What Harry & Meghan’s ‘Fake’ Netflix Home Says About Documentary Ethics

by Prince William cut ties with his brother to Prince Harry blame a tabloid for his wife’s miscarriageThere is no shortage of headlines about the popularity of by Netflix Harry & Meghan.

But a headline that stands out for what it says about the state of documentary filmmaking.

On Saturday, the Daily mail (was sued many times by Prince Harry and Meghan Markle) published one article claims that the mansion featured in the cleverly produced documentaries isn’t actually the couple’s home. The news came after Redditors aim at home and see that it’s actually bigger, more expensive property in Montecito, California, the celebrity district where Harry and Meghan moved in 2020.

Whether the couple’s “fake” home raises the issue of documentary ethics is still up for debate. As a general rule, documentaries are supposed to depict real people in real settings. At the same time, this is an ever-evolving genre that has no written guidebook and no one to enforce it. Anyone can call anything a documentary as long as it doesn’t have a clear script.

“There is no comprehensive code of documentary ethics to refer to,” said Patricia Aufderheide, a communications professor at American University specializing in documentary filmmaking.

In Harry & Meghan, the couple did not claim the spacious living room they were sitting in was theirs, but neither did they explicitly say no. In the first series of episodes, released on December 8, Meghan is shown feeding chickens in a backyard coop, a scene that makes most viewers assume they are being filmed at home.

Netflix did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the location Harry & Meghan was filmed and how the location decisions were made. A representative for the couple also did not respond to a request for comment.

“Transparency with viewers often means acknowledging that this is not their home,” emphasized Aufderheide.

Transparency with viewers often means acknowledging that this is not their home.

Patricia Aufderheide

However, finding interview locations is a common practice for unscripted series; Take for example reality television, where the line between fact and fiction is sometimes blurred to comedic effects.

Tami Tacklind, a producer who has worked as a location manager for shows like, said, “For me, I think it depends on the context of the story. Anthony Bourdain: Unknown part and Keeping up with the Kardashians. “Is the setting important to the story or is the setting simply the backdrop to look good? It’s all about style.”

Film a show like Harry & Meghan Tacklind says it can hold up to 30 to 40 people in the room at a time. Having multiple crew members in and out of private homes can present security challenges in itself, especially for a couple like the Sussexes, who often complain about the paparazzi intruding their private lives.

“If you are a celebrity talking about how worried you are about the safety of you and your children, it makes sense for them to rent a house and provide a safe place for them to tell their story. me. ” she speaks.

There are also practical considerations.

“You have to have a half-acre parking lot to support production,” said Jason Hollander, whose company The Cabo Agency helps reality TV shows find filming locations across Mexico and Latin America. . “There may be low ceilings, but we may need a lot of light.”

He added: “For us, we were looking for physical locations, but the alternative was for them to build the scene on the sound stage. If people think about how often that happens, they’ll be more comfortable looking for a real place.”

Harry & Meghan labeled as an “unprecedented and in-depth documentary series,” according to Netflix press material, but the use of a fake home may suggest something closer to Sunset sale than Harlan County, USA.

Aufderheide recalled in an email to The Daily Beast: “My own living room was misrepresented as my friend’s house on a real estate reality TV show because it was cheaper for the production company than it was for the production company. Filmed in their original city. “Obviously they don’t care about public misrepresentation and the producer explained to me that [the] the show always does this and ‘people know it’s fiction.’ I don’t know if they do, but I think it’s quite understandable that reality TV producers don’t worry about ethics.”

However, documentaries are historically “closer to traditional journalistic standards” than other types of shows, according to Emmet McDermott, the journalist turned producer behind this year’s show. White Hot: The Rise and Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch. But in recent years, the genre has begun to give more creative freedom to its more advanced themes, as people like Billie Eilish and Selena Gomez—two celebrities who have produced their recent documentaries—want to tell their stories with their own production company and record label at the forefront.

“When you work with celebrity subjects, they now have a lot of influence over the final product, which is traditionally not what you want in a documentary,” says McDermott.

The Sussexes have no official producer credits on Harry & MeghanDirected by Liz Garbus (The Ghost of Abu Ghraib; What happened, Miss Simone?). In fact, Meghan tried to distance the couple from the final product in an interview with Diversity back in October, when Queen Elizabeth II’s death threatened to negate the royal family revelations contained in Harry and Meghan’s upcoming projects.

“It’s nice to be able to trust someone to tell our story—a seasoned director I’ve long admired—even if that means it might not be the way we would. . But that’s not why we told that story,” Markle told the magazine. “We’re trusting our story to other people, and that means it’s going through their lenses.”

However, it is worth noting that documentaries appeared after the couple signed a deal with Netflix worth a reported $100 million. With such a costly deal, those in the documentary field who spoke to The Daily Beast agree that the duo could have had some influence on how they are portrayed. In a way, Harry & Meghan can be seen as more of a self-promotion for the Sussexes than a traditional documentary. As Tom Sykes of The Daily Beast pointed out this week in his analysis of the Netflix documentary“Harry and Meghan just showed us what they wanted… The tough questions, which would have added credibility to the series, simply went unanswered and unanswered.”

Srdan Keča, director and assistant professor at Stanford University, who teaches courses for the MFA program in documentary filmmaking, said: “Documentaries aren’t just about celebrities, they’re about celebrities. that celebrity has financial and other interests, has become a separate category. . “These films are based on the language of the documentary and its claims of authenticity. Behind this facade, however, they are the vehicle by which their protagonists express themselves—an image they have editorial control over and can profit from.”

Keča added: “We should understand that, in this simulation, replacing the couple’s real home with another is simply an extension of the series’ essence. Nothing to see there.”

In the end, Netflix had to make something of its expensive deal with the royal couple, whose life arrangement or cabinet-organizing skills aren’t the focus of the series after all. movie. And some documentary filmmakers don’t see the harm of establishing a setting in which their subject feels comfortable, especially if there’s no other way to get them to open up.

“The interview goes beyond being able to capture their life circumstances, which may or may not be relevant,” says McDermott. “If you’re sitting with Diane Sawyer, it doesn’t matter where you are. It’s about the interview.”

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