Amanda Knox is innocent – why won't Hollywood let her disappear?

Stillwater’ may be ‘loosely based’ based on the wrongful murder conviction, but as a work of fiction – it’s so much more (Jessica Forde/Focus Features/The Independent)

The best scenes in Stillwater aren’t about Amanda Knox. Or the 2007 murder of Meredith Kercher, on which the film – as the now-infamous parlance goes – is loosely based. Stillwater is full of subtle, well-written, and bittersweet moments. Unfortunately, these aren’t the parts that have been underlined in the film’s marketing materials and promotional interviews. For convenience, brevity, and efficiency, Stillwater, a drama starring Matt Damon as the father of an incarcerated young American woman studying in Europe, has been described as having been inspired by Knox’s wrongful conviction and hard-earned exoneration following Kercher’s murder. It’s not an inaccurate description, but it’s an incomplete one. And it has made Stillwater a complicated case study in the tortuous relationship between Hollywood and the true-crime genre.

In 2007, Knox, a native of Seattle, Washington, was studying abroad in Perugia, Italy. She envisioned a future for herself as a translator, possibly a writer. One of her flatmates was Kercher, a 21-year-old student from London. On 2 November 2007, Knox and her then-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito raised the alert after finding signs of a break-in in Knox’s shared house. Kercher’s body was discovered in her own bedroom. She had been sexually assaulted and stabbed to death.

The perpetrator was Rudy Guede. It took years to establish that fact, and the narrative around his guilt remains too often muddled, so let’s state it very clearly: the only perpetrator, and the only person responsible for Kercher’s death, was Guede. Guede was a known burglar and had been previously involved in home invasions. Investigators found his DNA on Kercher’s body and at the crime scene. The DNA and fingerprint evidence was “entirely linked” to Guede, investigative journalist and author Nina Burleigh wrote in 2014. In spite of that, Knox was accused of, and then convicted, of the murder. She lost years of her life to a protracted legal process, four of which she spent in prison. Her conviction was overturned in 2011, upon which Knox finally returned to America. But that wasn’t the end: an Italian appeals court reinstated her conviction in 2014. It wasn’t until 2015 that Italy’s highest court definitively exonerated Knox, proclaiming her innocence for good.

The reputational damage done to Knox in the process is hard to put into words. In their case against Knox, prosecutors claimed that Kercher’s murder had been the result of a sex game gone wrong. Tabloids went along for the ride, making her out to be – as Knox put it herself in a 2018 essay for Vice – “a sex-crazed she-devil”. They dredged up her childhood nickname of “Foxy Knoxy” and turned her into “a figure onto which people could project their fears and fantasies, particularly those surrounding female sexuality”. If you’ve watched the 2016 Netflix documentary Amanda Knox, which Knox herself participated in, then you might remember feeling a touch of malaise when journalist Nick Pisa gushed to the camera through chuckles: “A murder always gets people going; bit of intrigue, bit of mystery, a whodunit. And we have here this beautiful picturesque hilltop town in the middle of Italy. It was a particularly gruesome murder: throat slit, semi-naked, blood everywhere. I mean… what more do you want in a story?”

All these elements make the narrative around Kercher’s murder and the ensuing court cases particularly fraught. Yet, Stillwater isn’t the first film to draw from that story. There was the ripped-from-the-headlines TV movie Amanda Knox: Murder on Trial in Italy in 2011, which Knox herself has denounced as “terrible”. There was also the drama series Proven Innocent, which aired on US TV for one season in 2019, and centred around a lawyer once wrongfully convicted of murdering her best friend. In revisiting the wrongful conviction story once again, Stillwater walks a familiar yet complex path, and one already contaminated by the many misses of the past.

Stillwater trailer

Knox herself condemned the film in a Medium post ahead of its release. Titled “Who Owns My Name?”, it’s a thoughtful reflection on the power of words, and on the ways in which her name and character keep getting pulled back into a narrative that disrupted her life 14 years ago. “Does my name belong to me?” Knox asks in the piece. “Does my face? What about my life? My story? Why is my name used to refer to events I had no hand in? I return to these questions because others continue to profit off my name, face, and story without my consent. Most recently, the film Stillwater.”

