Two consuming productions start Friday on Netflix. The first is a one-off, a true-crime documentary that reveals a very great deal. Not about a murder but about how the public and media treat women. The second is described by the U.S. edition of TV Guide as "the most vital, important TV show of 2016."
Amanda Knox (Netflix, starts streaming Friday) is a coolly eviscerating documentary about Amanda Knox and about how her case was covered.
"Either I am a psychopath in sheep's clothing, or I am you," Knox says in an interview for the doc, and that quote has been used on posters to promote it.
Little wonder. It sums up the seriously traumatized young woman's feelings about what happened to her and how she was portrayed. When she says "or I am you," the resonance is deep and profound – it is horrific to imagine being treated as she was, both by the courts in Italy and by an unconscionably sexist, lying media.
In the matter of Amanda Knox you might think you know the story, but you know nothing. The bare facts are these: In November, 2007, Knox was a 20-year-old American university student who had been in the Italian city of Perugia for a few weeks when her British roommate Meredith Kercher was found murdered in her bedroom. Immediately, Knox and her Italian boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, were suspects and were quickly charged with her murder. Two years later, they were found guilty – as was Perugia man Rudy Guede – but the pair were later released on appeal, tried again, found guilty again and, finally, exonerated by the Italian Supreme Court in 2015.
The case was drenched in a kind of sexist, slut-shaming hysteria. Much of this was driven by the British tabloid press. In Britain, there was some understandable outrage that victim Kercher had been forgotten while the lurid focus was on Knox, the young American woman who could so easily be stereotyped as a flake, a narcissist and a sex-crazy bimbo. And every shaming insult was attached to Knox. The old nickname "Foxy Knoxy" was found on social media, and stuck.
When Knox herself is interviewed, pale and unsure about how to recount her ordeal, the doc comes into clear focus. She was a kid, really, when she went to Italy. She simply wasn't capable of dealing with the events that unfolded. She was terrified and trying to keep her cool. What the doc sets out to achieve and does, admirably, is strip away the myth and concentrate on what actually happened.
To do this, it takes us painstakingly through a timeline that, at the time, quickly became a matter for lecherous speculation and outright lies. A kiss Knox shared with her boyfriend, seen now, is nothing like the message that it brought forth – that Knox was so uncaring she was more interested in smooching with a guy than the death of a friend. Her short sex life through her teens was reported as evidence that a strumpet had been let loose in the staid old city in Italy. It was madness, the coverage.
And we get a crystal-clear picture of where much of the madness originated. The stunningly unembarrassed Nick Pisa, who wrote for the Daily Mail, explains delightedly how he delivered outlandishly exaggerated scoops about Knox and her allegedly notorious promiscuity. The lead prosecutor in the case, one Giuliano Mignini, is interviewed and comes across as an egotistical idiot. The notoriety of the case addled him. He thinks of himself as a genius investigator and savvy reader of other people. In truth he was, like Pisa, enveloped in a bizarre, pornography-like fantasy that he was spilling the beans on, and persecuting, a femme-fatale American co-ed who liked sex games and threesomes.
It's an astounding but subtly illuminating documentary about how women are condemned for having normal interests and urges.
It wasn't only the tabloid media who trawled through her blogs, diaries and social-media entries to find evidence that she was promiscuous and deranged. The Italian police and prosecutors did that too, with lip-smacking attention. Fact is, the Amanda Knox who went to Italy liked creative writing, playing soccer, good-looking guys, hanging with her friends, smoking a little weed and enjoying life. That's all. What happened to her is one of the great cautionary tales of this century.
Marvel's Luke Cage (Netflix, starts streaming Friday) is that "most vital, important TV show." In the United States, it certainly has that vibe to it – TV Guide asserts the importance of "a bulletproof black man dressed in a hoodie, battling police and governmental corruption, at a time when Black Lives Matter protests regularly dominate the news cycle and policemen shooting unarmed African-Americans seems like a near-daily occurrence."
There's that. The series itself is audaciously compelling for its style – there's a rhythm to it that is anchored deeply in music, but it's not that it looks like a rap video.
The series is remarkable for the way it reimagines a superhero comic-book character created by white writers at the height of the 1970s Blaxploitation era. It feels utterly contemporary, and Luke (Mike Colter) is less a rampaging hero than a guy who wants to be left alone. He spends most of the first episodes hiding out in a Harlem barbershop run by a friend. He's afraid; he's melancholy and trouble just seems to find him. In fact, the series is at its provocative best when it stays away from the elaborate, hokey Marvel world of extreme, luridly concocted violence.