The dilemma of ‘Baby Reindeer’: When the TV show “True Story” goes too far

These legal and ethical conflicts extend to movies. Just last week, a lawyer for Donald Trump accused filmmakers behind the upcoming Trump biopic Probationer (written by VF‘S Gabriel Sherman) on charges of defamation and election interference, issued a cease and desist letter. The producers released a statement in response: “The film is a fair and balanced portrait of the former president. We want people to see it and then decide.”

The influx of series featuring true crime scripts and dramatizations of recent historical events shows that viewers crave unexpected twists and the raw authenticity of true stories. But they also expect a smooth story. When I talk to When they see us Writer Michael Starrbury Back in 2019, he talked about trying to stay true to the “spirit” of Korey is wisethe story of the final episode while still ensuring that the mass audience can absorb it. “You don’t have much time and you have to choose how long you want to watch someone suffer in prison,” he said. “So you have to compress the time and consolidate the characters. Those are things that happen naturally in a narrative versus a documentary.”

It’s a delicate balancing act for writers trying to fit the unruly human experience into a svelte plot that holds viewers’ attention. “Hollywood executives want a sense of high drama—the OMG crazy version of the story—and a clear progression of events,” says the showrunner of a successful true crime series. ”. “Most of our lives are not structured like a script, and sometimes things are internal.” But TV executives demand big outside events, the host said, even if they don’t turn out that way. “In a classic fictional mystery, there are red herrings and other suspects. In real life there was only one person who committed the murder and if you suggest that other people could have participated or done it and you cannot prove it then you are defaming them.” Sometimes executives can push for a clear villain, but the showrunner says, “that can be really difficult, because people don’t typically work for a motive.” only chance”.

Baby reindeer is a particularly compelling case—a first-person story about a sexual assault survivor grappling with a stalker. Do we really want to create an environment in which creators cannot dramatize this complicated, traumatic experience? “Personally, I wouldn’t be comfortable with a world where we decided it was better for Richard to stay silent and not be allowed to tell the story,” Netflix UK policy director King Benjamin speak in time testimony at a congressional hearing.

“It’s a quagmire because there are no easy answers,” the host said. “[Viewers] understand to a certain extent that these things are fiction, but they will still assume that the story has some connection to the truth. So if you go too far down the garden path, you’re potentially ruining someone’s life.”

Studios are legally responsible for the shows they create, and they have guardians in place to keep reality-inspired dramas on solid ground. Dahvi Waller, creator of FX’s historic limited series Mrs. My, said she did a lot of research and kept backups of every detail the writer included about the real-life characters. After the network approves the script and before the show goes into production, she said, “A team of lawyers is scrutinizing the scripts and then we have to annotate them, [explaining,] Where do we get this from? Where [did] Where do we get it from? They were very, very thorough.”

Another way studios try to protect themselves from legal backlash is by buying “life rights” from the real people behind the fictional characters. But it turns out this term Human right is misleading. People don’t really own their life story. Manufacturers can and do use material contained in public records. So the life rights contract is an agreement not to sue the studio for defamation if you don’t like the final product — a way to buy their support or their silence. Copyright contracts can also prevent other studios from buying competing projects based on the same story.

Is the fictional real person a public figure or an ordinary, private person like Harvey? That also makes a difference, at least legally. “If it is a public figure who is suing because of something that was said about them or how they were portrayed, then that public figure must present clear and convincing evidence that the defendants—the writer, network, anyone— made false statements about them, knowing that they were false or being reckless with their falsehood,” said Alexander Rufus-Isaacs, an attorney with extensive experience in this area is currently representing Rachel DeLoache Williams. Ideally, you should find a smoking gun, such as an email that says something like: “’Hey, we’re portraying Mr. X as a child molester, but we know that he That’s not true,’” Rufus-Isaacs said. “In reality, you very rarely find anything that definitive, so you have to draw inferences.” For a private character, he says, that’s a much lower standard: “They just need to establish that [defendants] was negligent, that they did not research this matter properly.”

Even though he wasn’t involved Baby reindeer In this case, Rufus-Isaacs sighed when I asked him about it. “The question I ask the creators is: Don’t you feel any responsibility towards the person you’re talking about?” he says. “If you are not completely accurate and you will be upset with them, don’t you have an obligation to disguise and protect them?” They changed Harvey’s name, but Rufus-Isaacs believes they kept too many identifying biographical details. Instead of having the fictional Martha work in the law the way the real Fiona Harvey does, he said, “Let’s make her a couturier or something!”

This resonates comment from Laura Wray, a woman accused Harvey of stalking her in real life. (Harvey denied Wray’s allegations and said Piers Morgan that Wray did them because Harvey was running for Congress at the time.) “It was clear to me and many others that she [‘Martha’] is my stalker,” she said. “They turned her into a lawyer. That detail has nothing to do with the story. They could hire her as a doctor or an accountant.” And she notes that Gunning seems similar to her: “I mean, she has the same laugh, even the same slightly funny waddle.”

For his part, Gadd said VF earlier this year’s theatrical version Baby reindeer received a lot of attention, and at that time he had not heard from Harvey. “And I think in [Netflix] as well as the show, we tried our best to disguise a lot of the aspects of all the real-life people on the show… so I think we covered ourselves as much as possible.”

Rufus-Isaacs agrees that creators should have time to play with real characters—with one simple caveat. “If they make someone less likable, I think it’s their duty to disguise that person by completely changing their name and important biographical details about them. If they do, then they have the freedom to do what they want.” On the other hand, he says, “The effect is that people watch a movie that they understand to be based on real life, so they judge the person in question, not for who they actually are but for how they are portrayed.” described in the movie. And for those [portrayed] Without flattery, their reputation will be completely tarnished. You are really doing them a disservice.”

Vanity fair Fiona Harvey and Netflix have been contacted for further comment.

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