As a work of fiction, Stillwater does a lot to distance itself from its real-life inspirations. Bill Baker, Damon’s character, is a manual worker from the city of Stillwater, Oklahoma. He’s a man of few words, who answers most questions with a “yes, ma’am” or a “no, ma’am” and wanders the streets of Marseille in work boots and a baseball hat. In other words, he’s a far cry from Knox’s own father Curt, one of her most vocal advocates and a longtime business executive. For most of the film, Bill exhibits a stoic politeness broken only by his refusal to apologise for who he is and what he wants. His daughter Allison (Oscar nominee and Little Miss Sunshine alumna Abigail Breslin) has been in prison for five years for a murder she says she didn’t commit, and all Bill wants is for his “little girl” to walk free again.

The setup is obviously reminiscent of what happened to Knox. But Stillwater tells a fully fledged story of its own, inviting themes and reflections that postdate Kercher’s murder. In Marseille, Bill bonds with Virginie, a luminous French theatre actor, and her young daughter Maya. Their relationship is a conduit for one of the best explorations of the cultural differences between the US and France seen on screen in recent years. The question of whether Bill is a Trump voter surfaces in a deftly written and surprising scene. Bill’s brand of Americanism – the white, ultra-masculine kind – is in constant opposition to Virginie’s brand of Frenchness – the bohemian, artsy kind.

What Stillwater does on that side, it does incredibly well. The dichotomy between Bill and Virginie could have been ham-fisted, but it’s not. Virginie is an interesting, kind character, not a caricature of French gaminerie. Bill, too, is more than a stereotype. There is a real narrative arc linking them together. As a viewer, the efforts to create a bona fide fiction gave me the distance I needed to enjoy the film. I was immersed in it and never felt I was watching a sorry excuse to revisit the story of Kercher’s murder.

Access unlimited streaming of movies and TV shows with Amazon Prime Video Sign up now for a 30-day free trial

Stillwater, Matt Damon, Meredith Kercher, Rudy Guede, wrote, Vice, touch of malaise, Medium post, has said, sat down, Vanity Fair

Camille Cottin as Virginie, Matt Damon as Bill, and Lilou Siauvaud as Maya in ‘Stillwater’

(Jessica Forde/Focus Features)

That fictionalisation, however, proved problematic for Knox. From her point of view, as explained in her Medium post, it muddies the waters of her own narrative, and she’s already had to fight long and hard to regain some modicum of control over it. “This fictionalising erases the corruption and ineptitude of the authorities,” she wrote about a specific subplot in the movie’s denouement. “How do you think that impacts my reputation?”

There’s also the matter of personal involvement. Knox wasn’t approached in the making of the film. (“I get it,” she wrote on Medium. “There’s money to be made, and you have no obligation to approach me.”) Whether or not to involve the real-life inspirations behind a Hollywood movie is often a complicated question, the answer to which can depend on ethical decisions, creative instincts, and even contractual obligations.

In 2017, Elizabeth Kloepfer, Ted Bundy’s former girlfriend, was “stunned” to learn that Joe Berlinger was working on a movie billed as “a chronicle of the crimes of Ted Bundy, from the perspective of his longtime girlfriend” – aka Kloepfer. She had shared her story in a memoir titled The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy, published in 1981 and at the time long out of print, and wasn’t aware a film was underway.

Eventually, though, Kloepfer was able to get involved in the making of the film, the 2019 Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile starring Zac Efron as Bundy and Lily Collins as Kloepfer. “After getting off on the wrong foot initially, the collaboration we had with the film was a good one,” she wrote. “We were happy to find that director Joe Berlinger respected and acted upon our input.”

Stillwater has yet to find such a happy resolution with Knox, although she has publicly extended an invitation to Damon and director Tom McCarthy to be interviewed on her podcast, Labyrinths: “I bet we could have a fascinating conversation about identity, and public perception, and who should get to exploit a name, face, and story that has entered the public imagination.”

There has been a disconnect between the film’s substance and the ways in which it has been marketed. Its trailer makes it seem like a high-octane thriller and suggests it sticks to Knox’s story much closer than the finished product does. Damon himself has said he worried the film would be perceived as a Liam-Neeson-style action film about “a guy who goes to save his daughter”. Stillwater is a movie that sounds like it could be a lot of things, and it would have been better served with a marketing campaign sticking closer to its essence.

