To prepare for their film “Stillwater,” based on the case of Amanda Knox, the Seattle native who was acquitted in 2015 by Italy’s highest court after being wrongfully convicted of murder, actor Matt Damon and director Tom McCarthy spent time in Oklahoma, getting to know real-life oil-rig workers who might have something in common with Damon’s character, according to coverage from Rolling Stone.
They did not try to reach Knox.
“The cherry on top of this #STILLWATER thing: Damon & McCarthy spent time with and developed empathy for ‘Oklahoma roughnecks,’ but didn’t think to extend that same effort and empathy to the wrongfully vilified woman they used as a plot device,” commented Knox on Twitter, with a screenshot from the Rolling Stone story.
In a similarly-focused Medium post and an essay for The Atlantic, Knox’s response to the film has raised questions about what storytellers owe their subjects, should they choose to draw inspiration from real-life events.
In an interview with Variety published this week, Knox said she is open to seeing the film, and that she would be open to McCarthy getting in touch with her, even belatedly. She has also offered to interview McCarthy and Damon on her podcast “Labyrinths.”
“I would absolutely go see [‘Stillwater’] — especially if they invited me,” Knox told Variety. “That would be nice.”
Knox told Variety that she understood the filmmakers’ interest in her story, saying that “my dad’s experience of trying to save me, and my entire family’s experience of trying to save me, is a story that is incredibly worth telling, and one that I’ve actually been suggesting into the world,” because “Wrongful convictions don’t just happen to the individual. They happen to a whole network of human beings who love this person and know that they’re innocent and fight for their innocence.”
She just wished she’d been consulted first. “Tom McCarthy says he was inspired by my story and inspired by my dad, and you know what? My dad is an inspiring guy,” Knox told Variety. “So I said, ‘I hope that they do a good job of it in ‘Stillwater.’ I would have loved to have been informed of it beforehand, and I think that my dad would have had some really interesting insights into the development of this project, had they reached out, but I hope they do a good job.’ ”
Though the film’s release has revived interest in Knox’s case, it isn’t a new experience for the local journalist and podcaster to see her story treated as entertainment or fodder for speculation from armchair analysts and detectives.
From Malcolm Gladwell’s analysis to a fact-twisting Lifetime Original Movie, many stories inspired by Knox’s case and even seemingly straight-ahead journalistic accounts of it have been produced without her consent, input or even the courtesy of a request for comment.
And when a story is inspired by her life, it often means her story becomes something to be mined for narrative, without consideration for the real person at the center. “Everyone sort of feels like, ‘Well, I’m inspired by the story… it’s this resource of interesting ideas and questions,” Knox said. “And, oh yeah, but do I have to talk to her? No, no. It won’t matter.”
But Knox said it matters very much, because “people come away with impressions about me based upon these shadow versions of me that keep getting recycled in the world.”
“No one thought, ‘Oh, maybe Amanda might actually have a stake in this,'” she said. “And that’s just the reality … that distance that people have from not realizing that people have stakes in their own lives, whether you are directly inhabiting that space, or indirectly inhabiting it but name-calling me in the process.”
Part of Knox’s approach in her own journalism, she told The Seattle Times in a previous story, is to give people their stories back, and to bring more humanity to the interview and newsgathering process than she has been given.
Since “Stillwater” was released, Knox has also responded to it directly in her essay for The Atlantic, writing that McCarthy was reportedly curious about her experience, her family and what he called “the story around the story.”
“My family and I have a lot to say about that, and would have happily told McCarthy if he’d ever bothered to ask,” wrote Knox. “McCarthy has no legal obligation to do so. And he is, after all, telling a fictional tale. But legal mandates are not the same as moral or ethical ones.”