in a place that was foreign to me, my only friends at first the women who lived in the same dorm.

So, in a sense, I related to Knox. When I heard the news, I felt sorry for her. I could see how, when you are in a place you don't know with people you don't know, you could get swept away by a sea of strangers because you are the outsider.

As the case unfolded, though, I too started to question Knox's unorthodox behavior. Something just didn't seem to add up. Then again, grief manifests in different ways for different people. That's what I kept telling myself during the trial and, to be honest, I never really came to a firm conclusion about Knox and her boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito's guilt — even when they were sentenced to nearly three decades in an Italian prison.

When I heard about the Netflix documentary, I thought, "This is it, then. This will erase those doubts I had about Knox, and it will be clear that this was the unfortunate case of a young woman wrongfully accused."

Then I watched the documentary and, I've gotta say, I'm not sure the filmmakers necessarily did Knox any favors.

Many of the same things that plagued me about Knox at 20 years old nag at my subconscious still. Her manner seems... off. While time has erased many of my memories of Knox during the trial, the footage shown in the documentary reminds me of her haunting behavior in the immediate aftermath: smiling at the media, shopping for lingerie with and kissing her boyfriend and pointing the finger at her employer, bar owner Patrick Lumumba.

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While she addresses some of these lingering issues directly in the documentary — the police essentially told her that she made an appointment to meet with Lumumba that fateful night, all based on one text message — she fails to offer any resolution for many others.

Why did Sollecito recant his original story and say that Knox had not been with him that night until the wee hours of the morning? Was he, as she suggested, "slapped around" by the police to coerce a confession of sorts?

Although the documentary doesn't necessarily convince me that the two are guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt, it certainly doesn't convince me of their innocence, either. I could easily see why Italian authorities would be struck by the pair's peculiar aloofness.

The directors, Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn, seem to hope that the documentary will move viewers beyond that particular narrative and into a place of understanding. "We really hope that the film is a portrait of each of these people who are caught up in something far bigger than themselves," Blackhurst told ET, adding, "Nobody had really taken the time to understand who they were as individuals."

So while the documentary succeeds on many levels as a beautiful, powerful examination of a case that became a public entity unto itself, I feel like it fails to achieve what the directors outlined. I don't feel as though I have a less murky grasp about who Knox is as a human and why she would have acted the way she did following the murder of Kercher.

What I will say is that I don't think Knox is outside of the realm of redemption — but the documentary has little to do with that. Rather, it is Knox's everyday life that I feel could exonerate her in the court of public opinion.

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Perhaps the directors should have focused a bit more on that. Like the fact that Knox was not paid to participate in the documentary, or that she lives a relatively frugal life as a freelance journalist.

Or how Knox has become an advocate for the wrongfully convicted. How she speaks to other exonerees on a regular basis about "the challenges of moving from a reactive, defensive mindset to a proactive, productive mindset; the strange dichotomy of feeling both young and old, alone and not alone; the need for emotional and financial support post-exoneration; the need for the exoneree's experience to be incorporated into the greater American cultural narrative; and the possibility to translate the exoneree's unique strengths and skills into a resource for the greater society."

That, to me, could make for a compelling case about who Knox is as a human being.