Stillwater, Matt Damon, Meredith Kercher, Rudy Guede, wrote, Vice, touch of malaise, Medium post, has said, sat down, Vanity Fair

Matt Damon and Camille Cottin during a photocall for ‘Stillwater’ at the Cannes Film Festival on 9 July 2021

(VALERY HACHE/AFP via Getty)

Straying from Knox’s narrative feels necessary to let the film breathe on its own. But for Knox, it came off as a complicated cross between erasure – since she had no direct involvement – and being dragged back into a conversation she should never have been a part of in the first place. Extremely Wicked had a clear option in bringing Kloepfer into its fold: Kloepfer herself was a character in the film, portrayed by Lily Collins. Stillwater was in a trickier position from the get-go.

In 2019, Knox sat down with Berlinger to discuss Extremely Wicked and the process of bringing a real-life story to the big screen. Berlinger told her about his collaboration with Kloepfer; Knox told him about her own experiences being portrayed in films. “The thing that has always bothered me about it is that not many people have gone out of their way to approach me and get to know me before portraying me,” she said. “It seems like everyone else is making a feast out of my flesh while I’m sitting back suffering the consequences, and the only one who ultimately suffers the reputational consequences is me.”

Stillwater, Matt Damon, Meredith Kercher, Rudy Guede, wrote, Vice, touch of malaise, Medium post, has said, sat down, Vanity Fair

Abigail Breslin as Allison and Matt Damon as her father Bill in ‘Stillwater’

(Jessica Forde/Focus Features)

McCarthy, who also co-wrote the screenplay for Stillwater, has been steadfast in his explanation of his process. “We decided, ‘Hey, let’s leave the Amanda Knox case behind,’” he told Vanity Fair. “But let me take this piece of the story – an American woman studying abroad involved in some kind of sensational crime and she ends up in jail – and fictionalise everything around it.” Damon, in turn, told the magazine that what McCarthy wanted to focus on was “what happens after all the cameras go away, and what happens to the family”. In that regard, Stillwater succeeds.

It’s not uncommon for works of fiction to be based on reality – whether that reality involves true-crime or not. Accusations of exploitation and sensationalism aren’t rare either. On the creative side, things can also be more complicated than these allegations make them out to be. McCarthy listed crime podcasts such as S-Town and Serial during his conversation with Vanity Fair. It’s not hard to imagine how several inspirations meshed together to create Stillwater, a film that echoes elements of Kercher’s murder but also manages to emerge as its own entity.

There is no easy answer here. Stillwater is a good movie that does its job as a work of fiction. But it didn’t feel right to Knox, and she’s justified in making her voice heard too. It’s the least we owe her.

Stillwater is out in the US and will be released in the UK on 6 August

News Related

OTHER NEWS

A guide to Norway's Michelin-starred restaurants

If you’re looking for the best culinary experiences available in Norway, this article is for you. Last week, many Norwegian eyes were peeled on the parliamentary election – however, gourmands ... Read more »

Travel news latest: US flight searches up by 700pc as experts warn of rising fares

According to Skyscanner, the US is its second most popular destination for flight searches, beaten only by Spain – Getty Airlines have reported holiday search surges of up to 700 ... Read more »

Eccentric poets, exotic flora and wild seas: a car-free break on the Llŷn peninsula

Photograph: Alan Novelli/Alamy Llywelyn the Great built the huge gatehouse of Criccieth Castle on the coast of north-west Wales in the 13th century. Owain Glyndŵr burned it down in 1404 ... Read more »

Fancy having a go at writing a play? Here's how

Mark Ravenhill’s Shopping and F***ing performed at the The Lyric, Hammersmith – Alastair Muir Twenty five years ago, I was in a church hall in Kentish Town. We were rehearsing ... Read more »

Shawn Mendes' Unfiltered Opinion About Taylor Swift's Boyfriend Joe Alwyn Might Shock You

Shawn Mendes might be asking Taylor Swift for “Mercy” after this one, but maybe she’ll just “Shake it Off.” Shawn sat down for a lie detector test with Vanity Fair ... Read more »

