"So, did she do it?"
This is the inevitable question I am confronted with by friends after watching the nail-biting 90-minute documentary that offers a glimpse into the inner world of the most infamous suspected murderess of the 21st century. It’s a question to be expected, I suppose. Whenever the case emerges in the scandal-hungry press, readers’ eyes glimmer with salacious intrigue at the story of the femme fatale who killed her innocent roommate during a sex game gone awry in a picturesque hillside town in Italy.
This is, of course, a media fantasy. A lurid and sinister speculation born of a discredited investigation that has been accused of DNA contamination, that did not correctly seal off the crime scene, and, last but not least, an investigation whose prosecution was successfully overturned by the Italian Supreme Court. The problem is that the world fell for it: hook, line and sinker.
Watching Amanda Knox detail the events of her ill-fated semester abroad in Italy, you are struck by her normality: from her neat dishwater-blonde bob to her plain pink sweater. As if pleading with the camera and, by extension, us, the unforgiving audience who lapped up stories of the demonic dominatrix from Seattle, she quickly descends into sobs recounting her first night in prison and her desperate pleas for her mother. As she claims in the ominous opening sequence: "Either I am a psychopath in sheep's clothing... or I am you."
But it was the narrative of the sex-obsessed ice queen that would be Knox's undoing. The documentary tracks her transformation from University of Washington student to "Foxy Knoxy": a girl who slept around, owned sex toys and "inappropriately" kissed her boyfriend after Kercher was discovered. It was such a gripping yarn that it overshadowed the dodgy DNA evidence the case was haphazardly built upon. This is what is so troubling about the handling of the case; the misogynist myth of the female villain was so deeply embedded that it made a laughable prosecution plausible, and ultimately translated into four years in an Italian prison and a lifetime of unrelenting media scrutiny for Knox.
In retaliation, the documentary unflinchingly interrogates the architects of her downfall, placing them in the dock to explain themselves. Interviewers flip the script and question Nick Pisa, the Daily Mail journalist who first got the scoop about Knox’s “suspicious” behaviour and lifestyle, and Giuliano Mignini, the bumbling small-town prosecutor convinced of her guilt, who fancied himself as the Italian Sherlock Holmes (complete with pipe and unwarranted arrogance). It makes for exasperating viewing.
As details of the investigation emerge, it is hard to ignore the stab of incredulity at Mignini’s wild imaginings of a sex game, of which there was no physical proof, motive nor testimony. Empowered by his sudden foray onto the global news circuit and armed only with cheap pop psychology, Mignini was adamant that Meredith had offended Amanda by judging her "lack of morals", leading Amanda to stab her flatmate while the men watched.
According to Mignini, Meredith was "different in every way" from Amanda, an "uninhibited girl" who "brought many boys home" and had a problem with authority. It quickly becomes evident that despite Mignini’s claims to have fought for justice for Meredith, she was also used as an archetype in his far-fetched story: the beautiful Madonna to Amanda’s whore. As Nick Pisa unabashedly admits, the media clung to this story of "sexual intrigue, girl-on-girl crime, if you like."
It is at this point that you realise that both women fell victim to scurrilous media misrepresentations: Amanda, who was presumed guilty by deviating from the blueprint of acceptable femininity, and Meredith, whose tragic death was shamelessly sexed up to sell papers. Corners were cut, evidence was disregarded and the media continued to peddle fantasy at the expense of facts.
While the documentary has been criticised for not digging deeper into the thornier issues of police inefficacy and a questionable justice system, it slickly tells a story of misogyny, a media circus and a modern-day witch hunt. Importantly, it also gives Knox an opportunity to add her own voice to an ongoing discussion from which she has been excluded and consistently presumed guilty. Despite the questionable choice to include original crime scene video footage, the documentary is generally tasteful and incisive in its critique of the prosecution and the press coverage that led to Knox’s guilty verdict.
While the laughable investigation headed by Mignini is put under the spotlight, the unscrupulous journalism exemplified by Pisa is rendered equally culpable. In this way we are forced to confront our own role, as an audience, in indulging the murder’s cult status and for participating in the media circus. By the end of this polished and probing documentary, you start to feel like you have been put on the stand too, and it’s not a comfortable place to be.