by Karla Freyre
With the rise of media streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video, our society is constantly consuming a plethora of content from different genres and different storylines. One of those genres that captures the amusement of viewers are true-crime documentaries. Personally, I have found a fascination in watching documentaries that highlight the corruption, mistrials, and mystery surrounding some famous crimes in recent history. True-crime documentaries unlike any other, pull viewers into the harsh and scary reality surrounding our communities.
One in particular that has caught widespread attention is Making a Murderer. This documentary about the 1985 wrongful conviction of and criminal accusations against Steven Avery, a Wisconsin man, gained national attention upon its release in 2015. For months after it first premiered, fans of the documentary were captivated by this twisted and complicated story.
Steven Avery served 18 years in prison for the sexual assault of a local woman. Despite the lack of evidence and testimonies, Avery was sent to jail. Eighteen years later, Avery was released upon the discovery of a botched DNA test that proved Avery was not the man responsible.
As if the pain of 18 years in prison was not enough, Avery fell victim again…or did he?
In 2005, just two years after his release, Avery was charged with the murder of a photographer, Teresa Halbach, who disappeared on his family property. After more botched DNA tests, tampered evidence, and a nephew who at first admitted and then recanted his plea of being an accessory to the murder, Avery was sentenced to prison once again where he currently remains.
After growing attention surrounding this case, Netflix has recently released part two of the documentary. This time, the documentary follows the efforts to try to prove that Avery was once again wrongfully convicted.
However, Netflix appears to have another goal in mind with this series. While no one may ever truly know if Avery was in fact guilty or innocent of the crimes he is accused of, Netflix is trying to persuade the public that the only criminals in this case are those working in our justice system.
This case is making fans of the show change their public sentiment regarding police officers and their intentions. In Avery’s case, there have been questions coming out of the documentary that make people believe that the county officials sought revenge on Avery and his family for seeking a hefty lawsuit against them by framing him in the murder case of 2005.
Whether the officials in question are in fact guilty of purposely seeking revenge, or if this is just another case of professionals innocently mishandling a trial, is another question entirely.
It has been interesting to notice the shadow of doubt that documentaries and platforms such as these have created in our society as we observe our justice system. Making a Murderer is only one example. Other hit documentaries that have premiered on outlets such as Netflix are known for exposing the dark complications in what is presented as a failing criminal justice system. Documentaries like The Keepers and The Staircase highlight other crimes and question if the justice officials involved are fulfilling their duties of seeking justice for the innocent and seeking penalty for the guilty. Or do certain criminal justice professionals in our government system have alternative and sometimes personal agendas that documentaries are trying to expose?
Maybe Netflix’s only goal in releasing these controversial documentaries is for pure entertainment, ratings, and, ultimately, money. After all, it does not hurt that in just two weeks Making a Murderer had more than 5 million views.
Of course, incidents of justice officials doing wrong is not new. There will always be a bad bunch amongst the good. However, there is no doubt that the attention brought to these cases through the media has cast a new light on our country’s justice system.
There is no question that the men and women who work to enforce the law are to be applauded and recognized for everything they sacrifice. However, documentaries are changing the way we see the justice system as whole.
Corruption exists everywhere, and our government systems are no exception to that. Therefore, we are left to use our own personal judgement as we consume media through online streaming services. For most viewers of documentaries such as Making a Murderer, these documentaries are placing heavy doubt in our country’s institutions. Whether these doubts are grounded in accuracy or not, some viewers will never know, but viewers will continue to be entertained— and maybe that’s the only purpose of these documentaries.