Tobias Menzies Dedicates His Emmy Win to Late Nominee Michael K. Williams

The Crown‘s Tobias Menzies is honoring the late Michael K. Williams with a special tribute. On Monday, Sept. 20, the Netflix star took to Twitter to celebrate his 2021 Emmy ... Read more »

Browns' Landry 'week to week' with knee sprain; OBJ close

CLEVELAND (AP) — Jarvis Landry has pushed through the pain of numerous injuries throughout his durable NFL career. He finally succumbed to one. © Provided by The Canadian Press Landry, ... Read more »

The Expropriation Bill and the 18th Constitutional Amendment process: The cart is still behind the horse

The statement that ‘before the Expropriation Bill can be passed, the Constitution needs to be amended’, as expressed in a recent Daily Maverick Opinionista, is not correct. The processes running ... Read more »

Art institutions in Norway receive NOK 20 million for purchases

The Norwegian government is giving 16 museums a total of NOK 20 million for art purchases and exhibitions. Since March last year, museums in Norway have received NOK 88 million. ... Read more »

Gigi Hadid and Zayn Malik's Daughter Khai Turns 1 — See the Cutest Photos from Her Birthday Bash

© Provided by People alana hadid/ instagram Gigi Hadid and Zayn Malik are marking one full year of parenthood. The supermodel, 26, and singer, 28, recently held a birthday party ... Read more »

The stakes of passing Biden's agenda are 4 million jobs a year, study says

© Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images U.S. President Joe Biden. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images A new analysis from the Economic Policy Institute looked at just how many jobs Biden and the Democrats’ agenda ... Read more »

Chef Nino Mosca's Pesto Amalfitano recipe | The Kitchen

Nino Mosca is an Napolitan chef and maitre de maison of Relais & Chateaux Il Bottaccio in the heart of Tuscany, Italy. He shares with The Kitchen a variation of ... Read more »

Morozov collection set to wow art-hungry Paris audience

The Morozov collection is finally going on show. Three times postponed, thanks to you know what, this exhibition will open its doors on Wednesday in Paris, one year after the ... Read more »

British Airways owner soars as US opens the door to Britain and Europe

BA Shares in the owner of British Airways owner soared more than 10pc after the White House said fully-vaccinated travellers from Britain and Europe will be able to travel to ... Read more »

Gender Issues: Meet the artist who says Ladies Prefer Blondes but Diamonds are a Boy's Best Friend

Remember Chekhov’s masterful play The Three Brothers? Graham Greene’s The Third Woman? Surely you’ve read Evelyn Waugh’s classic Groomshead Revisited? No? To prove that Gender can be confusing in any ... Read more »

Virgin report site crashes as Brits scramble to book flights to US

Demand for flights from the US to the UK are set to surge (PA Archive) Virgin Atlantic’s website temporarily crashed as Brits scrambled to book flights to visit the US ... Read more »

US court turns down request for jailed Russian pilot's release for health reasons — lawyer

The court ruled that although Konstantin Yaroshenko had a number of chronic diseases, there were no circumstances that would promote his release at this very moment Read more »

Five ways to secure your dream winter sun holiday as bookings surge

Camels on the beach in Oman – Hans Harms/iStockphoto Travel companies are reporting a huge jump in bookings following the latest travel announcement, which will see the much-maligned traffic light ... Read more »

The number of billionaires grew by 13.4% in 2020 - making the pandemic a 'windfall to billionaire wealth'

© Spencer Platt / Staff / Getty Images Spencer Platt/Getty Images A new report from research firm Wealth-X found that the number of global billionaires rose above 3,000 in 2020. ... Read more »

« Stillwater » : Camille Cottin lance sa carrière hollywoodienne à Marseille avec Matt Damon

« Stillwater », en salle ce mercredi, a beau avoir été tourné à Marseille, c’est malgré tout le premier film hollywoodien de la comédienne Camille Cottin © Universal France Camille ... Read more »

This 'Beautifully-Crafted' Faux Marble Table Is Now Under $150, and Shoppers Can't Believe It

© Provided by People Courtesy of Amazon Furnishing a room takes time, patience, and in some cases, a lot of searching. Finding that perfect piece is no easy task — ... Read more »

Accused of treason Golubkin handed over reports to HEXAFLY-INT project's coordinator

