Beyond Making a Murderer: 18 More True-life Injustices Brought to Light in Pop Culture
Netflix’s runaway hit documentary series Making A Murderer is currently raising the ire (and pulses) of viewers across the country, but it’s far from alone in the ranks of real-life injustices that have been documented in hopes of raising awareness among the general public.
- •No End In Sight (2007)It’s difficult to watch the Oscar-nominated film and not pull out your hair in frustration at the narrow-minded ideology of neoconservative zealots who sacrificed long-term international security for the sake of electoral chest-puffing and the quest for profit. Sadly, it probably deserves repeated pointing out that a lot of these same guys (and make no mistake, they’re almost all guys) are still in positions of power, just waiting for a right-wing reclamation of the White House.
- •Hot Coffee (2011)while there might be arguments for limiting excessive civil litigation, Hot Coffee shows how this was the worst and most misunderstood case to use as an example. Susan Saladoff’s documentary details the true story of what happened to Stella Liebeck when she purchased that infamous cup of brew, using the case as an informative springboard into what tort actually is and the ways businesses and media outlets often discredit such lawsuits as frivolous.
- •The Invisible War (2012)The details of The Invisible War—Kirby Dick’s deeply unsettling examination of intraservice rape in the modern U.S. military—are infuriating on pretty much every count. They all contribute to a stomach-churning world where patriotic volunteers are trapped at the mercy of a system that neither believes in nor cares about their fates.
- •Serial, season oneseason one’s greatest accomplishment could be the harsh light it shines on the Maryland court system (and, by extension, the American one): Koenig shows, in step by step fashion, how a case can be built against a suspect with little physical evidence, inconsistent testimony, and technology (in this case, cell-phone triangulation) that’s not as reliable as one might think.
- •No Crueler Tyrannies: Accusation, False Witness, And Other Terrors Of Our Times (2003)During the crest of the 1980s wave of sex abuse hysteria, dubious charges against day-care providers were a regular occurrence. These egregious miscarriages of justice formed the basis of Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Dorothy Rabinowitz’s book, No Crueler Tyrannies. It’s an infuriating read, and a frustrating reminder that, even in a civilized society, logic and reason can be overcome by panic and irrational fear.
- •The Unknown Known (2013)Errol Morris surely made the film intending to examine Donald Rumsfeld’s failures, but instead drives home a distressing message: whatever mistakes were made, whatever war crimes may have been committed, however many lives were senselessly lost by the actions of the Bush administration, none of the decision makers responsible will ever suffer any punishment, or so much as a pang of regret.
- •The Thin Blue Line (1988)Errol Morris channels his obsession for detail and the absurd into a film noir stew of artful re-enactments, newspaper clippings, catalogued evidence, and interviews with an array of witnesses, lawyers, and detectives. Driven by the patient unfolding of revelations, the movie plays out like a real-life thriller, one where an actual human life hangs in the balance.
- •Paradise Lost: The Child Murders At Robin Hood Hills (1996) and West Of Memphis (2012)The Paradise Lost documentaries—there are three—feel the closest in spirit to Making A Murderer, because they’re about people who were convicted seemingly just because of who they were. In this case, it was three Arkansas teenagers who liked metal, dressed in black (sometimes), and were sarcastic in the withering way that teenagers always are. In this case, it got them railroaded into a conviction for the murder of three young boys, and a death sentence for the “leader,” Damien Echols.
- •Kids For Cash (2013)Disgraced Pennsylvania juvenile court judge Mark Ciavarella absolutely hates when the phrase “kids for cash” is tossed around in reference to the scandal that ended his reign, and argues the term stuck because it’s a catchy media soundbite. ut it’s a perfectly apt summation of a racket he carried off with his colleague, ex-judge Michael Conahan, to accept $2.6 million in cash bribes in exchange for sending wayward youth off to a for-profit detention facility.
- •Ticket Masters: The Rise Of The Concert Industry And How the Public Got Scalped (2011)The well-researched Ticket Masters details how exactly we got to the point where a secondary-market ticket will set you back nearly an entire mortgage payment. As the book details, the number of laws skirted or simply flouted is infuriating, while ethically suspect (yet technically legal) business maneuvering runs rampant.
- •Gideon’s Army (2013)The television cliché of the incompetent, indifferent public defender has been around since the invention of the cop show, but Dawn Porter’s simultaneously inspiring and heartbreaking documentary makes the case that, for poor defendants, even having the rare dedicated P.D. often makes no difference.
- •Deliver Us From Evil (2006)Spotlight got a lot of people talking about the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal again, but that’s a journalist-focused story. The actual scandal is absolutely horrific, with Amy J. Berg’s Deliver Us From Evil one of the most direct and disturbing accounts from that time, told primarily through the interview of one of the abuse perpetrators himself.
- •“Why The NFL Decided To Start Paying Taxes,” The Atlantic (2015)n article in The Atlantic laid bare why its decision last year to actually start paying up to Uncle Sam is a PR move that’s a drop in the bucket compared to the league’s massive revenues, not to mention the unending torrent of taxpayer money. The NFL’s 32 teams receive roughly $1 billion a year between them in stadium construction and tax breaks, which means even the non-fans among us are subsidizing every game.
- •The Central Park Five (2012)The Central Park Five (from Ken Burns) revisits the case of a Central Park jogger who was raped and beaten into a coma in April of 1989. Under intense pressure to apprehend the guilty party, the NYPD rounded up a group of Harlem teenagers and coerced confessions out of five of them; the young men were all convicted and ended up serving between six and 13 years, only to be retroactively exonerated some time later when new evidence was discovered.
- •Concussion (2015)It’s the National Football League, and it’s great, but all that bashing, well, that’s probably killing the same athletes we love and admire. That’s the message of Concussion, the 2015 Will Smith movie that looked at the plight of Dr. Bennet Omalu, a Pittsburgh pathologist who discovered CTE, a kind of neurological disorder that’s similar to Alzheimer’s and is caused by the tens of thousands of blows to the head professional football players take over the course of their careers.
- •Captivated: The Trials Of Pamela Smart (2014)While the question of Smart’s innocence or guilt is certainly fair game for debate, what’s not in dispute is how the sensationalized nature of the trial and the breathless, preconceived media narratives did not allow for a fair trial. Journalists hungry for ratings and personal glory seized on her youth, the salacious nature of the crime, and how “remorseless” she appeared, passing judgement before the jury had even heard opening arguments.
- •Dear Zachary: A Letter To A Son About His Father (2008)It’s difficult to watch Dear Zachary. As the film progresses the My Life-style time capsule gives way to a powerful call to action regarding the molasses-like pace of Canada’s judicial system, the shameful state of its bail policies, and spotlights the woefully inept judges who allow a woman with a history of stalking, repeated suicide attempts, and pre-meditated murder to roam the streets a free woman.
- •The Newburgh Sting (2014)“I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that there would have been no crime here except the government instigated it, planned it, and brought it to fruition.” That’s a quote from U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon, who presided over the case explored in The Newburgh Sting, a documentary about four men who were ensnared in the FBI’s misguided efforts to burnish its reputation for proactive counterterrorism.