Beyond “Foxy Knoxy”: A Q&A With The Directors Of Netflix’s Amanda Knox

Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
We need to talk about Amanda Knox’s eyes. Knox is 29 now, nine years removed from “Foxy Knoxy," from her Italian study abroad trip, from that time she was accused of murdering her British roommate. Everything about her seems plain, save for her name, which is indissociable from the trial and the terror. You can see the toll the last near-decade of trials and appeals have taken on her body: Is it shame that weighs down her posture? Is it a deep exhaustion that she walks with, even today? No matter. Take another look at her eyes: Do they tell you anything about her innocence? About her guilt? Knox’s eyes are exactly what filmmakers Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn want to focus on, because the two don’t think her eyes really say anything at all. Their documentary — released today on Netflix — retraces the brutal murder of Meredith Kercher and the eventual arrest, conviction, appeal, and acquittal of Knox and her then-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito. The doc’s talking-head style is intentionally minimal: “The set that we built was designed to strip away any artifice that affected the way you saw these people,” Blackhurst said. He and McGinn have a theory that, without the "Foxy Knoxy" headlines, without the media circus, Amanda Knox’s eyes don’t really tell anyone anything. She was just a girl who stood in front of the world and asked it to trust her. The documentary doesn’t feel entirely objective (that's not really the point), but it certainly goes through the motions of getting both sides of the story. All the major players get their share of screen time, but by the end it’s clear that the filmmakers think Knox had little to no involvement in the night that ended with her roommate's murder. As Blackhurst and McGinn tell it, this isn’t a story of guilt or innocence, nor Knox or Kercher: It’s the story of one woman’s slut shaming, and the media landscape that perpetrated it.
How did you guys make it to the Amanda Knox story?
Rod Blackhurst: "We started working on the film in 2011. That summer, Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito were still in prison, and they were facing the end of their first appeals trial. "What we saw was a story that had fascinated the United States and the world over. We wanted to understand, what was it about this story that had captivated people’s attentions — what made them engage with it so passionately? We wanted to understand, too, what it was like for people to be living inside of that story and to be turned into these characters inside these strange narratives being written about them." Was it important to tell the story objectively?
Brian McGinn: "I think that the whole world is split: There are a lot of people who feel that Amanda Knox is guilty, and there are a lot of people who believe that she’s innocent. Even on our team, there was a split."
Photo: AFP/Getty Images.
BM: “Of course! Because we wanted to be respectful to both sides, we really wanted to lay things out according to the court decisions. These decisions are 50 or 60 pages long, but there’s always core evidence, or core turning points, that leads to these verdicts. We focused on those, and then built out a skeleton for the movie based on elements. "And then it was an issue of the core players in the story to reveal themselves, and show their personalities and how their stories evolved and changed over these eight years. That was kind of the way that we approached it. We would not have made the film if we couldn’t have gotten both sides. That was important to us from the beginning." How did you decide on the talking-head style? There was only one short reenactment sequence.
BM: “In terms of the talking heads, we wanted the audience to have a direct connection with these people. So much of the story had been about what you actually thought about them by looking at them. "We used this thing called the Interrotron, which Errol Morris invented, and it’s been used for some commercials, as well. It provides direct eye contact between the audience and the interviewee. We didn’t want to do reenactments. For us, that was a part of trying to reduce the sensationalism that we’d seen in the way the story was covered. We didn’t want to turn the film into anything that resembled a fiction film." When I saw the movie, I was split as to whether this was a movie about Amanda Knox, the person, or the Amanda Knox trial. Which do you think is more fitting?
BM: “I think it might be neither of those things.” RB: “It’s funny, actually, because the film is titled ‘Amanda Knox’ but it’s about this bigger thing that became about Amanda Knox. It’s not just the Amanda Knox story; it’s the Raffaele Sollecito story, or the story of the Meredith Kercher murder trial. But the way the story was presented to us in the headlines was that this all was about Amanda Knox. She’s the point of entry that a lot of people have to this story." BM: “We didn’t want to spend all the time in the film inside of a courtroom. The film is so driven by these people’s versions of the truth it becomes less about a trial or a biopic. It’s more about how all these people interact and collide. And then how everything is labeled under the name ‘Amanda Knox.’" Newspapers around the world at that time cast Amanda as this savage seductress. How conscious were you of pushing back against that assessment of her?
BM: "Amanda was written about a lot through the lens of how a woman should behave. She was judged because she didn’t fall into traditional norms in that arena. We wanted to show how that narrative had been constructed around her, and also to show things about whether that was the way she's being judged by people in 2016. "We talked a lot about the way that there are some similarities between the way Hillary Clinton is viewed, and the way Amanda Knox is viewed, in terms of how Hillary is expected to behave. We were watching the debate the other night. There was a lot of ‘Hillary Clinton showed a lot of intelligence, and she knew the issues very well. But she didn’t have that emotional motherly moment.’ There was a connection on an emotional level that people believe a woman is supposed to be able to create. I do think that we’re pushing back against that idea, but it wasn’t an initial goal of the film. It just emerged from the narrative and the way it was being covered." RB: "When she comes back to Seattle after she’s been released, she talks about what it was like for that to have been the thing that defined her. She notes in the film the experience of being in a checkout line at the supermarket, and someone saying to her, ‘I know you! You’re Amanda Knox.’ But she’s like, ‘You can’t possibly know me from the headlines.’ Even now, after a 90-minute film, you don’t know her." BM: "And all this stuff is regardless of your feelings of innocence or guilt. It’s more of how the story got framed, and how we were all consumed by it. People were coming to conclusions based on her sexual history, and we found that kind of fascinating."
Photo: Maarten de Boer/Getty Images.
Just a practical question: How did you get access to Amanda?
BM: "The same way we got in touch with anyone: We got in touch with them and spent a lot of time waiting. Amanda declined to do the film when we approached her in 2011." Would you have moved forward without her?
BM: "No. In fact, we didn’t! Nothing happened between 2011 and the end of 2013, so almost three years. And then, she called us out of the blue and said that she changed her mind." RB: "It was very hands-off. I think a lot of people were probably approaching [everyone involved], like, ‘I need an interview for the nightly news.’ We just said that we’d like to listen to each of them, when they’re ready, and here’s the type of film we want to make." How was it to work with Netflix? They have a great track record with this kind of true crime genre.
BM: "They do! But to be fair [Making a Murderer] hadn’t happened by the time we started this." RB: "Maybe people will say, ‘I love true crime,’ and watch this film. But then they’ll see that it’s a character study and a film about a human experience, not exclusively a forensics examination. This documentary is more about how we consume narratives; that applies to everything from Amanda Knox to the presidential election. Are we more concerned with information or being entertained?"

What was going on in your lives when news of Amanda's case first broke?
BM: "In 2007, I was a senior in college." RB: "Oh man. In 2007, I was touring with a pop-rock band called The Fray." Wait, really?
RB: "Yeah! We’re very different. One of the fascinating elements of the story is that it was hard to miss. Unless you were sort of living in the dark, you heard about it somehow."

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