Are violent crimes being glorified in Netflix documentaries?
It’s Friday night, you are tired and you just want to put on a Netflix show and go to sleep. You scroll through the genres and come across “Making a Murderer”. You pause, and hover over the title.
Immediately, the trailer starts playing, discussing a man’s life and how he was wrongfully convicted of a crime. And before you know it, you finished the whole season. You spend the whole night scrolling through every news channel and media outlet to hear about whether there will be an appeal and to read on others’ weighing in their opinion: is he guilty or not?
But, the underlying question is the purpose of the documentary. Is the real purpose to boost Netflix’s streaming services and memberships from a huge amount of sudden interest? Or, is the real reason that numerous crime documentaries on Netflix are suddenly being released is to garner enough attention to appeal a dismissed case.
Making a Murderer, first released in 2015, explores the case of Steven Avery, a man who has been convicted twice for the murder of photographer Teresa Halbach. Soon enough, thousands of people signed petitions to free Steven Avery.
The documentary is a form of entertainment, details which the filmmakers specifically chose to leave out and downplay and few facts that the documentaries chose to capture to make it seem like their client is more innocent than guilty
Wrongful conviction is the worst sentence to be given – to be categorised as a criminal for something you never did in the first place. But, when you watch these documentaries, understand that they are selling you a story: they can glorify something more than it necessarily is in order to gain public interest and attention.
The documentary is a form of entertainment, details which the filmmakers specifically chose to leave out and downplay and few facts that the documentaries chose to capture to make it seem like their client is more innocent than guilty. Fair enough, that is the whole purpose of being a lawyer. To fight for your client regardless of whether they did it or not. It’s always the clients’ needs before your own morality or ethical views.
I do praise the filmmakers’ for raising questions about the credibility of law enforcement officers. But, the series did insist on discrediting the finding of Avery’s blood DNA inside of Halbach’s car (the defence suggests it was planted), while glossing over the fact that Avery’s DNA, from sweat, was found on the hood latch of her car.
Not to mention what it does for the family: making them go through the process all over again of losing their loved on. “It’s terrible,” Teresa’s aunt, Kay Giordana, tells PEOPLE, saying the series is re-traumatising the Halbach family.
It is clear that Netflix only cares about its subscribers—its revenue comes from maintaining and expanding the ranks of people who find spending £11.99-a-month to be a worthwhile investment
But, the real question is why now? Why did Netflix choose Steven Avery’s case over the thousands of cases of wrongfully convicted individuals?
To promote the series, Netflix released the first episode concurrently on YouTube and on Netflix, which it had not done for any other original programming. Before meeting with Netflix, Demos and Ricciardi met with executives at PBS and HBO, but neither network was interested in the project. Upon release, after its first week, the audience for “Making a Murderer” jumped to 2.3 million viewers. In 14 days, it went to 5.5 million. And by 35 days, 19.3 million viewers watched the series. But, the case never went beyond the second season after Avery’s request for a new trial was rejected.
It is clear thatNetflix only cares about its subscribers—its revenue comes from maintaining and expanding the ranks of people who find spending £11.99-a-month to be a worthwhile investment. Netflix gains the most by having its programming seem more popular than it is, as that helps generate interest from potential subscribers, and helps current subscribers justify their monthly fees for access to the hottest programs. Netflix’s refusal to release actual viewer numbers serves this end, as it can market a series as a “hit” without any reality checks to deflate that perception.
So to answer the question I first asked: Does Netflix actually care? Or are they just creating documentaries for more viewership? Honestly, I can’t give you the answer for that. But, the fact that the documentary was expanded from 8 episodes to 10 and then renewed for a second season, seems a little suspicious. Yes, you can say that the Netflix producers care about the documentary but look at other documentaries: The disappearance of Madeleine McCann, arguably the worlds’ famous missing child case, the assassination of Gianni Versace, Amanda Knox. Where are their second seasons?