There are many upsetting scenes in Netflix’s “Amanda Knox” documentary, which started streaming Friday. One smaller moment almost slips by unnoticed: Viewers hear audio of Knox’s mother visiting her in jail in 2007, just after Knox was arrested and charged for the murder of her roommate, Meredith Kercher, during a study abroad trip in Italy.
“The lawyers said something interesting. They said, ‘Amanda’s been caught up in something that’s way bigger than her,'” Knox’s mother is heard saying, “Because it’s turned into this huge international bull—- story.”
“Are you serious?” Knox asks, sounding horrified.
“Oh yeah, everybody in the family has been assaulted by media,” her mother says. “It’s gone crazy.”
The dialogue is chilling, if only because Knox has no idea what awaits her outside of prison. She became part of an international incident overnight, in a tragedy that continues to captivate the the world years later. At the time, journalists stormed into Perugia (the small town where she was studying abroad) to cover the sensational case. The documentary chronicles the 29-year-old Knox’s nightmare, from Kercher’s horrifying murder in 2007; to the conviction of Knox and her boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, in 2009; to their appeal and release in 2011; to their final acquittal by the Italian Supreme Court in 2015.
That moment with Knox and her mother is one of many where producers seem to reinforce the idea that frenzied media coverage helped lead to an arrest and conviction before there was a close look at the facts. At the end, the filmmakers note that the Supreme Court blamed “stunning flaws in the investigation and increased media attention” that created a “‘frantic search’ for guilty parties,” and concluded there was no biological evidence that connected Knox and Sollecito to the slaying.
In addition to showing many scary-looking scenes of packs of photographers hounding the people involved in the case, the documentary shines a bright spotlight on everyone from the British tabloid writers to American cable news show hosts. While the film doesn’t overtly criticize anyone, the message is obvious: Journalists were as culpable as anyone else for making this story spin out of control.
The primary person used to illustrate this is British journalist Nick Pisa, the former Daily Mail reporter who was instrumental in covering Knox — and helped coin the phrase “Foxy Knoxy” when it was discovered as Knox’s nickname on her MySpace page. He appears frequently throughout the documentary in new interviews. As he boasts, his paper was one of the first to report that police were speculating that Kercher’s death was a “sex game gone wrong,” which made headlines around the world. With juicy details like that, how could it not?
“To see your name on the front page with a great story that everyone’s talking about, it’s just a fantastic buzz … like having sex or something like that,” Pisa laughs. He repeatedly reiterates what an incredible case it was: A gruesome murder in a picturesque town, possible “girl on girl crime,” sexual intrigue. “What more do you want in a story?” he asks.
Producers present Pisa with a similar cavalier attitude throughout the film, even when he places fault on the botched case solely on the police and prosecution for making “some really heinous errors” and becoming fixated on “wild theories.” As he talks, the documentary shows newspaper headlines such as “Dead Girl Feared Knoxy’s Sex Toy” and “Took Part in Sex Attack,” along with other stories referencing voodoo rituals, making it clear how filmmakers feel.
“I know people keep saying ‘trial by media, trial by media,’ but I don’t really buy that. Maybe because I’m a journalist, I don’t go for that,” says Pisa, who theorized earlier that the authorities in Perugia were under an intense amount of pressure when they suddenly found themselves at the center of a worldwide media story.
Now, Pisa — who revealed details of Knox’s private prison diaries and combed the Internet for incriminating pictures of her — admits that a lot of the information he was given at the time of the trial was “just crazy” and pure fiction. “But hey, what are we supposed to do, you know? We are journalists and we are reporting what we are being told,” Pisa says. “It’s not as if I can say, ‘Alright, hold on a minute, I just want to double-check that myself in some other way … and then I let my rival get in there before me. And hey, I’ve lost a scoop. It doesn’t work like that. Not in the news game.”
The documentary also reveals choice quotes from various U.S. journalists and TV personalities, including one newscaster who snarks that Knox looked pale and thin in court and says she “could use hair and makeup, but I guess you don’t get that in jail.” Then, the American media pounces when forensic experts discover that the DNA on a crucial piece of evidence linking Knox to the crime is contaminated. Fox News and CNN hosts weigh in — as does Donald Trump, who declares that the president should get involved and Americans should “boycott Italy.”
When is shown Knox returning home, the attention doesn’t let up: Viewers see scenes of paparazzi hounding Knox, even as she implores them to leave her alone. One reporter asks Knox’s father if his daughter plans to give an interview while she’s still “hot property.” Commentators wonder if she’ll go on “Dancing With the Stars.” Knox, in a stylized scene where she’s seen staring at shelves filled with magazines, talks about the feeling of everyone thinking they know your story.
“I get into a line at the grocery store and the person behind me’s like, ‘Whoa! It’s you! I know you,'” Knox says. “And I really want to turn to them and say, ‘Who the f— are you? And you don’t know me.'”