Imagine someone digging through your old Myspace accounts looking for evidence to take completely out of context and defame your character. Terrified yet? You should be, because that’s how the press came up with “Foxy Knoxy,” the tabloid headline used in the internationally covered case against Amanda Knox for the murder of her roommate in 2007. While studying linguistics in Italy, 20-year-old Knox became the public target of an eight-year investigation that wrongfully convicted her for murder – twice. The media took hold of the information as it leaked, resulting in an overblown media fiasco that destroyed Knox’s reputation along with any possibility of a normal life.
“Google the name Amanda Knox and you get 7.1 million hits,” says Knox in Amanda Knox, a riveting new Netflix documentary that uses exclusive interviews with the key players involved to illustrate the chain of events that led a seemingly normal girl from Seattle to becoming one of the most hated women in the world.
The film starts off with the facts: On the morning of November 2nd, 2007, the body of Knox’s 21-year-old British roommate Meredith Kercher was discovered locked in the bedroom of the hilltop home they shared in Perugia, Italy, where they were both living while studying abroad. They were two of several housemates living peacefully in what was considered a safe neighborhood until Kercher was found with her throat slit, lying in a pool of blood. Knox claimed that she arrived home that morning after spending the night at her boyfriend’s apartment to find drops of blood on the bathroom floor. She nonchalantly assumed one of other girls had cut themselves shaving, and proceeded to take a shower as if nothing were wrong. The blood hadn’t startled her, but the sight of someone else’s feces in the toilet led her to believe she wasn’t alone.
“That’s when I knew something was up,” remembers Knox in one of the film’s many one-on-one moments with the now-exonerated suspect. In 2008 Rudy Guede, reportedly a small-time drug dealer in the area, was convicted for the murder and sexual assault of Meredith Kercher after the police linked his DNA to the crime scene as well as the feces left behind. Still, the media hounded Amanda for years after, refusing to let up on the notion that she had been involved. The Supreme Court of Italy definitively acquitted Knox in 2015 – her reaction poignantly captured by the filmmakers in a closing scene from Amanda Knox.
The film, which took five years to complete, features a series of first-hand interviews conducted with Knox, her then-boyfriend and alleged co-conspirator Raffaele Sollecito (who was also acquitted in 2015), leading prosecutor Giuliano Mignini, and Daily Mail journalist Nick Pisa who admits to having used compromising photos from her Myspace page to amp up the story in his tabloid. Here, Amanda Knox finally gets the opportunity to tell her side of the story. But not without enough background from the others to show how one person’s fiction became another person’s fact.
That said, the documentary reveals the injustices toward Knox and Sollecito in unprecedented form as they discuss the experience as newly freed individuals. We learn from Amanda that she was slapped in the back of the head by Italian investigators until she coughed up a confession; that prison officials tricked her, falsely telling her she had HIV to elicit the names of people she’d slept with; that her cell phone was wiretapped and her family in Seattle assaulted by the media. Co-directors Brian McGinn and Rod Blackhurst reveal the person behind the public figure by presenting us with full access to her point of view.
Amanda Knox is far removed from the headlines and salacious – even fabricated – details that initially defined this case in the press. Instead, we see glimpses of both Knox and Sollecito trying to live within the wreckage. “Before Italy, I had a happy life,” says Knox, staring deeply into the camera, as if her memories were inside it but impossible to reach. Sollecito, on the other hand, describes being treated as a celebrity in Italy in the aftermath of the case. (He is now currently on Italian television reporting on true crime.)
Through a linear look at the “evidence” that damaged Knox’s name, the new doc shows how each piece was misrepresented. First we have Giuliano Mignini, the Roman-Catholic prosecutor set on an absurd theory that Knox and Sollecito had murdered Kercher in a sex-game-gone-wrong. (The film makes a strong enough case against this theory that they don’t even need to mention how Mignini had a documented obsession with Satanic cults and rituals.) Even after Knox’s exoneration, he badly wants to believe his hunches, especially as he explains how an open window in the apartment was enough to assume the crime scene had been staged. When the film focuses in on an incriminating photo of Knox and Sollecito kissing at the crime scene, Mignini appears rosy and righteous, like all his moving parts had perfectly aligned.
Journalist Nick Pisa, however, admits to playing a role in painting Amanda as a maniacal sex-fiend by pulling information he discovered on her Myspace page. “You couldn’t have asked for better material,” explains Pisa before copping to having lifting “Foxy Knoxy” – Amanda’s username on Myspace – for a sexy headline. Her family insisted that the nickname came from Knox’s soccer skills, but that wasn’t going to sell any papers.
So how did such obvious exaggerations find its way into reputable news outlets? The filmmakers suggest the answer lies in the thin line separating hearsay and gossip from actual news. “I really think there is a connection between the way [this case] began to blur the line between soft and hard news in today’s media landscape,” explains Brian McGinn, whose interest in making the film had less to do with splitting legal hairs and everything to do with how this story became so out of control. “And 2007 marks a time when digital and social media become extremely important, creating this pressure to pump out more stories faster.”
The narrative we’re used to hearing – the one that claims that Knox and Sollecito were making out in the police station or that they were overheard at a gas station buying condoms and talking about the hot sex they were going to have later – comes off comical in the context of the new interviews. All you have to do is watch Sollecito blush through his sex life in barbed-wire English to realize this Italian was no Casanova. “Who cares about girls when you can have the Sega Next Gen?” he asks in one of film’s most sincere moments. Amanda’s recollection of their affair is similarly childlike. She says that on the night of the murder, they watched Amelie together and read out loud from a German-language Harry Potter book. Both claim that they then made love in Sollecito’s bed and fell asleep – not exactly the kind of deviant sex the tabloids would later suggest.
But the media only gave us two sides: Like her or don’t. Guilty or innocent. “I think that we were at a crucial point in the way we interact with the media,” stresses McGinn. “The internet made it into a larger playing field, so it’s even harder to figure out what is true and what is not true.” But in the case of Amanda Knox, the truth has always appeared to be subjective, inviting everyone at home to collect their own clues over the years.
In that regard, Amanda Knox succeeds by breaking down the pieces of what actually happened in an effort to understand how the story became so much larger than the sum of its parts. The truth is a life was lost, and sobering footage of Meredith Kercher’s family on the fringes of this chaos (they declined to participate in an interview for the documentary) shows how such elongated coverage has robbed the Kerchers of an ability to move on. As Rod Blackhurst puts it, “It’s an examination of how every single thing that you do can be seen through many different prisms.”