According to the investigation, he did not collect information for these reports by himself, but assisted in drawing them up, the scientist's attorney Ivan Pavlov noted Read more »

US to lift Covid travel ban for vaccinated passengers from UK and most of EU

Photograph: Gary Hershorn/Getty Images The US will lift Covid-19 travel restrictions to allow fully vaccinated passengers from the UK and EU to travel into the country from November, the Biden ... Read more »

Holiday hope as US to lift travel ban for double-jabbed UK travellers

Manhattan skyline, New York (PA) Joe Biden is apparently set to announce fully vaccinated travellers from the UK will be able to fly to the US from November. Monday’s White ... Read more »

How we made East Is East: ‘At Cannes, they only gave us one hotel room so we all slept on the floor'

Ayub Khan Din, writer My Pakistani father came over from India in the merchant navy, jumped ship in London in 1927 and moved to Manchester where he met my Irish/English ... Read more »

Poland must pay €500,000-a-day to Brussels over controversial coal mine, says ECJ

Poland must pay Brussels €500,000-a-day over its failure to close a coal mine on the Polish-Czech border, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled. In March, Prague filed an ... Read more »

US to lift travel ban from UK and EU in November

US to lift travel ban from UK and EU in November, reports say – Evan Vucci /AP The United States plans to relax travel restrictions on vaccinated passengers from the ... Read more »

Big tech's pro-climate rhetoric is not matched by policy action, report finds

© Provided by The Guardian Photograph: Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images The world’s biggest tech companies are coming out with bold commitments to tackle their climate impact but when it comes to ... Read more »

A case of sour grapes? Chateau owner accused of conflict of interest by those who didn't make grade

Hubert de Boüard, 65, co-owner of the world-renowned Château Angélus and an iconic figure in the vineyards of Bordeaux, denied on Monday that he had played a role in the ... Read more »

London's most exclusive areas: new luxury homes in the capital's most coveted neighbourhoods

The living room at Park Modern which overlooks Hyde Park (Fenton Whelan) With their elite One Hyde Park apartments, the world’s most expensive when launched a decade ago, developer Candy ... Read more »

What the new travel rules mean for under-18s

Sisters relaxing on inflatables – AzmanL/E+ The traffic light system has been scrapped. Starting October 4, the green and amber lists will merge and the pre-departure test for return to ... Read more »

The Danish way: World-famous restaurant Noma finally wins its third Michelin star

Despite winning the world’s best restaurant award a mind-boggling four times, the third Michelin star was seemingly out of reach for Copenhagen restaurant Noma – until recently. Copenhagen’s Noma could ... Read more »

Pablo Picasso: Nine works by Spanish master donated to France by daughter, Maya

Nine works by Picasso have been donated to France by his daughter Maya and will enter the national collections at the Picasso Museum in 2022, French Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot ... Read more »

Devastating volcano eruption can be used to lure tourists to Canaries, says tourism minister

Photograph: Borja Suarez/Reuters Spain’s tourism minister has been accused of insensitivity after suggesting a devastating and ongoing volcanic eruption on the Canary island of La Palma could be used as ... Read more »

Putin will continue working in self-isolation this week — Kremlin

The Russian President's self-isolation was announced last Tuesday due to coronavirus cases in his inner circle Read more »

How me and my banned AZ vaccine fared on a Swiss mini-break

aerial view of Geneva – Alberto Mazza /Moment RF “What type of <a href="/tag/covid-vaccine“>Covid vaccine did you get? Please not AZ,” reads a message from a friend, the week before ... Read more »

Russia records another 19,744 coronavirus cases — crisis center

According to the crisis center, the recovery numbers currently stand at about 89.3% of the total number of infections Read more »

'She's aging backward': Catherine Zeta-Jones stuns at 2021 Emmy Awards

Looking for more celebrity and entertainment news? Sign up for Yahoo Lifestyle Canada’s newsletter! Catherine Zeta-Jones looked ageless on the 2021 Emmys red carpet. (Photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images) Fans ... Read more »

University in Russia evacuated after shooting incident

A university in Russia has been evacuated after a shooting incident. Perm State University said an “unknown person” began firing with a “traumatic weapon” around 11 am local time. It ... Read more »